In Chaim Linder’s well-written memoir, edited by his son Mark after his death, Linder transports readers from his childhood in Palestine to his eventual pursuit of the American Dream.
When Linder’s Jewish ancestors leave an increasingly unstable Poland at the turn of the 20th century, they arrive in Palestine with high expectations, only to find that Jerusalem is teeming with refugees struggling to survive in a city that lacks housing, sanitation and jobs. Nevertheless, Linder’s childhood is full of spiritual wonder and a strong sense of community as everyone pulls together to survive the many hardships. Eventually, his father departs for America hoping to raise enough money to support the family in Palestine. Linder’s brother soon follows. And as Linder takes stock of his own meager prospects in Palestine, he too sets sail –even though he will arrive at the beginning of the Depression.
Linder skillfully combines personal detail with historical facts. By putting events in context—discussing, for example, the upheaval as Turkish rule gives way to British rule—he delivers an enlightening view of the region without editorializing. And Jews and non-Jews alike will appreciate his candid observations of the daily struggles in the gated city: “There were no public utilities – no electric or gas service and no private plumbing of any sort. The population preferred alleys and corners to the few filthy public toilets…”
Even after his story turns to America, Linder retains reader interest, as he must find a way to support himself learning trades like “koshering” meat and selling neckties from a valise due to the Depression.
At more than 650 pages, the book is overly long and may seem daunting to some readers; the narrative could have been more tightly edited. It also requires a closer copyedit to add missing articles in some sentences.
Nonetheless, this is an engaging memoir about an uncommon individual who rises above his childhood circumstances. Those interested in the Holy Land at the turn of the 20th century will find it particularly compelling.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.