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January 12, 2006 - Image 55

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2006-01-12

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The Gem Theatre presents by special arrangement with the Purple Rose Theatre Company


By Jeff Daniels I
Directed by Guy

episodes of discrimination in the early
Return To Judaism
years in an expedition world that was
It was only after Blum became a moth-
dominated by wealthy gentile men. She
er that she came to understand the dif-
includes photographs (and many more
ficulties of her mother's and grandpar-
are available on her Web site,
ents' lives, and the tragedies her father
www.arleneblum.com , in color).
had experienced. She realized that
With much candor, Blum looks back
indeed she had received much love and
at her early life, beginning each chapter
attention, which, ultimately, gave her
with some recollection from childhood, strength.
and then leaps ahead to her moun-
Now, she says, she feels both curiosity
taineering journeys. As a child, she was
and sympathy toward her family, sorry
discouraged from learning to swim but
that she didn't ask more questions
she persisted; she wasn't
when she had the opportuni-
allowed to accept a scholar-
ty. One of the pleasures of her
ship to a private high school
book tour is that she is meet-
that recognized her talent.
ing many cousins who are
After being taught Hebrew
able to fill her in on family
prayers by her grandfather
stories — and literally fill in
and able to read better than
the names of a family por-
any of the boys in her class,
trait from 1919 that she is
she stopped going to Hebrew
carrying around.
school when she wasn't
Several years ago, she
allowed to read the prayers out Arlene Blum:
returned to the Judaism
Risk to ker.
loud because she was a girl.
she'd been angry at as a
The early memories are told
child, attending egalitarian
in the present tense. Only later, the
services at Hillel in Berkeley. She was
:author comes to learn about her fami-
moved by seeing women leading serv-
ly's background.
ices for the first time, loved the music
Her mother grew up in an affluent
and felt embraced by the community,
home in Davenport, Iowa, with three
which included old friends from her
sisters. She married early, to a German-
climbing and scientific worlds.
Jewish immigrant, a doctor, just as she
When asked to carry the Torah, she
and her mother had dreamed. But their
was trembling and thrilled. During the
marriage was troubled, in part for the
mourner's Kaddish, when the leader
tragedy that befell his family, left
suggested that she say the name and a
behind in Germany. Both of her parents
memory of the person she wanted to
were emotionally unfit for this mar-
remember, she spoke of her grandfa-
riage; her mother suffered greatly and
ther."I was coming home at last',' she
was hospitalized, treated for her emo-
tional wounds in ways from which she
Her daughter celebrated her bat
would never recover.
mitzvah, and Arlene remains involved
When Arlene was a toddler, she and
in the Jewish Renewal movement,
her mother moved in with her grand-
where she finds "real substance and
parents who, out of shame, left
spirituality" she didn't know in her
Davenport for Chicago. Arlene's father
early years.
went to New York, and she didn't meet
"I feel a lot of connection and appre-
him until she was a teenager. In fact,
ciation for how Jews have traditionally
she grew up looking at family photos
cared about making the world a better
where he had been cut out. The
place,' she says-."I want to be part of
Holocaust was never mentioned in her
that tradition."
Now that her daughter, who doesn't
Life in Chicago for Arlene was domi-
much like walking, is on her own, Blum
nated by her grandparents. Her mother
plans to do more climbing, again lead-
really couldn't care for her. Her grand-
ing trips, but not the life-threatening
mother had little education, many fears
ones. She also hopes to return to her
and many strict rules, while her grand-
scientific work and public policy work
father showed her some kindness.
on toxic chemicals, as she is "heartbro-
At a recent reunion of her
ken at the destruction of our planet's
Annapurna team, she and a friend
environment and at the increasing gap
mused about their painful childhoods
between rich and poor."
and thought that perhaps they were
"I've had success if I dream things
able to take huge risks as climbers
up," she says. "I can make things hap-
because they didn't think their lives
pen." ❑
mattered that much. It wasn't that they
felt suicidal, just unimportant as indi-

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January 12 • 2006


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