Swampscott author explores a 430-year-old mystery

 

NOVEMBER 2, 2017 – SWAMPSCOTT – About five years ago, Deahn Berrini and her family were enjoying dinner at their Swampscott home. Her son, knowing of her interest in Native American people, mentioned that researchers had just discovered a clue to the lost colony of Roanoke Island, off the coast of North Carolina.
“I said, ‘That could be a good story.’ And then my son said, ‘Hey, mom. You could write that,”’ said Berrini, the daughter of an Air Force father, who was born in Wiesbaden, Germany. A member of Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead, she grew up in Ipswich and attended Brown University, where she majored in history, and Boston College Law School.

When her son brought it up, she found herself drawn to that unsolved puzzle of the mysterious disappearance of 115 British men, women, and children in 1587. Once she started her research, she knew she wanted to write the story, but not from the colonists’ point of view.

Some have speculated that Native Americans attacked and killed the English colonists. Others theorize they tried to return to England and were lost at sea, or might have been killed by Spaniards who came north from Florida. One theory suggests the settlers were absorbed into friendly Native American tribes.

When Berrini approached the story from the point of view of the people who were already there – the Croatoan Native American tribe – her heart and her imagination followed. “The characters came to me fully formed,” she said.

“When we think of the story we’re taught in middle school, it’s from the white British point of view. We’re never taught to think about the native peoples who were living there before the Europeans arrived. It was a thriving place up and down the eastern seaboard. We have very little consciousness of that.”

Four years and three rewrites later, Berrini hopes to change that with the publication of her third historical novel, “A Roanoke Story,” on Nov. 30. She will launch her book tour by reading from and discussing the book at the Swampscott Public Library from 7 to 9 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 13.

In addition to broadening our understanding of history, Berrini also sees a clear connection between “A Roanoke Story” and the abiding Jewish tenet of social justice. As head of Temple Emanu-El’s social action committee for the past five years, she has championed shedding light on unfairness and untruths.

“A lot about our country’s origins has been mythologized to make it easier to swallow,” she said. “I hope readers will look at the colonization of this country with a greater sense of the people whose land we invaded. Telling the story from the point of view of the marginalized people, that’s the social justice component.”

The Swampscott Public Library is at 61 Burrill St.
For more information, visit swampscottlibrary.org or call 781-596-8867.

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Swampscott library hosts tea sommelier

Tea sommelier brings book to life at Swampscott library

By Shelley A. Sackett

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Hillel Bromberg, a certified tea sommelier, as he prepares to present his tea tasting at the Swampscott Public Library.

 

Last Wednesday night, over 50 people sat and chatted in the Swampscott Library at tables set with white cloth tablecloths, teacups, tea lights and tea biscuits. Promptly at 6:30 p.m., a spry, bearded man in a colorful vest stepped behind a table adorned with a variety of artistic teapots and addressed the crowd.

 

“Thank you for coming to take tea with me,” said Hillel Bromberg, certified tea sommelier.

 

For the next 90 minutes, Bromberg talked about the history of tea, its many heath benefits and the proper (and improper) way to brew an authentic cup of tea. He also conducted a tasting of several distinctive styles of teas. “I really like tea, and it turns out I’m not alone,” he said.

 

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Bromberg carefully pours water heated to just the right temperature into the cast iron tea pot.

 

The inspiration for the program came from the book, “The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane” by Lisa See, which was the library’s Popular Titles Book Group selection for September.

 

Laurie Souza, head of circulation, had just read the book and wanted to learn more about tea. She had heard about Bromberg from other libraries and suggested to the Friends of the Library that they bring him to Swampscott. “They thought it was a great idea,” she said.

 

Bromberg, who lives in Newton with his coffee-drinking wife, was introduced to tea as a child. He grew up in an observant Jewish home where the family and guests enjoyed a “full-blown Shabbat dinner” every Friday night. After dinner, they would sit around for quite a while, sipping tea, eating dessert and “schmoozing.”

 

“We drank your basic Lipton that I usually loaded up with lemon and sugar,” Bromberg recalled. He has continued that ritual in his own home. When his son and daughter left for college, he made sure they left home with a hand-selected supply of their favorite teas.

 

He received his tea sommelier certification from the International Tea Masters Association. During the four-month training (one intensive weekend of study and three months of weekly online assignments), he learned about different teas from different countries. “When I started drinking tea, the whole world opened up to me,” he said.

 

Bromberg captivated the audience with his lively condensed version of the history of tea, peppering the fascinating chronicle with amusing tidbits such as the difference between high tea and afternoon tea, and the Lexington Tea Burning, which pre-dated the December 16, 1773 Boston Tea Party by three days.

 

The audience learned what is tea (white, green, yellow, oolong, black and post fermented teas, which all belong to the camellia sinensis species) and what is not tea (all fruit and herbal teas, known as tisanes).

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A proper cup of tea can only be brewed using a proper tea strainer which, according to Bromberg, allows the tea leaves to “stretch out.”

 

In addition, properly steeped tea must take into account three specifics that differ with each variety of tea leaves: the amount of tea leaves in the strainer; the temperature of the water, and the amount of time the tea steeps before drinking.

 

Throughout the presentation, Bromberg demonstrated the proper way to brew a pot of tea, which can only be accomplished with a proper tea strainer. He brewed five different teas, including white tea, oolong tea, a pineapple flowering tea and black tea. He set his electric teakettle to different temperatures for each, and poured a taste into each participant’s white ceramic teacups.

 

Somehow, he magically made a small teapot stretch to accommodate all.

 

Next came instruction in the proper way to taste tea. Since 80% of the taste of tea is from its aroma, smelling it is an important first step. So is slurping — and the more noise the better.

 

One thing the mild-mannered Bromberg is unequivocal about is his abhorrence for tea bags. “They are horrible, vile and disgusting,” he said with the trace of a shudder. “They were invented in the United States by two women who tired of cleaning leaves out of pots.”

 

Strainers are designed to let tea leaves come to life; tea bags are designed to steep quickly with macerated, tightly packed leaves that lose their flavor. “Tea wants to stretch out,” he emphasized, as he passed around the strainers with post-steeped tealeaves as evidence.

 

Bromberg had just borrowed “The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane” from his local library when Souza contacted him to arrange the Swampscott tea tasting, so the timing was perfect. He liked the writing a lot, especially the way the author described the hard work the tea pluckers, who were almost all women, did for very little pay. “I like to make people aware of the strong and patient women who were at the very beginning of the tea making process,” he said.

 

Izzi Abrams, who has run book groups at Swampscott Library for over 18 years and is co-director of the library’s children’s department, was delighted that Bromberg excited the crowd with his knowledge and experience. “A program like this evening makes a book come alive. It makes it experiential,” she said.

 

For more information about Hillel Bromberg and his Tea Oasis business, visit http://www.teaoasisboston.com

 

 

 

New Haggadah is A Feast for the Senses

We Erica Brown fans are in for a special treat this Passover. The gifted columnist has penned “Seder Talk” with her usual flair for combining the sensitive, scholarly and practical. The result is a Haggada with a fresh approach that is as imaginative as it is traditional, as educational as it is emotional; in short, it is a book with something for everyone.

Brown’s book is really two books bound as one. “Seder Talk: The Conversational Haggada” is a commentary on the Haggada text that opens as a Hebrew text, from right to left. Chockful of poetry, songs and rabbinic readings, this Haggada also explains the meaning of the various seder rituals in a simple, informal style. The most engaging and distinctive, however, are the conversational cues interspersed throughout the text that, in signature Brown style, provide moments and roadmaps for celebrants to pause, reflect and share aloud. This is the stuff memorable seders are made of. There are also more personal life-homework exercises that promote greater mindfulness, intention and inner freedom.

The second book-within-abook, which opens from the other cover, contains eight essays, one for each of the eight days of Passover. Only Brown would think to start her first essay, “All Who Are Hungry,” with this perfect seder icebreaker, a quote from Oscar Wilde: “After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relatives.” Other essays are titled, “The Four Sons, the Right Question,” “Slave Wealth” and “Pour Out Your Wrath, Pour Out Your Love.”

Brown is a deep Judaic thinker and a respected author and educator. She has created a delightful new Haggada that belongs on the bedside reading pile, long after Passover has passed.

Pictured at top: Seder Talk The Conversational Haggada by Erica Brown. Maggid Books and OU Press, 2015

Opening the Door to Jewish Spirituality

For over half a century Rabbi Arthur Green has taught Jewish mysticism, Hasidism and theology. He recently noticed a new trend. “Young people are asking a question that was never asked in my generation. They are asking, ‘Why be Jewish?’” said Green, who has taught at the University of Pennsylvania, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Brandeis University and Hebrew College.

To answer that question, the preeminent authority on Jewish thought and spirituality and author of more than a dozen books wrote “Judaism’s 10 Best Ideas: A Brief Guide to Seekers.”

“I write for people who think they don’t have a home in Judaism,” Green said. “I want to show them that they do, that there is something interesting and spiritually fascinating and attractive about this tradition.”

The 100-page pocket-book reveals Rabbi Green’s personal understanding of Jewish tradition, based on his experiences teaching, studying and translating sacred texts. Ten chapters address the core tenets of Jewish life, such as simcha (joy), tikkun olam (repair the world) and Talmud (education) in a style that combines warmth and humor with practical applications for contemporary life. “Shabbat — Getting Off the Treadmill,” for example, offers ten pathways toward a new Shabbat with five “to do’s” and five “not to do’s.”

10 Best

“In this day of freer choices of identity, I want to show people that Judaism is an important tradition that still has something to say to the world.

I believe we have things to teach the world and that the best years of this tradition are ahead of us, not behind us. I’m an advocate, and that’s what this book is about,” said Green.

At Hebrew College’s Rabbinical School, which he founded in 2004 and where he is Rector, ten percent of the rabbinical students are converts to Judaism. “These Jews by choice are among the most serious and dedicated future rabbis we have,” said Green. “One part of the audience for this book is people who are considering conversion to Judaism.”

Green believes in opening the gate to Judaism and welcoming people who are seeking a spiritual path, whether they are Jewish or non-Jews. “This book is a door-opener,” explained Green.

In the course of his teaching and lecturing, he also met people who told him they didn’t believe in God but somehow believed in a soul and wanted to have an inner life. “They thought they had no home in the Jewish community because they didn’t believe in God. They found themselves attracted to spirituality through one Eastern teaching or another because Eastern teachers didn’t say, ‘You have to believe first.’ These too are precisely the people I am writing to,” said Green.

Although raised in a nonobservant home (“my father was a militant atheist,” he has said), Green found himself drawn to spiritual language after he read “God in Search of Man” by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel as a high school senior. When he was 16 and a freshman at Brandeis University, he became interested in Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism which originated in Hasidic Judaism) after he heard Zalman Schachter, a leading Hasidic Rabbi, Kabbalist and founder of the Jewish Renewal Movement, speak at a campus event. “He impressed me tremendously,” Green said.

Green eventually founded Havurat Shalom, an egalitarian Jewish community in Somerville in 1968, and remains a leading independent figure in the Jewish Renewal Movement.

Although Green no longer teaches at Brandeis University, his connection to the institution spanned many generations. He attended as an undergraduate (B.A. 1961) and graduate student (Ph.D. 1975), and taught there from 1994 until 2004. He thinks of Brandeis as engaged in a continued struggle with its Jewish identity. “Brandeis positions itself as an American university. In its very short history, it has achieved a remarkable reputation as a leading American university, but with one difference: most of its support comes from the Jewish community. Does that make it in any sense a Jewish institution, and what might that mean?” he questioned. This is a question, he said, that Brandeis has struggled with throughout its history.

Despite Green’s busy teaching, writing and lecturing schedule, he does make free time for himself. “I have a mystery life as an antique collector of early American glass,” he confided. “There’s a group of people out there who only know me as Art Green, the glass guy from Boston. They have no idea that I do anything else. I’m happy to have a second identity. I treasure that.”

Dual Paths for Dual Hands

As the daughter of Holocaust survivors, Monique Illona was shaped by her parents’ pain and anguish. “My parents were traumatized and their experiences traumatized me and my siblings,” Illona said. “They didn’t have the opportunity or resources to learn how to deal with their problems.”

She, however, did. Her recently published book, “A Dual Path: Sacred Practices and Bodywork,” describes her path from pain, bitterness and anger, “the energetic matrix I inherited from my parents,” to an awakened life of transformation and sacredness.

She also offers a blueprint for how the integration of bodywork (massage) and spiritual practices can help one achieve a life that cultivates inner stability, connection and strength.

Illona
Monique Illona


Illona’s parents met in Paris after World War II. Her French mother had survived the war by hiding in Paris and her Czechoslavakian father had survived Auschwitz. They first lived in Paris, but her father could not get a work permit. They applied for visas in three countries, America, Australia and England. The visa to Australia came through first. Her two brothers were born there, but the family eventually settled in England where Illona was born in 1960.

Judaism was a foundation for her growing up. She and her brothers attended weekly Hebrew school, but her parents were conflicted about how to integrate Judaism with raising a family. “My father came out of the Holocaust believing there wasn’t really a God,” she said. One of her brothers wanted to have a traditional Jewish family life, which caused huge arguments at home. “My brother kind of won and we did do Passover and Shabbat and always went to synagogue for the High Holidays,” she said. Her brothers still lead actively Jewish lives.

When Illona was 12, her father discovered that his sister had survived the war and lived in Israel. She accompanied her parents on their first trip there and fell in love with the country. She went back every year from the age of 13 during summer vacations to volunteer at various kibbutzim or to do work study programs.

“A Dual Path” enables others to shorten their own paths from a painful to a more vibrant and meaningful existence.

Once she finished school, she joined an ulpan on a kibbutz to learn the language. She ended up staying, joining the Israeli Defense Forces and becoming a member of a kibbutz in the Golan Heights. “My connection to Israel became stronger than my connection to Judasim,” she said.

She married in Israel and she and her American husband lived in a kibbutz made up of three or four “garinim” (groups of people who serve in the army together and then go to the same community to help build and establish it). Her husband fought in the 1982 Lebanon War in Beirut; many of their fellow kibbutz members died in that war. She and her husband, who are now divorced, decided to leave Israel and give it a go in the U.S.

She completed a B.F.A. at the School of Visual Arts in New York and earned a Masters degree at Lesley University in Expressive Therapies. It was during this program that she began to examine herself and to understand the connection between the legacy she had inherited and the life she had been leading.

She started learning things her parents never had the chance to. “There was something in me that was strong, clear and focused. I realized I could go forward in a whole different direction,” she said, adding, “It was like giving up caffeine. I rejected who I had been until that time.”

Illona was also a self-defense instructor and an inductee into the World Martial Arts Hall of Fame. She met her soulmate and professional partner Blane Allen in 1990 when his martial arts school moved into the building where she lived and worked as a sculptor. They have offered professional massage bodywork since 1991, and created “Hand in Hand Massage” in Marblehead.

At their teaching facility, The Dual Path Institute™, located next door to Hand in Hand, they offer events, programs and workshops for massage professionals and the general public for personal transformation and professional growth. They also travel the country and the globe with their trainings and public speaking.

Illona wanted to write “A Dual Path” to enable others to shorten their own paths from a painful to a more vibrant and meaningful existence. “Once you have enough strength, it’s so much easier. I really feel we have that choice every day in every moment.”

Visit handinhandmassage. com and adualpathpath.com or call 781-639-4380.

Shavit’s Patriotic, Personal Narrative of Israel

Ari Shavit’s “My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel” is a literary magnetic force. It attracts with enchanting rhapsodies about the miracles of the land of Israel and the early Zionist years; it repels with tales of occupation, corruption and cruelty. It navigates through the entirety of the Israeli experience, from 1897 to 2013, with 16 epochal pit stops. It extols Israel’s greatness and censures her weakness. It is positive and negative, and every gradation inbetween.

Shavit is a distinguished Israeli journalist who has compiled a patriotic, personal and powerful narrative. His clear and engaging style makes the sometimes incomprehensible complexities of Israeli politics understandable, even to one whose familiarity with the plays and the players is cursory. His interviews with key historical figures are intimate and raw, his scholarship exhaustive and praiseworthy. With a style that combines Studs Terkel, James Michener and ThomasFriedman, it is no wonder this book is a bestseller.

Shavit begins at his and Israel’s beginning, with his Zionist British great-grandfather’s 1897 trip to Palestine. Herbert Bentwich’s purpose was to evaluate the land as a potential national homeland for the Jews. What he saw led to his conclusion that the land was physically suitable. What he chose not to see would underpin the triumph and tragedy of Israel. While the 500,000 Palestinians living as nomads lacked cogent national identity, they were undeniably there in 1897.

Throughout his book, Shavit repeatedly links Israel’s current existential challenges to the single question, “How could they not have seen them?” By personalizing the tales, the reader feels what Shavit feels, and sees what he sees. We stand beside the early settlers as they clear the swamps, we smell the first orange blossoms in Rehovot, and we tingle alongside early kibbutzniks with the thrill of “creating something from nothing.” We also cringe at Lydda in 1948, where the War of Independence leads the Zionists to “throw off the yoke of morality,” looting, torturing and expelling Palestinians into the desert. “Lydda is our black box,” Shavit avers. “In it lies the dark secret of Zionism.”

There are chapters on the 1967 launch of Israel’s nuclear program, Tel Aviv’s frenzied culture, Israel’s religious zealots, and of course, the occupations and settlements. In “Up the Galilee,” a Palestinian-Israeli attorney provides apenetrating alternative viewpoint. “Existential Challenge” examines Iran.

“My Promised Land,” however, is much more than the sum of its parts. It is an exceptionally crafted valentine to Israel from her rebellious but unconditionally loving son. Shavit acknowledges her faults and wonders, but mostly he worries about her future.

“This start-up nation must restart itself,” he opines. “This immature political entity must grow up. Out of disintegration and despair we must rise to the challenge of the most ambitious project of all: nation rebuilding. The resurrection of the Israeli people.”

Is Shavit optimistic that this can happen? There are as many who would say yes as no. And every gradation in between.

Ari Shavit Random House Publishing, 2013
 

This Is Not Not Your Bubbe’s Bible

“Unscrolled: 54 Writers and Artists Wrestle With the Torah” presents 54 of the edgiest and most inventive d’vrei torah imaginable. There are poems, stories, essays, memoirs, plays, recipes, an architectural rendering and a graphic novel. They are penned by contemporary Jewish luminaries such as A.J. Jacobs (“The Year of Living Biblically”), Joshua Foer (“Moonwalking with Einstein”), Damon Lindelof (“Lost”), Jill Soloway (”Afternoon Delight” and “Six Feet Under”) and Josh Radnor (“How I Met Your Mother”).

“Unscrolled” had its genesis during animated Torah discussions at the annual meeting of Reboot, a national network of young Jewish creatives and intellectuals devoted to grappling with questions of Jewish identity, community and meaning. The lively Torah dialogues morphed into a book where 54 individuals wrestled with a single section of the Torah, yanking it into the 21st century.

These unorthodox riffs are as uneven as they are varied. While some are serious and traditional, others are hilarious, and some may really offend certain readers. The best stories are in Genesis and Exodus. The results are simultaneously reverent and irreverent; sentimental and raunchy; somber and humorous. While there is not a dull one in the mix, there are a few that confuse profanity with profundity; blasphemy with innovation.

What resonates, however, is how each author succeeded in personalizing the characters and tales of the stories we have heard over and over, year after year. This alone makes “Unscrolled” a work of consequence.

For example, we sit beside Pharaoh at his computer as he Googles “boils,” “lice” and “frogs” on WebMD. We watch Zipporah pout, sulk and vamp as Moses’ neglected wife in a graphic novel version of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments. We hear a pensive Miriam muse to herself how she, “star of the sea, star of the river,” delivered her brother Moses not once, but twice. We meet a saucy, mouthy Rebekah at the well, and Esau, “the first Jew to wish he wasn’t.” We rethink “an eye for an eye” through a wise and touching poem. The Tabernacle, all 7,200 cubits of it, finds a home in Manhattan as a vertical skyscraper. Another chapter lists it on MLS.

You get the idea.

Physically and organizationally, the book is a pleasure to read. Each section contains a synopsis of the parsha, with the particular verse that inspired the commentator’s interpretation. These synopses, faithful to the biblical text, read with a narrative ease and fluidity. Their pages are bordered in luscious hues. In the back of the book is a userfriendly listing of each contributor, with just enough biographical detail to enhance reading his or her commentary.

We have all heard that humor is part of what binds us as Jews. The 2013 Pew Research Center survey of Jewish Americans reports that 42% believe “having a good sense of humor” is an essential attribute of being Jewish, ranking it higher than being part of a Jewish community, observing Jewish law or eating traditional Jewish foods. While “Unscrolled” may not be everyone’s cup of tea, for the Pew Study’s 42%, this book is a refreshing hoot.

Unscrolled: 54 writers and Artists Wrestle with the Torah; Edited by Roger Bennett Workman Publishing Company, Inc., 2013

Billy Crystal’s Birthday Memoir

Billy Crystal’s mother advised him, “Do something special on your birthday.

Celebrate the fact that you’re here, that people love you, and you love them.” For his 50th, Crystal booked the ballroom at the Four Seasons and entertained over 250 guests. For his 60th, he wore the uniform of his beloved Yankees as leadoff man during spring training. Luckily for us, we don’t need a personal invitation to attend his 65th. His memoir, “Still Foolin’ ’Em: Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys?,” is his birthday tribute to this milestone event, and we’re all invited to the party.

And what a commemoration it is! This is one terrific book, written by one terrific guy. (Be forewarned: Expect lots of swear words and anatomical humor.) It is poignant, personal and uproariously funny. A fellow baby boomer, Crystal hits many nails squarely on the head. Chapter Four, “Growing Up Crystal,” chronicles his youth in Long Beach, Long Island. With the exception of his father’s untimely death when he was 15, his childhood was cheerful, loving and culturally rich. He played ball with the neighborhood kids until it got dark. His home was filled with laughter, encouragement, jazz and Judaism. He was raised to be the mensch he is today, full of reverence, loyalty, generosity and humble gratitude.

The remaining chapters, with such titles as “Take Care of Your Teeth,” “Buying The Plot,” and “Grandpa,” recount his life, decade by decade, from his twenties to the present. Some read like stand up shtick; some are more serious and factual.

The best parts are the anecdotes Crystal shares from his star-studded career and the dozens of decades-long relationships he formed, nurtured and maintained along the way. These are real gems. We are treated to up close and personal pearls about Mickey Mantle, Muhammad Ali, Howard Cosell, Lew Alcindor, the Saturday Night Live cast and the makings of “When Harry Met Sally,” “City Slickers” and “Analyze This.” Crystal takes us behind the scenes at the Oscars, a show he hosted nine times and hoped to restore to the dignity and class he remembered it having in his youth. We are with him in 1977 when he played Jodie Dallas on “Soap,” one of television’s first unambiguously homosexual characters, and in 2005 as he scripts and performs his oneman Broadway homage to his father, “700 Sundays.” We cheer his well-deserved Emmys, Tony, and Golden Globe and Oscar nominations. The more Crystal reveals his thoughts, his feelings and his character, the more deeply we admire, respect and appreciate him.

These anecdotes are entertaining and voyeuristically satisfying, and Crystal is a gifted comedian and storyteller. But he has a deeper and wiser purpose in sharing his life with us. While he knows he has been blessed with talent, success and opportunity, his message is that family and faith string these pearls together and give them form and substance. He takes parenthood, and now grandparenthood, seriously. He respects his elders and treasures their memories. He is reminded of the legacy they left him, and is mindful of creating an equally meaningful one for his family.

Crystal continuously asks whether anything we do really matters. On the last page, contemplating the simultaneous birth of his fourth grandchild and his 65th birthday, he answers.

“It is a great life with plenty more to go. Time to see how my little ones fare in the world we turn over to them. That is our task after all. Teach them all we know and help them try to be better than us.”

Amen, Billy. Happy birthday, and many more.

“Still Foolin’ ’Em: Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys?” Billy Crystal Holt, Henry & Company, Inc., 2013

From Victim to Expert, Jessica Stern Shares Her Story

Jessica Stern attributes her professional fascination with violent perpetrators and her ability to remain calm in dangerous situations to the traumatic experience of being raped at age 15 at her Concord, Mass. home. These qualities are the silver lining borne of a horrendous attack, and they have served her well as a former member of President Clinton’s National Security Council, an expert on terrorists and terrorism, and an author.


Stern’s most recent work — “Denial: A Memoir of Terror” — is an autobiographical account of her 1973 rape at gunpoint by a serial rapist who was never
caught. She is also the author of “Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill,” which features interviews with Christian, Muslim, Jewish and American fringe group extremists. Stein traveled to Pakistan alone, engaging aspiring mujahedin in dialogue in remote madrassas; she interviewed Jewish radicals in West Bank settlements; and she even included conversations with Texan antiabortion militants and followers of Timothy McVeigh.

Stern, now 55 and living in Cambridge, will be a panelist at Boston Bookfest alongside Valerie Plame Wilson, Wes Craven and Mary Louise Kelly. Their topic is “Writing Terror: An Exploration of Fear.”

“I am fascinated by the secret motivations of violent men, and I’m good at ferreting them out,” she wrote in “Denial.” The 2010 work also describes her close relationship with her father and her identity struggles in the wake of trauma that caused undiagnosed and unacknowledged post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Being the child of a refugee and Holocaust survivor, she believes, exacerbated her painful path to self-identity.

Stern responded to questions by phone:

SS: What was your goal in telling your story?

JS: I had no clue that I had PTSD. I thought it was something soldiers got. I had no idea that the symptoms I had of hyper- and hypo-vigilance were symptoms, and not just who I was. When I mentioned this to my father and sister, both said, “Oh, we have that, too.” It allowed them to talk about this and that has helped all three of us and made us closer. My sister had a harder time with my writing this book (she was also raped during the same incident) but it brought us closer in a more authentic way. My father and I had never spoken about the rape or about why he hadn’t cut short his trip to Europe and come home when it happened. Writing the book allowed us to have those conversations. There is less distance between us.

I have received letters from women who were raped by the same guy I was. Some have written, “You saved my life.” (The paperback edition has a section in the back with reprinted letters from readers).

SS: What does your faith mean to you?

JS: I feel completely Jewish, but I wasn’t really raised Jewish. We didn’t celebrate any of the holidays, not even Passover.

I think being the child of a refugee completely determined my choice of career. It feels to me like a very Jewish choice to study violence. I am finally meeting children of refugees, and I feel like I have a lot in common with them. There is a kind of determination, which I associate with Judaism, but it may be the result of being raised by a Holocaust survivor. There is an emphasis on education and on philanthropy. I hope that, in a way, I am giving back and helping others by writing this book.

SS: Did you ever have second thoughts about writing “Denial”?

JS: Not once I committed to it, but it took a long time to get to that stage. My editor is the one who told me, “You should be writing about your rape.” I resisted at first, but I couldn’t resist doing the investigation with the police. I was afraid that my colleagues wouldn’t take me seriously if I wrote this book.

SS: What are you working on now?

JS: I am working on two books; one about other victims of the same rapist, and one about the war criminals from the Yugoslav tribunal. I’m also developing a concept I call “post-traumatic growth.”

Strout’s Sequel Falls Flat

Sequels are risky business. Will that second kiss, second season of an addictive series or second visit to Paris make us swoon like the first, or leave us wishing we’d left well enough alone?

Alas, less is often more. Think Barbara Kingsolver’s “Flight Behavior” (versus “The Lacuna”), or Sarah Gruen’s“Ape House” (versus “Water For Elephants.”) Add Elizabeth Strout’s “The Burgess Boys” (versus her 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning “Olive Kittreridge”) to the list.

The Burgess siblings, boy wonder Jimmy and the loser younger twins Susie and Bobby, grew up in Shirley Falls, Maine. Flash forward 30 years to the same town, a site frozen in time with one exception — the recent near doubling of its population by the arrival of refugee Somalis whose presence puts it on the map as the second largest community of Somalis in America. It also puts the town on edge. This is rural, white, overweight and impoverished Maine. The lithe ebony-skinned Somalis with their brilliant silk head coverings, unisex caftans and foreign language, customs and mosque, do not exactly blend in.

Predictably (and somewhat stereotypically), there is an incident that may or may not be a serious hate crime. Susie still lives in Shirley Falls in the family home, and her troubled, sad sack son is the perpetrator. The Burgess boys are both Manhattan lawyers living in Brooklyn. Jimmy has a corner office, a six-figure salary and a six-figure patrician wife, and Bobby still wears worn baggy cords to his job as legal aid counsel. Susie summons them to Shirley Falls for emotional and professional support. Instead, the reunion compels the middle-aged siblings to confront their demoralizing childhood and the trauma that changed each of their lives. None is up to the task. They claw open barely scabbed-over wounds and then retreat to lick their fresh gashes.

The “Olive Kitteridge” Strout, who trusted her reader’s ability to read between the lines, is sorely missed here. Instead we get the disengaged Strout and her clumsy, uninspired, aloof dialogues. I wanted to feel compassion and empathy for these lost souls, but Strout wouldn’t let me in. These individuals have no depth, no exposed inner world to tap into.

Strout’s prose sparks briefly when she turns her pen to the Somali community. Here, her Pulitzer Prize-caliber craftsmanship rematerializes with sentences that enchant and inspire.

By the end of “Olive Kitteridge,” I cared deeply for my complicated friend Olive and wasn’t yet ready to part company. I longed for the last sentence of “The Burgess Boys,” and if any of the lot of them had trespassed for even one more syllable, I would have called the cops.

I have experienced the magic and intimacy KingsoIver, Gruen and Shreve can create when writing at their best. I still eagerly await their newest publications, and I will do the same for the next Strout. But it will only be because I have not given up hope that when I open the first page, it will be Olive who greets me. If it’s the Burgess clan instead, I’m outta here.

The Burgess Boys 

Elizabeth Strout

Random House Publishing Group, 2013