Tuesday, September 17, 2019

A Long-Lived Project on Long-Lived Lives

We were getting ready for a drive to Madison, Wisconsin when the phone rang. This was the phone we usually don’t answer, the one mostly used by solicitors, fundraisers and our security system. I checked to see if it was someone I knew. "Star Tribune" it read. I hesitantly picked it up. I had just told my husband I was ready to go and I knew he was eager to get on the road.

“Is this Susan Weinberg?” a female voice asked. 

“Yes,” I replied. 

“Susan Weinberg, the author?” she clarified.  

“Yeeess,” I replied drawing out the yes with an implicit question. Most of my callers don’t begin in this fashion, although I must admit, I rather liked it.

“There are an awful lot of Susan Weinbergs in this town,” she said with a tinge of exasperation. I laughed and told her of the one of whom I was aware. 

“Yes,” she said, “I just got off the phone with her.”

She then explained the purpose of her call.  I had interviewed Trudy Rappaport, a Holocaust survivor, some years back and she had just passed away at 101. My caller was a journalist writing a piece on her for the paper. She knew of my book based on these interviews and had tracked me down to learn more about Trudy.

The project had started with an official sounding name, the Jewish Identity and Legacy Project. It grew out of my exploration of identity. I worked together with Sholom Home and the Jewish Historical Society (JHSUM), received grants to fund it and did the interviews in 2011 and 2012. Over the intervening years, I  created artwork on their stories and by 2017 I had turned the material into a book, We Spoke Jewish: A Legacy in Stories.  Most of my interviewees were in their nineties when I interviewed them, long-lived even then. Several made it past one hundred. Now only one, about a decade younger than the others, remains. For several years since, I've been doing book talks. This year my talks have taken me around the country, often speaking on themes of immigration and translating story to visual imagery.

It makes the time period from then to now feel a bit compressed. Their voices and their stories live in my head, even those long gone. Trudy was one I remembered well. She was an amazing storyteller, in part because the Holocaust was a hard story for her to tell. It kept her affect fresh, the emotion still alive within her as she retold her story. There is something very powerful about a story and the sense of connection that it creates in the retelling. I had ridden the waves of emotion with her as she recounted reconnecting with her parents after nine years of separation, not knowing if each other had survived. Eagerly I had asked her what happened next, my curiosity often taking over.

I reached for my computer and tried to remember the path to the transcripts I had done so many years before. I hadn’t anticipated them being used in this fashion although it was the perfect time to share the story. In addition to the transcript,  I sent the journalist to some video clips I had created so she could hear Trudy and get a feeling for her directly.

You can read what she wrote  here and if you’d like to hear it from Trudy you will find my artwork on her stories and her videoclips here.