Jewish Book: Saving Myself, a Los Angeles Childhood
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Healing Childhood Hurts
Friday, 10 February 2012 12:04

The New Mexico Jewish Link Volume 42, Number 1  January 2012

By Tori Lee

     Santa Fe author Jeanne Simonoff’s gently written memoir takes readers back to post World War II Los Angeles. Her childhood is shattered when her mother dies suddenly while Jeanne is still a toddler. But her father regains his balance in due course and marries a wonderful woman who, along with Bubbie and Zaydie, provides a stable and loving environment for the young girl.

     Children make whatever sense they do of people and events without regard to any larger frame of reference. Simonoff has captured some of these wonderful non-linear memories of childhood. Maybe her cousin was right and her mom didn’t die but moved to Chicago. Why does she get sent out of Temple during the Yiskor service? Is that when something mysterious or magical happens that children aren’t supposed to see? What’s wrong with going Christmas caroling with her best friend Babette when both girls know all the words?

     Unfortunately, these childhood memories also include being bullied by a Jew-hating neighborhood boy and being denied membership in the local Girl Scout troop on religious grounds. But these experiences pale in comparison to the hurt of being told that, despite learning Hebrew and studying with the rabbi, she will not be called to the Torah when she turns 13. No bat mitzvah. As for so many young girls, a bat mitzvah just wasn’t an option back then.

   But Simonoff does not leave the reader on a sad note. An epilogue explains why the memoir is entitled Saving Myself. For at age 61, she bravely begins to study Hebrew again in preparation for her long delayed bat mitzvah, to regain a portion of her self long denied.

     Simonoff’s memoir tells the story of so many young women who found avenues for participation in their faith closed to them for no reason other than “that’s not how we do things.” Reading Saving Myself may serve as inspiration to other women who, no matter how much past age 13, wish to be called to the Torah and take their rightful place as full members of their faith.