The Matriarch (1924), GB Stern/CC Spin #28

…In a typical chronicle of the Israelites, it would be taken for granted that the girls did not count at all…if they give birth to a boy who will grow into a man, they have fulfilled their destiny in the only possible way. When you have heard more about the adventure of being a Rakonitz, you will recognize why I have called them the very topsy-turvydom of Jews. It was a family of women bucaneers [sic]. They were thrown forward, and the men receded a very little bit into dependence.

GB (Gladys Bronwyn) Stern is a “lost lady” of literature: well-known in her time, but little heard of today. She was born in London in 1890 and at the age of 16 traveled with her parents to the continent and studied in Germany and Switzerland. She was a novelist, memoirist, playwright and short story writer; several of her novels were turned into movies. The Matriarch is the first book in the Rakonitz Chronicles, a semi-autobiographical account of the Rakonitz, Bettleheim and Czelovar families, who are well-to-do cosmopolitan Jews with various family members having settled in England, Hungary, Poland, Russia, and Austria.

To say this is a sweeping generational saga of three families gives an idea of the breadth of characters. In fact, there are so many a detailed family tree is provided in the back of the book. However daunting a read this seemed at the beginning-the narrative is constructed in such a way that the generations and their stories are told together rather than in a linear pattern of one generation building upon the last-it works very well. The narrative has the feel of conversations at big family gatherings where the oldest person tells anecdotes about old uncle Saul with the smelly pipe who knew all the important people and who was important himself or beautiful cousin Elizabeth who refused an arranged marriage scandalizing the family when she married for love or the great-granddaughter Toni who decided to work for a living to support her family when her father died.  

The action moves from Vienna to Paris to London to Italy, Russia and to Central and South America, beginning with Simon and Babette Rakonitz who marry in the early 19th century. The wealthy, upper class Rakonitz family are very assimilated, but retain elements of their religion. The story takes in the larger cultures and societies in which they live that make the novel so interesting. They are a well-accepted noteworthy family having made their money in the diamond and other precious gems trade. The women hold the family together, especially after the financial tragedy that robs each household of their husbands, uncles and fathers.

Against the backdrop of tradition that each family member is expected to accept, the younger generations fight for their personal independence against loyalty to the family name. And some try to balance both, making life difficult when cracks appear in the family armor that call for intervention. This is not a somber or dark tale of prejudice or oppression, but a story of a dynamic family that is engaged in living life to the fullest and that through the generations is fully invested in the world around them.

The Family Rakonitz!

Title: The Matriarch
Author: GB Stern
Publisher: Virago Modern Classics
Date: 1924
Device: Trade Paperback
Pages: 298

Challenges: Classics Club

October’s Blogging the Spirit

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Hi All,

I just want to make mention that this month’s Blogging the Spirit will be on the 29th.

Everyone is welcome to share through a blog post, a Tweet, an Insta or wherever your social media lives on any aspect of what inspires your connection to God/Source/Nature/People.

Books, music, art, film, photography, poems, a liturgical passage, a personal reflection. You decide!

Use the hashtag #BloggingTheSpirit on Twitter and Instagram so we can find you. You can also come to this blog on that day and leave the url in the comments of the post I will put up. Go here for more information.

See you on the 29th!


By the Waters of Babylon, Emma Lazarus, 1887

For the Fourth of July, 2017


Vast oceanic movements, the flux and reflux of immeasurable tides, oversweep our continent.

From the far Caucasian steppes, from the squalid Ghettos of Europe,

From Odessa and Bucharest, from Kief and Ekaterinoslav,

Hark to the cry of the exiles of Babylon, the voice of Rachel mourning for her children, of Israel lamenting for Zion.

And lo, like a turbid stream, the long-pent flood bursts the dykes of oppression and rushes hitherward.

Unto her ample breast, the generous mother of nations welcomes them.

The herdsman of Canaan and the seed of Jerusalem’s royal shepherd renew their youth amid the pastoral plains of Texas and the golden valleys of the Sierras.

In the Sierras. Onion Valley, I believe.



(When I was looking for a poem for this holiday, I liked that this one deals with America as mother to refugees, which is both a historical idea and modern controversy. But it’s also personal…my mother’s side of the family came from Ekaterinoslav, as Lazarus describes above).

Presidents’ Day and Religious Freedom in the United States

“…a Government which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance—but generously affording to All liberty of conscience, and immunities of citizenship: – deeming every one, of whatever nation, tongue or language equal parts of the great Governmental Machine…” Moses Seixas to President George Washington

In 1790, George Washington responded to a letter written to him by a Jewish resident of Newport Rhode Island that has become, for many, the foundational statement on religious freedom in the United States. I believe it is particularly important at this time in our history to remember our heritage, which President Washington stated so well.

You can read the exchange between Moses Seixas and George Washington here.  And the full letter from Washington here.

If you are unfamiliar with this episode and perhaps somewhat rattled by recent events from the new administration, becoming familiar with Washington’s words may give you some optimism, because religious freedom has always been a hallmark of this country, even when we have struggled over it. And on a personal note, both sides of my family sought refuge here during terrible times in their home countries and Washington’s words have always given me trust in the process. Some excerpts:

“It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”

“May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”