Sunday November 19, 2017

Rewriting a family's history obscured by anti-Semitism

Alison Pick grew up Anglican but has now reclaimed her lost Jewish heritage.

Alison Pick grew up Anglican but has now reclaimed her lost Jewish heritage. (Courtesy of Alison Pick)

Listen 5:44

Growing up in Kitchener, Ontario, Alison Pick was Anglican.

"We celebrated Christmas and Easter; it was never something that I questioned." That is, until a classmate called Alison out on the playground.

"He said: 'Your dad's Jewish.' I said: 'No he's not.' He said: 'Yes he is.' [...] There wasn't a whole lot of complexity and nuance."

But, Alison says, "I remember a feeling of alarm [...] I knew this was something that, if it was true, I couldn't admit to."

It was years before Alison would know the whole story. 

Alison Pick

Alison Pick's latest novel is Strangers with the Same Dream. (Courtesy of Alison Pick)

"[My father's] parents escaped Czechoslovakia in thirty-nine, just on the eve of the Holocaust. They came to Canada, and [...] they saw a club that had a sign on the door that said 'No dogs or Jews allowed' and they made the decision to raise my dad Christian."

At first, Alison didn't understand that decision. "As a teenager, I felt sort of indignant, not so much that something had been taken away from me, but that we should stand up for who we are and be proud and visible."

It wasn't until Alison began researching her award-winning first novel, Far To Go, set in pre-World War II Czechoslovakia, that she began to forge a deeper understanding of the choices her grandparents made. Around the same time, Alison felt a powerful call to reclaim the part of her family's history that had been abandoned, in essence, re-rewriting her family's history, at least in her own little branch of the family.

"When I was seven months pregnant, I went into the mikveh, which is the ritual bath that marks big transitions, and I came out a Jew. And I had my daughter a couple of months later." 

Alison says her daughter takes her Judaism for granted in a really wonderful way, whether it's bedtime prayers or making french toast with leftover challah from Shabbat.

"It's in these really simple traditions, through her eyes, that I feel a sense that our history has been rewritten, or her history has been rewritten, in a really both profound and simple and beautiful way."