Book Report: Number Our Days by Barbara Myerhoff

Pages: 8 (2091 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 0  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion  ·  Buy for $19.77

¶ … crept into each of the individuals that she surveyed remarking that she herself would be an elderly Jew like them one day. On the other hand, I was discomfited by the way that the author glibly swallowed assumptions of her own religion without questioning them. The author does state that she grew up little informed of her own religion and that Shmuel reiterated the fact that he could not teach her, there being so much that she did not know. Meyerhof did try her utmost to become objective and detached. As she states, she did not often manage. Yet there are erroneous assumptions that creep through, such as the time when she glibly mentions about "Jewish guilt" -- (is there such a thing as "Jewish guilt"? Do all Jews feel it?) And in a later chapter describes 'a fervently religious Jew' regarding the man who conducted the siyum for the Home. People differ regarding their definition of a 'fervently religious Jew'. Complexity of Judaism as religion and as sociological phenomena is more complex than I felt Meyerhoff realized.

What I can learn from here is to question my assumptions.

I was shocked by the raw anti-Semitism demonstrated by Julia on the broadwalk. That was my sole question on this chapter: how to explain the irrational hatred of a stranger to two elderly poor people who possessed nothing that she a young American need be envious of Chapter 2

I both liked and disliked the author's glib assumption that Shmuel wanted her to stay away due to his possibly being discomfited by her witnessing his grief. It may have been the author, rather than Shmuel, who felt uncomfortable and certain aspects of the reading make me suspect that this may well have been the case. Shmuel was elderly. He was -- as later events show -- nearing his end. He may have been (and, in fact, seems to have been) impatient for her presence. That part made me feel almost angry at her obtuseness in this instance.

I was also struck by the close feeling that Shmuel felt still today for his father. He barely mentions his mother. Yet, slight but deep affectionate actions of the way that his father related to him left an enduring impression despite the boy's later ideological distance to his father.

What I could also learn from Shmuel's reminisces is that it is not always the handsome building -- or magnificent awe-inspiring facade -- that should form one's judgment. Sometimes, the small humble and insignificant structure -- such as the synagogue compared to the church -- may have something different (substantial in its own way) to offer. Shmuel and his friends were awed by the pomp and glamour of the church. Their synagogue had to be constructed lower than it and was humble in comparison. Yet, the synagogue left Shmuel with a feeling of warmth and authenticity that the church -- that filled him with fear -- never gave him.

I am confused about the fact that Shmuel's children became religious. Their father seemed to be a thinking man who could articulate reasons for his independence. I wonder what it was about his children that made them attracted to a group rather than remain non-conformist as their father was.

Chapter 3.

I like Shmuel's caustic observation that the siyum was a farce. The graduation did seem some farce to me particularly since it was knit together -- like a rag-bag -- of so many disparate and culturally contradictory mismatches that did not belong. The Yiddish culture, for instance, was an ideology that was inherently opposed to Zionism, and the notion of Torah learning that Kaminsky glibly espoused (and erroneously matched to the citizen's learning - of what?), was taught by a traditional fervent Judaism that was at olds to both Zionism and the Yiddish culture (that was irreligious if not atheistic). Yet Kaminsky brought them all in and merged them in an uneasy match.

What I learned: Shmuel's observation that people do not see reality and that they practiced a farce can be extended to America as a whole where as individual and as a country, we possess a certain ethnocentrism and self-delusion that is not always warranted considering ourselves as 'modern' and more advanced than other nations. Yet, we may in effect be like the Emperor who had no clothes just as there were in reality no children attending the graduation, and one can ask whether the citizens did indeed graduate and what rally all the fuss was for and about.

I was also disturbed by more than one elderly individuals' reluctance to disturb their children and extend invites to them based on the fact that they were 'successful doctors' or 'lawyers; etc. It seems to me that this is an American fabrication and falseness about confounding status with importance. One cannot rate another as more valuable than another based on status alone, nor can one deem the adherence to one's business more important than according respect to a parent.

Chapter 4

I felt uncomfortable by Kominsky's fervor. I think that he made a greater fool of the people in the siyum than warranted and I received the impression hat he didn't see them as people as Meyerhoff did but rather saw behind them and used them as a prop for religious -- or cultural and ceremonial - ends and to publicize these religious ends as when he wished them to become more Kosher or to keep certain mitzvos that they were not used to keeping. He spoke above their head and seemed to see them a group rather than as individuals.

What I would have done (thus learned) were I in Kominsky's position, and what I may learn from here, is to consult the people who the event is slated for -- i.e. The elderly individuals themselves -- and ask them what they seek from my involvement or from programs that I structure for them, how they would like the event to occur, whether they wish their children to attend, and so forth. I felt that the people were, time and again, overlooked and that it was Komisnky, at the end of the day, rather than the people themselves, who were served. Better communication skills could have also served Kominsky's ends.

On the other hand, whilst admiring Meyerhoff's insight and grasp of the situation, I felt that her treatment of Kominsky was biased. Empathy for the man and some kind of questioning into his goals would have provided a more balanced picture. She could have interviewed him too.

Chapter five

What struck me -- and this struck me throughout -- was the imitation of the case study to life: the majority ape what the others do -- attending the same programs, debating in the same way about the same issues, voting for the same people, undeviatingly following the strictures and structures of a Home. It is the rare person who becomes a Shmuel, and this person is, usually, detested and misunderstood by the crowd. Shmuel himself had his own issues and he did not like standing out, but he seemed to have been a natural nonconformist. I found him inspiring and a lesson to myself about not following the crowd.

What I learned from the reading was to question cultural indoctrination. For instance, why should one feel greater loyalty for a nation-state above that of individuals- after all a nation-state is an aggregation of individuals; it is merely a piece of land. Shmuel sees human life as more value to land. And yet, taking an objective stance, oen can dispute the value of human life wondering whether they may not be aspects that override that.

I liked the way that Meyerhoff succeeded into creeping into the microscale of the people's daily and small existence without judging them and how she could enter into their feelings of seriousness of their squabbles. On the other hand, I think she also lacked some f the background knowledge that would have given her greater understanding for the feeling of importance that they ascribed to their issues.

Chapter 6

Meyerhoff dubs a former chapter "the life and death of a tailor." In America, we perceive a tailor to be less superior and successful to a 'CEO' or movie icon. Yet, perusal of Shmuel's reminisces make us feel that his life was far richer, deeper, and more content than likely that of any of the typical CEO or Hollywood superstars (such as Lady Gaga). Which of us can rate one life as superior to another. Profession has naught to do with it. Shmuel was indeed a survivor in more ways than one, and the richness and quality of his life unusual, it seems to me, in generations of today's America. That is what I learned from this chapter and liked.

In the same way, I was awed by Jacob's experiences. Both Shmuel and Jacob reminded me of some of the resilient Jewish great philosophers or scientists such as… [END OF PREVIEW]

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