|Letters to the Editor|
|Written by Jewish Chronicle Readers|
|Thursday, February 21 2013 12:00|
Letter-writer Herbert Barger deplores “lies” in “Sally of Monticello: Founding Mother,” perhaps forgetting a novel is made-up storytelling. Not invented, however, are verifiable facts forming the basis for my historical fiction, start to finish. I use the voice of slave Sally Hemings, who was three-fourths white and the look-alike half-sister of Thomas Jefferson’s late wife.
Support for my story of Thomas and Sally rises best from the Research Committee report of the Monticello-based Thomas Jefferson Foundation in 2000: “It is very unlikely that Randolph Jefferson or any Jefferson other than Thomas Jefferson was the father of her children.”
Barger’s charge that writers aim “to degrade Mr. Jefferson” suggests sensitiveness over race. Rather than diminish Jefferson, reports of his pursuit of happiness in a loyal 38-year relationship with Sally tend to dignify him. That’s also the view of historians Winthrop Jordan (“White Over Black,” 1968) and Fawn Brodie (“Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History,” 1974), who wrote without benefit of substantiating DNA ties. Jordan credited Sally with relieving Thomas’s “high tension concerning women and Negroes.”
My Thomas/Sally love story reminds us that ours has been a mixed-race nation from its founding. Barger seems unready to accept that feature of our heritage, unlike our mutual hero, Thomas Jefferson, who showed no guilt over the affair and was, in his own words, “not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead.”
Friend a person in need
Recent articles about the musical “Almost Normal” presented by the Jewish Community Center reminded me just how important it is to help people with mental illness.
Twenty-four years ago the Johnson County Mental Health Association started a program called Compeer. A compeer is a person of equal status or rank, a comrade, companion or an associate. This was a very appropriate choice to name this program.
I chaired the Compeer program along with Angie Deberry. One of the first things I did was ask two women who were kind, warm and giving — Charlene Pollack and Elinor Friedman — to connect with two women who suffered from severe mental illness. As compeers, Charlene and Elinor would be their friends.
Charlene’s friend came from a large family. She and her brothers and sisters suffered from schizophrenia. She was an intelligent, proud lady. She had been married to an alcoholic, and on her own raised two children while battling manic-depression. She and Charlene established a warm relationship and appeared on radio and television programs discussing mental illness. Charlene visited her home and met her family. They remained close friends for nine years, until Charleen’s compeer died.
Elinor’s compeer was in and out of mental hospitals and nursing homes. She tried to earn a living by taking care of children in her home. Her own three children were ashamed of their mother’s illness and only one son kept in contact with her.
For the last 24 years, Elinor visited her compeer at nursing homes and hospitals, kept in contact with her on the telephone and purchased things she needed as well as birthday and Christmas gifts. Elinor kept in touch with her compeer’s social worker and son and made sure the woman was clothed and comfortable.
Elinor was honored as Compeer of the Month by the MHA in April 1992. Her interest in Compeer was a desire to “provide a friendship for a person in need.” Just recently Elinor called me to tell me her friend had died and she felt a great sadness and loss. Her friend’s final words to her were, “God was watching over me when he sent you to me.”
The Compeer program has been phased out. It was a wonderful program that established beautiful friendships for both the volunteers and their friends.
An story worth hearing
On Monday, Feb. 18, I had the pleasure of hearing Shlicha Ophir Hacohen tell her family’s history. In an intimate setting, the audience heard how several generations of her family reflect the long road that culminated in the establishment and success of the State of Israel.
Among her ancestors Ophir counts pioneers who arrived to Palestine in the mid 1800s. Others were Holocaust survivors who fought in the War of Independence and the ’67 War. The roots of this Israeli woman are intricately linked with modern Israel.
Ophir Hacohen will have two more presentations from 7 to 8 p.m. on Feb. 25 and March 4 at Congregation Beth Shalom. On Feb. 25, she will explore the theme of strong Israeli women in the armed forces, culture, politics and Israeli society as a whole. On March 4, Ophir will address the current campaign to de-legitimize Israel on U.S. campuses.
To those interested I can promise two evenings rich in information and discussion.