Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival
Community Prize for Writing on a Festival Theme
Many of our Festival books feature the intersection of biography and memoir with history. Tell us about a time when a major world event had an impact on your life.
Submissions are open to all. Send original, unpublished submissions of 500 words or less to email@example.com by September 20, 2013. The first-place selection in both categories (18+/under 18) will win the Community Prize for Writing, online publication and $100.
Under 18: Olivia R.
A Final Act of Freedom
It wasn’t very hard to choose a world event that had an impact on my life. Out of all the hardcore events that have happened, the Supreme Court’s striking down of the defense of marriage act is the one that has changed my life the most.
I have two moms. No, not a birth mom and a step mom; lesbian moms. They’re the best people in the world to me. I really love them. It kills me that they aren’t accepted everywhere. That’s why the Supreme Court’s decision changed my life. It made my family more legitimate, more valid. More ultimate. My moms are free. That means I am free.
Not too long ago life for gays was horrid. They were badly treated. If you came out you might get kicked out of your home, lose your job. You might get beaten or killed. That’s where my moms come in. They, luckily, weren’t horribly treated but their relationship wasn’t recognized. It’s horrible to think as a gay person that the world is against you based on whom you love. It’s not something you can change. Even if you try. Even if you wanted to. All those years, from then till now, through all the protests, through the bullying, the suicides, the struggle, to now. I am so happy that now love is love. A man and a woman - still love. A woman and a woman - still love. A man and a man - still love. Even the highest court thinks so.
If it wasn’t for all of this, I wouldn’t be alive. That’s where I come in. Not too long ago it wasn’t acceptable for gays to have kids. They couldn’t live openly and adopt or have children with their partners. In the year 2000 my mom decided to have a baby. They did. A beautiful boy and a beautiful girl –twins! — That’s my brother and me.
The Supreme Court’s striking down of the defense of marriage act only happened recently, but it was the final move. The last check. The very last step to finally granting freedom for gay people.
This world event, the Supreme Court’s decision, changed my life because it validated my family. It made my parents officially free which made me free too.
Over 18: Vinod B.
A Matter of Honor
“Before I married your father, I was engaged to his youngest brother, Sookhool,” my mother said.
Mama’s engagement was a family secret that everyone acknowledged but no one wanted to talk about. This time, however, I sensed that Mama wanted to tell me more.
“Six months after the engagement, Sookhool enrolled in the British Colonial Army. Soon after, they shipped him to Palestine. A famous hotel had been bombed in Jerusalem and many British officials had died.”
I realized she was referring to the King David Hotel.
“Didn’t you try to dissuade him?” I said.
“ Service in the Colonial Army offered him the promised land. It was not only the money. He was fed up having to obey his elder brothers. If you live under their roof, you have to listen to them.”
“He could have rented a house on his own,” I said.
“Sookhool was jobless. He signed up for the army, thinking he wouldn’t be called, that he would stay in the barracks in Mauritius and draw a salary.”
My mother got up and walked towards her armoire. She pulled out a document which she handed to me, and a postcard. The document, bearing the letterhead On His Majesty’s Service, stated: “....Private Sookhool B. died of wounds on April 24th, 1947 at the Beer Yaakov Military Hospital.”
Mama lingered on the postcard, black and white, now yellowish. It depicted an orange grove in Jaffa. “He wrote in simple French because he knew I had only three
years of primary school and didn’t understand English. He kept sending me postcards and letters. I can’t find them now. I must have mislaid them in the upheaval following his death.”
I then recalled picking up, in the debris left by Cyclone Carol in 1961, a few wet black and white postcards -- Port Saïd, Haifa, the Church of the Nativity -- and throwing them away. I felt guilty and I blushed.
She walked back to the armoire and opened the window, letting in the sea breeze.
“After your uncle died -- I don’t remember whether it was six months later, or a year -- the neighbors told us what they heard on the radio: the British were leaving Palestine and a new country was being created. Israel.”
She wrapped the document and postcard in white linen, and paused.
“That was a different era. I was considered a widow, a poor widow. No young Hindu man would think of marrying me.”
Though my mother was now in her seventies and her wrinkles and worried look were familiar, her face betrayed pain I’d never seen before. I held her hands.
“Your father acted honorably. The reputation of my family and his clan was at stake. To save our honor, he married me.”
“Did you love him?” I said.
“I couldn’t afford to think that way. I said to myself that love can always come later. It grows.”
My parents got married in a religious ceremony on December 15, 1948, and the following year I was born.