After­math: Com­ing of Age on Three Continents

Annette Libe­skind Berkovits

  • Review
By – March 6, 2023

In the Tel Aviv of the 1950s, amid a mosa­ic of cul­tures and lan­guages that had come togeth­er in the fledg­ling Jew­ish state, a new­ly arrived Pol­ish immi­grant named Dora Blaustein Libe­skind served a unique role: she made brassieres for the wives of the polit­i­cal elite. It seems that dur­ing this peri­od of Israel’s his­to­ry, known as yemei hatzena—the hum­ble days — when many peo­ple did not know where their next meals were com­ing from, a cer­tain class of women want­ed under­gar­ments made with atten­tion to detail and Euro­pean crafts­man­ship. Lucky for them, Mrs. Libe­skind worked as a bra-mak­er in Łódź before arriv­ing in Israel in 1957.

This charm­ing lit­tle tid­bit is one of many revealed by her daugh­ter, Annette Libe­skind Berkovits, in her lat­est mem­oir. The book recounts Annette’s child­hood, from her par­ents’ return to Lodz after exile in Kyr­gyzs­tan when she was three years old, to her Jew­ish upbring­ing in post­war cos­mopoli­tan Poland in the ear­ly 1950s, to their brief but mem­o­rable life in Israel on Kib­butz Gevat and then in Tel Aviv, and, final­ly, to their immi­gra­tion to New York when Annette was six­teen years old. The book ends with Annette’s astound­ing grad­u­a­tion from the elite Bronx High School of Sci­ence, a remark­able feat for a girl who did not know a word of Eng­lish just two years before.

Now a well-regard­ed sci­en­tist, edu­ca­tor, and con­ser­va­tion­ist, Berkovitz offers a rich por­trait of the tumul­tuous worlds in which she lived. She describes the inner life of fel­low teenagers on the kib­butz, who dealt with the con­tro­ver­sial children’s house, group meals, farm­ing work, and the first stir­rings of love. She recounts Israel’s tenth anniver­sary, when she danced on the Tel Aviv streets with strangers, one of whom became her first boyfriend. And she recalls being caught in cul­tur­al clash­es between sabras” and immigrants.

Most evoca­tive are Berkovitz’s depic­tions of her moth­er, who was a strong, deter­mined, and fierce­ly inde­pen­dent woman, far ahead of her time. Her niche tai­lor­ing skills sup­port­ed the fam­i­ly in Poland so well that they had nan­nies, an indoor toi­let, lace and ceram­ic finer­ies, and vaca­tions. She also sup­port­ed the fam­i­ly for two years in Tel Aviv — despite the lan­guage bar­ri­er and cul­tur­al dis­ad­van­tages — while her hus­band strug­gled to find a job. His inabil­i­ty to secure work even­tu­al­ly brought them to New York, where the advent of depart­ment stores with cheap, mass-made under­gar­ments meant that there was no demand for her skillset. Although Mr. Libe­skind was final­ly able to work, Mrs. Libeskind’s career was nev­er quite the same. Berkovitz mourns the loss of her mother’s per­sona almost as much as she pines for her for­mer life in Israel.

After­math is a stun­ning book about an era that had a deep impact on Jew­ish history.

Dr. Elana Sztok­man is a Jew­ish fem­i­nist anthro­pol­o­gist, edu­ca­tor, activist, and author, and two-time win­ner of the Nation­al Jew­ish Book Coun­cil Award. Her most recent book is When Rab­bis Abuse: Pow­er, Gen­der, and Sta­tus in the Dynam­ics of Sex­u­al Abuse in Jew­ish Cul­ture (Lioness Books, 2022).

Discussion Questions