We admire some authors not only because of their writings but also because of the human being these writings reveal. It quickly becomes clear from reading the essays in Zichronot/Memories what an intelligent, humane, and yes, soul-ful man author and physician Jerry Lowenstein is.
The first essay I read was about Vilna because I recently returned from that history-laden city in Lithuania. “Vilna on My Mind” deftly captures the somber mood there, long after the atrocious events of its past. “Should the sights and sounds of the Vilna ghetto be seen as history or memory?” Lowenstein asks. He describes the silence permeating the forest at Paneriai, where 100,000 Jewish men, women, and children were killed. On my own trip to Vilna, I learned these victims were rounded up and taken to this terrible site because the trees in the forest would hide the sounds of the shots.
There are 21 essays in this exquisite book; each gives voice to what otherwise might be lost or silenced. Their topics range widely through memory and experience: Musings on learning about the writer’s voice while reading (“The Summer I Rediscovered Philip Roth”). Caring reflections on patients at Bellevue Hospital where Dr. Lowenstein has practiced for over four decades. And recollections of travels to Peru, Maine, Italy–each trip prompting a larger look at how we think, feel, and live our lives.
“The Genome: A ‘Template’ for the Torah?” is one of my favorite essays, though there are many I like. This piece suggests the fascinating ways the Torah and the entire body of Jewish law resemble the human genome. Both are based on three-letter codes, have repeating sequences, and are transmitted faithfully from one generation to the next. “Both texts are organized in linear fashion, and both set forth very explicit instructions for living…. Is it possible our DNA might have served as a metaphor or “template” for the Torah?”
Jerome Lowenstein’s medical career has been devoted to teaching, research and the care of patients. He is Professor of Medicine at New York University Medical School, a practicing physician, publisher of Bellevue Literary Press, Nonfiction Editor of Bellevue Literary Review, and author of books from Yale University Press, Oxford University Press, and other publishers.
His latest book, published by Mulberry Press, is beautifully written, thoughtful and poignant. Reading its essays is like spending time with a very, very special man.