Book Report

Rachel portrait

Rachel Siegel
photo credit: Gale Halpern

The book reading today was quite a special occasion. Rachel read selected extracts from her memoirs with a silvery voice that projected well as the audience sat utterly wrapt. Unfortunately I only got there after the event was underway so I didn’t hear Rachel describe the early part of her life and her escape from Nazi Germany. The passages I heard were selections from her family life, of passing on Jewish tradition down the generations, from her parents to her grandchildren, very moving reflections on marriage and graceful but clear-eyed acceptance of the passing of time. I found her reflections particularly profound without being sentimental and there is something in this book to inspire and teach us all.

The discussion was very revealing, Rachel talked about the process of building a memoir from notebooks, about her desire to be careful to avoid causing anybody any pain from reading her words, and her struggle to build the confidence that writing the memoir was more than passive self-absorption. People asked questions to fill in the biographical fragments of those mentioned in the book such as her parents, and it was clear that there are additional histories waiting to be written. For instance Rachel mentioned that her father worked for IGFarben and it was partly his non-Jewish colleagues there who helped to convince him to leave Nazi Germany when it was still possible. This is a very interesting personal perspective on a company that bears direct responsibility for Nazi crimes. The personal anecdote further underscores the impression from recent research reported today in the NYT documenting the enormous numbers of concentration camps and ghettos established by the Nazis (42,500) with one of the implications being how extensive the awareness of ordinary German citizens must have been about the atrocities that were taking place.

NYT holocaust

The upstairs annex at TBE is a very special space for gatherings. As one participant pointed out it is both spacious and intimate. We are really fortunate to have this lovely space available to our congregation.

Rachel book signing

Special thanks to Rachel Siegel for sharing herself and her insights with us all in book form and in person. Thanks to Gale for organizing this special event and for providing me with the gorgeous photographic portrait of Rachel. Thanks also to Lesli for bringing the NYT article to my attention.



Book reading

Please join us this Sunday morning at 11 AM for a book reading of a recently published autobiography “My Songs of Now and Then: A Memoir” by our very own Sisterhood member, Rachel Siegel.

My songs cover

Rachel was born in 1924 as Rachel Josefowitz in Germany, then moving to Switzerland in the ’30s to escape the Nazi regime. In 1938 she left Europe for New York.  Rachel attended Simmons College in Boston and  has lived in Ithaca since 1949, working as a Psychotherapist for Family and Children’s Services for many years.  At the age of 55, Rachel decided to take up writing and this memoir is been the culmination of her efforts, including her membership in Irene Zahava’s writing group at Tompkins County Library, and her most recent compilation of reminisces while living at Kendal.

rachel journey diagram

The book reading will take place in the upstairs Dining Room in the Annex this Sunday morning, March 3rd at 11 AM. Books will be available for purchase (and author signing) with $5 of the purchase being donated to TBE. Softcovers will be $20 (retail $21.95) and hardcover $30 (retail $31.95). Buy early and buy often!

All TBE members are welcome.

Here is a link to an article written about Rachel and her Memoir published recently in the Ithaca Times.