Jennifer Rosner is author of the picture book, The Mitten String (Random House, 2014) and the memoir, If A Tree Falls: A Family’s Quest to Hear and Be Heard (Feminist Press, 2010). She will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council’s Visiting Scribe series.
In my memoir, If A Tree Falls, and more recently in my picture book, The Mitten String, there is a character modeled after my great-great aunt, Bayla, who lived in an Austrian shtetl in the 1800s. Bayla was deaf and when she had a baby – whom she could neither see nor hear in the dark of night – she tied a string between them. When her baby cried, she felt the tug on her end of the string and woke to care for her child.
Since first hearing of Bayla’s story, string imagery has wended its way into my writing: braided strands of hair, violin strings, umbilical cords, the cilia that are meant to send auditory signals to the brain. Some of the imagery I’ve been drawn to is distinctively Jewish: the midwife’s string from a laboring mother’s bed to the synagogue’s ark door; the strings of the tzitzit, the straps of the tefillin wrapped around a wrist and the accompanying verse from Hosea 2:20: “You are betrothed to me in love and righteousness.”
Perhaps my interest in Bayla’s string and others comes from my deep desire for motherly connection. My own daughters were born deaf as a result of Connexin 26, a gene mutation prevalent among Askenazi Jews. As a new mother, I feared a chasm between me and my girls because of the experiences we would never share. I was in search of ways to connect to them through the difference of my hearing and their deafness.
Searching for pathways of connection with my daughters – outside and inside my writing life – has led me to a deeper understanding of myself and my history, the ways I’ve experienced hearing and being heard. As our family begins this new year together, the closeness I have been able to forge with my daughters feels like a gift passed down through the generations, like a tug on the wrist that keeps us connected, even in the dark of night.
Jennifer Rosner’s writings have appeared in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, The Jewish Daily Forward, The Massachusetts Review, and elsewhere. Jennifer holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Stanford University, and is editor of the anthology, The Messy Self (Paradigm Publishers, 2007). She lives in Western Massachusetts with her family.
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Jennifer Rosner is author of The Yellow Bird Sings, a 2020 National Jewish Book Award finalist in Debut Fiction and Book Club. She also wrote the memoir If a Tree Falls: A Family’s Quest to Hear and be Heard, and the picture book, The Mitten String, about deafness in her family, which she has traced back to Galicia in the 1800s.