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SeamstressI don’t recall where I saw The Seamstress: A Memoir of Survival by Sara Tuvel Bernstein recommended: I think it was probably through some of the What’s On Your Nightstand participants. But when I saw it on sale as an audiobook, I decided to try it. It was very wonderfully read by Wanda McCaddon.

Audiobooks don’t always include prefaces and introductions, but I am glad this one did as the co-author, Louise Loots Thornton, explained how the book came to be. Sara had attended a lecture on the Holocaust where the professor said that, although there were camps during WWII, the Jewish people embellished their experiences and made them sound worse than they were so people would “feel sorry for them and buy things in their stores.” Sara was so angry she decided she must write of her experiences. Louise had an MA in Creative Writing and Sara’s son had married into her family, so Sara asked her to help write her book.

The book begins with Sara’s birth (as Seren, which she is called throughout) and early childhood in Romania, where she was one of the youngest children of a Jewish mill owner. Persecution started early, as schoolchildren called her and her siblings “stinking Jews” or “dirty Jews” (after coming home from her first day of school, she smelled her clothes to see if they were indeed stinky. When her mother asked what she was doing and heard her answer, she waved it off with an “Oh that. Don’t even listen to it. It’s nothing.”) The priests presiding over the classroom and school would continually make disparaging remarks about Jews as “Christ-killers” and would respond negatively to the rabbi’s pleas for them to be let out for Jewish holidays. Periodically roving mobs would vandalize Jewish homes and businesses.

When Sara was in the fourth grade, she entered a contest where she was chosen to represent their school as a student in a more prestigious boarding school in another town. She was its first Jewish student. Things were not terribly different in this school, and when one teacher warned students to keep their distance from Jews during Passover because they used Gentile blood in their rituals, Sara threw an inkwell at him, marched to her room, packed up her things, and left.

She did not go home, however. She decided to try to apprentice as a dressmaking salon and found one salon owner who seemed to size up the situation and take her in. Sara did not tell her parents for a long while, as in the village she came from, young ladies did not work outside the home. When her father finally found out, he was furious: he had not wanted her to go to school there in the first place. But he finally came around.

When Sara completed her apprenticeship, she worked at the salon for many years and enjoyed outings with a group of friends. Many of them began sharing rumors they had heard about strange things happening to Jews in other areas, and then, suddenly, some of their number began disappearing one by one. As persecution escalated, Sara made it back home with the help of her supervisor’s son. There Jewish businesses were being closed down, and Sara and her father were arrested and accused of being spies. They were sent to a labor crew and then to prison. Sara was released, but her father was not. She then had to scramble to find work to support her mother and sisters. Eventually she moved to a different town with better prospects. Because she did not look like a Jew, with her blond hair and blue eyes, she got more work than she would have otherwise. Eventually two sisters  joined her. When she was out with one sister, they were picked up and forced to work with a labor crew for months. When it was discovered her sister was pregnant, she was shot. Sara was released and went back to her other sister, but eventually all the Jews were rounded up and sent to prison camps. Sara, her sister, and two friends were taken to Ravensbruck, a concentration camp for women north of Berlin. I had not known that this camp was only for women and that not many survived: I did know that Corrie Ten Boom and her sister were there, but unfortunately there was not much chance of their meeting as the Jewish prisoners were kept in a separate barracks.

Sara tells of the beatings, starvation, and inhumanity of the camps. She and her sister and friends became a foursome who managed to stay together, although Sara was careful never to stand next to her sister in line-ups for counting (some of which lasted four hours long) so it would be less likely that anyone noticed their resemblance and used their relationship to torture either of them. Sara was the oldest and helped the others know what to do (like choosing a top bunk for the four of them, since the bottom bunks were by windows which caused some of those in them to freeze to death), sought for (and stole, sometimes) food for them.

As the war wound down and Germany was losing, they tried to evacuate the prisoners for seemingly endless days of being packed together in cars with little food and less water. I believe she said they started out with 10,000 women, but by the time they finally stopped they were down to a few hundred because so many died on the way. At every stop the soldiers removed all the corpses.

After the war Sara ended up in a hospital for several months, where she weighed 44 lbs. on arrival, and later found work in Germany. Even at that time, if Jews boarded a bus, the Gentiles would vacate the bus: if Sara stood in line at different stores for provisions, the butcher or grocer would just happen to run out as she finally got to the counter.

Sara married, and eventually she and her husband received permission to emigrate to Canada, and later on to the US. Her daughter fills in details from the rest of her life in the epilogue.

I found this account riveting. Man’s inhumanity to man just astounds me, but Sara faced all of the events in her life with pluck, courage, and wit. She had an independent spirit early on which stood her in good stead through her trials.

Though she was a Jew in ethnicity, unfortunately she was not in her faith. Her daughter shares in the epilogue that her mother continued with many of the Jewish rituals because they were comfortable and familiar, but she didn’t understand why her friend through the horrors of labor camp became devoutly religious. She couldn’t believe in a God who let such things happen, and she felt that if there was a hell, it couldn’t be worse than what she had already experienced. She would be sadly mistaken on that point, and I can only hope she found that out before it was too late. That’s the down side of an independent spirit: one doesn’t recognize or acknowledge that God sends His rain on the just and the unjust, that He was the one who led her to food in unexpected places or to a coat with money sewn in the hem or gave her the will and drive to survive and to help her friends as well. Unfortunately, her experiences with so-called Christians early on caused her to see “the cross was used as a backdrop for persecution of the Jews.” I hope somewhere along the way someone was able to share its true meaning with her.

I’ve skimmed through a number of reviews, and some of them mention that she describes some of the horrors as well as the deaths of friends and family seemingly unemotionally. I didn’t get that impression, perhaps due to the narrator’s sympathetic inflections, but I would guess that was perhaps the only way she could write about such gruesome, wrenching details was to distance herself from them a bit in the telling. It is also possible she would not have wanted to seem as if she was embellishing the facts or pulling on readers’ heartstrings with her own emotions: she wanted to details to speak for themselves.

This will probably be one of my top ten books of the year.

What's On Your NightstandThe folks at 5 Minutes For Books host What’s On Your Nightstand? the fourth Tuesday of each month in which we can share about the books we have been reading and/or plan to read.

Oh wow – I was totally caught off guard for the Nightstand post this month. That’s more likely in months like this when there are five Thursdays, but I think I have an especially good excuse for being distracted since the premature birth of my little grandson. :) Anyway – here is the super-quick version:

Since last time I have completed:

Crowded to Christ by L. E. Maxwell, reviewed here.

Bleak House by Charles Dickens via audiobook, reviewed here.

Made to Crave Action Plan Participant’s Guide by Lysa TerKeurst and Ski Chilton, reviewed here.

My Man Jeeves by P. D. Wodehouse for Carrie’s Reading to Know Classics Book Club April selection, review coming soon.

The Seamstress: A Memoir of Survival by Sara Tuvel Bernstein via audiobook, reviewed coming soon here.

I’m currently reading:

The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge for Carrie’s  Reading to Know Classics Book Club for March. Yes, March. :oops: I just haven’t been inclined to pick this one up very much, but I am almost done.

Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal: A Boy, Cancer, and God by Michael Kelley

Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, a reread that I enjoyed it the first time but am getting much more from now.

Courageous by Randy Alcorn (audiobook).

Next up:

The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis

The Book of Three by Alexander Lloyd, first book in the Prydain Chronicles.

I think I am going to skip the May and June selections from Carrie’s  Reading to Know Classics Book Club, just because I have so many other books to get to, but I may get an early start on July’s choice of The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I have a feeling that one will take a good while. :)

Happy Reading!

A few weeks ago I went through Made to Crave (linked to my review) by Lisa TerKeurst during an online study with the Proverbs 31 Ministries. After completing that book, they MadetoCraveActionPlanPGdecided to go through the Made to Crave Action Plan video series and workbook, so I signed up for that as well. The videos were only online for a week at a time (the rest of their posts on the series are here). This is a different series from one made to go along with the original book: this one was co-authored by a Dr. Ski Chilton.

Each video had an introduction by Lysa, a clip of her speaking about a couple of spiritual principles, a brief time of discussion with Dr. Chilton, closing remarks by Lysa, and then a testimony from someone who had benefited from the Made to Crave book.

The first Made to Crave book was primarily about “want to,” motivation to control impulses and get healthy, primarily spiritual motivation: this book purported to discuss more of the “how to.” They did not discuss a specific diet plan, but rather principles like drinking water, eating more fiber, exercising, taking Omega 3 and polyphenols, increasing fish, fruit, and vegetable consumption.

To me the biggest value in this book is the section of action plans in each chapter: readers were encouraged to look through various activities, choose one or two, and then work through them by the following week. Some focused on the spiritual principles, some on the physical. there are also a number of valuable charts and worksheets.

I didn’t know, until this book, that not all fish is good for you or what Omega 3s and polyphenols were all about.

Some of the quotes or principles I found especially helpful are:

“Temptation is Satan’s invitation to get our needs met his way rather than God’s way” (p. 63).

“Hidden behind a temptation is often a legitimate human need. The challenge comes in how we choose to meet that need…How do you imagine God might want to meet the legitimate need behind the temptation?” (p. 67).

Commenting on James 1:2-4 (Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing): “We have to consider it because we won’t always feel it. When we consider something, we take time to think about it carefully. We concentrate on the issue and weigh the possibilities before taking any course of action” (p. 129).

““Between any trial and the blessing that comes from that trial, there is a pathway we must walk — that pathway is perseverance. Perseverance means having an urgency, firmness, resolve, and consistency.”

There were a few places, however, where I disagreed. One is where Dr. Chilton speaks about how the food industry and lifestyles have changed over the years and how that makes it harder to make wise nutritional choices: he then says, “It’s not your fault. You are not bad, horrible, and lazy.” Actually, making wrong food choices is our fault, and we have to take the responsibility to make better choices even though it might be harder.

In another, Lysa told her pastor she was afraid of of “letting God down” by failing in her journey toward better health. her pastor replied, “You can’t let God down. You weren’t holding Him up in the first place.” She thought that was great, but I thought it was flippant and unhelpful. I wrote more about this here, but in the same place I think I would have appreciated reassurances that God knows we’re going to fail, but He wants us to seek His grace for forgiveness and getting up again, etc.

In another, Lysa read a letter from someone talking about having trouble exercising regularly because she was lazy. Lysa spoke a great deal about lazy being a label the devil puts on us to discourage us and tells the writer that we’re not lazy, we’re courageous. I thought this missed the mark as well: the writer was probably speaking from past experience, and, again, if I were in her place and said that, I probably would have been looking for help to overcome that inertia to get moving and then to stay with it. Maybe thinking of laziness as a label helps other people. To me it doesn’t help to discuss it as a label when I know it is a reality (for myself.)

To me these were more a matter of being a bit off base rather than major doctrinal flaws. Overall I thought the book and videos were very helpful. I probably would not have bought the series, but since the videos were available for a while for this study, I’m glad I had the opportunity to go through them.

Friday’s Fave Five

 It’s Friday, time to look back over the blessings of the week with Susanne at Living to Tell the Story and other friends. Here are five favorite parts of the last week:

It has been quite the week here! My #1 favorite below will likely be the favorite part of this year!

1. The birth of my first grandson. Though he is very premature, and we would’ve liked for him to have waited a little while til his body was more ready to meet the world, it has been nice to be able to see him and touch him. Everything is going well so far, though he will probably be in the NICU for a couple of months yet. My latest update is here.

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2. An in-house dinner date. My youngest was out last Friday night, so I called my husband and he brought home take-out from Red Lobster. Good stuff.

3. Working on a project together. My husband and I went together last Saturday to pick out plants to replace some bushes he took out as well as some for hanging pots and for a row in front of the rose bushes. Then we came home and worked on the hanging pots together, then he planted the rest. Often we have to “divide and conquer” to get things done, so it was fun to do this together.

4. Replacement bush. Some of you may remember a “fave five” from several weeks ago where I mentioned finally getting rid of a bush by the front door that I never liked. We replaced it with a hibiscus and added another planter. I like it much better! I was going to take a before and after picture, but we had some unexpected frost this week that is making the hibiscus look a little shriveled. I hope it can bounce back.

5. Pizza from a place that I love but my husband doesn’t care for. I was craving it on the way back from the hospital earlier today and sprang for one. :)

Hope you have a great weekend and a wonderful time reflecting on the meaning of this Easter season, that “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (I Corinthians 15:3-4.)

Thanks so much for your kind words and especially prayers for our new little grandson. As I mentioned earlier, he was originally due in late June. He will probably be in the NICU for a couple of months, or until he meets certain milestones (maintaining body temperature, breathing well on his own, being able to eat on his own, etc.).

His breathing is doing pretty well. He was born crying, which all the doctors were surprised at with a preemie. That was a really good sign. They did put a tube down his throat the first day to put some medicine down in his lungs to keep them expanded, and he was on a CPAP for a few days which, if I understand it correctly, pushes air in something like gentle breaths. But as of Tuesday he was on just oxygen in a tube under his nose. He forgets to breathe every now and then until they stimulate him in some way, but overall he is doing well in that regard.

He’s a little jaundiced now, not unusual for even a full term baby. I don’t know if that is a little more critical for him since his liver isn’t fully developed yet, but they have him under a special light to help with that.

They put in a feeding tube yesterday to start giving him some formula, just a miniscule amount at first, to see if his digestive system handles it okay. Then they’ll gradually increase the formula or breast milk while decreasing his iv fluids. They say it will be a few weeks yet before he’s developed the skills to suck and then swallow and breathe all together without choking.

The first neonatal doctor who talked to my son and daughter-in-law said this will probably be more of an up and down journey, with highs and lows, good days and bad, rather than one of continual steady improvement. So far everything is going well, but it will be a long journey.

I’d appreciate your continued prayers for all of them: for the little guy, that he’d continue to improve and get to go home as soon as possible. for Mom as she recovers herself, for Dad as he tries to keep up with everything, for both of them as they pray and watch over him. I was thinking of my daughter-in-law last night in the sense that usually, when you have a newborn, you get to stay home in your pjs and cuddle and get to know him. Instead she is going out to the hospital a couple of times a day for several hours while still recovering and trying to get going with the breast pump, and she’s not able to hold him (other than just for a few minutes one day). Would appreciate your prayers for them for strength and stamina as well as grace for everything involved. They are doing well, but as the doctor said, this will be a long haul.

I did get to go to the NICU one night and then again this morning, and was able to touch him and talk with him. The rule in the NICU is that no one else can visit the baby unless a parent is there, so I have to coordinate going with when they are there (which is fine, because I want to see them, too. :)  ) and when someone is here to care for my mother-in-law. We had just cut her caregiver’s hours back a couple of weeks ago, mainly for financial considerations, so that limits what times I can go out. I may be able to get permission to see him by myself, but I’d still like to go when my son and d-i-l are there, too, as much as possible.

At this point I am not showing his face or sharing his name or any vital statistics on the blog, partly because I haven’t had a chance to ask his parents how they feel about it, but partly because things are just so vulnerable right now. My own kids were older when I started a blog, so as long as I wasn’t too specific about our location, I didn’t have a problem sharing pictures or their names. But it is different with a baby. :) However, I’ll give you just a glimpse:

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Isn’t he sweet? :)

Thanks again, so much, for your love, care, and prayers.

My little grandson, due late June, decided to make an early surprise appearance today!

He was crying as he came out, a good sign. But they will probably have to keep him in the NICU for possibly a couple of months.

Would appreciate your prayers for the little guy and the new parents.

I will probably not be on the blog for a few days :-)

Friday’s Fave Five

 It’s Friday, time to look back over the blessings of the week with Susanne at Living to Tell the Story and other friends. Here are five favorite parts of the last week:

1. Safe travels for my son and daughter-in-law as they went to OK to visit her mom and attend a couple of baby showers folks were throwing for them. They had a little accident when someone scraped their car passing in a parking lot, but thankfully it wasn’t major and didn’t jolt the car enough to hurt anyone.

2. Baby things. It has been fun perusing my daughter-in-law’s baby registries and seeing all the cute things. I am looking forward to seeing what they got for their showers! I enjoyed receiving a video from my son showing us their new stroller/car seat combo – it was fun to see how excited he was about it. :)

3. Nice temperatures. When I’ve been out and about this week, the weather has been sunny and the temperatures a little on the cool side but not so much as to need a sweater – my favorite.

4. New schedule working out well. We had to cut back my mother-in-law’s caregiver’s hours so as to manage my mother-in-law’s finances better, and also because there was not enough for the caregiver to do to justify paying for 9 hours a day. That means those hours the caregiver is no longer working fall to me. I’m having to watch the clock a bit to try to get my errands done while she’s here, and in some ways I feel a little more tied down, but I’ve been surprised at how nice it feels to have the house to myself more.

5. Losing 6 lbs. over the last few months. Woot! I’ve just been changing one thing at a time (beginning exercising regularly, cutting back on sweets), and there are many more measures I need to take, but it has been encouraging to see some results just from what I have done so far.

Happy Friday!

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