Earlier this week, Justine Hope Blau wrote about growing up in an intellectual but chronically homeless family. Her blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
We grew up with my mother’s special brand of religion: Eccentric Judaism. My two older brothers and I were allowed to eat shrimp and lobster, but we wouldn’t dream of tasting pork. On Saturdays we weren’t allowed to write or spend money, yet that was negotiable, depending on our circumstances. We spent six years without a home, moving from hotel to hotel in Manhattan, always short of money. So there were times when, given that we often didn’t have a kitchen, we’d spend money on Shabbos to get food. Even Yom Kippur, the holiest of Jewish holidays, was malleable. We drank water and fasted until about 2:00 pm because that’s as long as my mother could take it before succumbing to her appetite. “Life before Torah,” my mother would say, and she invoked it whenever it suited her agenda.
In my recently published memoir, “Scattered,” I write of losing faith in Judaism in 4th grade, when my class at PS 111 on West 52nd put on a play about King Arthur. I auditioned for the role of Merlin the magician, after my brothers coached me for the part, teaching me to speak in a low voice for maximum gravitas. I landed it, beating out two boys.
My mother nixed it for me though, when she saw me kneeling as I rehearsed in front of the mirror in our hotel room. At the end of the play, everyone had to kneel to King Arthur.
Justine Hope Blau, a writer of screenplays and books, has an MFA from Columbia University’s School of the Arts. Her memoir “Scattered: A Mostly True Memoir” is now available. Her blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
People would often underestimate me if they knew that my parents hadn’t taken good care of me, so I used to be covert about the six years my family was chronically homeless and the years I spent in placement with the Jewish Child Care Association. People assumed I couldn’t drive, or had never been to Fire Island or didn’t know French — that kind of thing. And I’d get touchy because people who grew up underprivileged tend to be thin-skinned.
Now I’ve written a childhood memoir, “Scattered” so my story is out. And while most people give me a lot of credit for transcending such challenges, friend-of-my-youth Jacqueline Heagle is quick to give me perspective.
“You are a spoiled brat,” she reminds me.