Ruth Behar

From Dec ’07 Spotlight: “Borders are crossed and recrossed daily, as exile, migration, expulsion, displacement, diaspora, homelessness and the trauma they bring about describe the human condition for millions of people,” wrote Ruth Behar in her “Foreword” to a collection of essays called Women on the Verge of Home (edited by Bilinda Straight). Behar’s empathy is based on personal experience. In her profoundly moving new book An Island Called Home: Returning to Jewish Cuba she describes a complex family tree. Her father’s parents (her Abuela and Abuelo) were Ladino-speaking immigrants from Turkey while her mother’s parents (her Baba and Zayde) were Yiddish-speaking immigrants from Poland and Russia. Born in Havana in 1956, Behar grew up in New York mourning a pre-Castro paradise of which she had no first-hand memories.

Now a professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan, Behar is coming to Chicago on December 5 as part of the Nextbook series. In addition to reading selections from An Island Called Home, she will also show numerous photographs taken by her collaborator Humberto Mayol as they traveled through-out Cuba together, interviewing people trying to reclaim their Jewish roots as the reigning ideology evolved from “atheist” to “secular,” and searching for the remnants of Jewish holy places. Thomas Friedman may talk about a “flat world,” but as she told me when I called her, Behar thinks: “we have to make it round again. Everything connects; circles are about connection.”

The program will begin at 6:30 PM at the Alliance Francaise (54 West Chicago Avenue) near Water Tower Place. To purchase tickets, visit: or call program coordinator Abigail Pickus at (312) 747-4074.

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