Our Antonio

[float=left][/float]I was so thrilled to learn from a recent piece in the Tablet that Antonio Sabato Jr. was actually Jewish! Sabato is best known for his work as the gorgeous Calvin Klein underwear model and actor on General Hospital.  (Photo by Jerry Avenaim used under a Creative Commons license.)

Sabato’s mother, Yvonne, is Jewish but did not discover her heritage until she was an adult. Her mother hid her Jewish identity and sent Yvonne to Catholic school. The family had also moved from Prague to Italy. Antonio’s grandparents and uncle were killed in Auschwitz during the Shoah.

In the Tablet Sabato describes his upbringing as “very liberal, Judaism, and Catholicism. He does hope to visit Israel with his mother. (What a good Jewish son!) For now, Sabato is starring on his own reality series, My Antonio in which his mother helps him find true love.

We Are Here–In Vilna and in Abilene

I met Wyman Brent on Twitter–he’s a librarian, which already biased me in his favor. Today he posted to tell his Twitter followers, “Tomorrow at 12 I sign agreement for Vilnius Jewish Library. 1st real Jewish library in Lithuania since war.” In an article in the Baltic Times, “Making the Vilnius Jewish Library a Reality,” he explained,

“It’s kind of strange because I’m not Jewish and I’m not of Lithuanian descent,” said Brent.
As Brent describes it, it’s not so much a project as a labor of love.
“I’ve always loved libraries, I’ve been volunteering in them for years. I love reading, that’s something my parents gave me, and I’m fascinated with Jewish culture. I fell in love with Lithuania when I went there the first time in 1994. So it was kind of like, I love libraries, I love Jewish culture and I love Lithuania, so let me put this all together into this Jewish library,” explained Brent.

There is still a small Jewish community in Vilnius, once called the Jerusalem of Lithuania. (In Yiddish, it’s called Vilna.) This is very interesting to me as a person working for an organization that serves interfaith Jewish families, since most of the small remnant of the formerly vibrant and large communities in Eastern Europe are in such families. And also — it’s Vilna, where Hirsch Glik wrote the stirring song of resistance with the chorus, “Mir zaynen doh” — we are here.

Another web resource about small Jewish communities is the Small Synagogues website, http://www.smallsynagogues.com/. It contains the sweet stories of synagogues in small towns like Abilene, Texas and Sheboygan, Wisc. I really liked the warm tone of Sherry Levine Zander’s articles. That, too, has overlap with the lives of a lot of children of interfaith families who grew up as the only Jews in small towns.

Remembering the Shoah

Today is Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. I learned while I was doing the research for our Jewish Holidays Cheat Sheet that the reason it falls now is that the Israeli government wanted the commemoration of the Holocaust to be tied to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. I just read a beautiful book about Catholic Poles who hid Jews in Warsaw during the war, The Zookeeper’s Wife, and another, more recent book about the heroic effort of archivists to preserve a record of the Warsaw ghetto, Who Will Write Our History? by SamuOut of Faith stillel Kassow. The story of something as huge and overwhelming as the Shoah is only accessible in small piece, individual stories.

Such a story is contained in the film Out of Faith, a documentary about the life of a Holocaust survivor and her relationship with her grandchildren in interfaith marriages. When the film was first released, we published a review of the film, an essay by the director of the film, Lisa Leeman and an essay the producer of the film, L. Marc DeAngelis. They had contrasting perspectives on interfaith marriage and how the Jewish community should deal with it. Leeman is herself the child of an interfaith marriage. Continue reading