Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Preoccupied With My Father

A little book by Toronto lawyer and self-taught painter Simon Schneiderman. It's a tribute to his father Yoel who survived several personal and global tragedies in his ninety plus years, including unimagineable family losses. The format is unusual and lovely, hardcover and compact with beautifully reproduced paintings. The art is colourfully textured in the naive-style, sometimes reminiscent of Chagall's dreamy shtetl paintings, at other times suggestive of the savage characterist George Grosz. Each page of the book features an image from Yoel's life opposite a page of only a few words. It's a book that can be read in ten minutes or savoured and read over and over again. My interest in the book was initially less literary than personal. I knew Yoel Schneiderman. I was a 24 year old working at the Jewish Public Library organizing lectures and readings. Mr. Schneiderman was my most stalwart patron. An angular man with high cheek bones and thin expressive eyes (Simon's portrait is remarkable) he would attend, without fail, virtual all of the library's programs, whether they were lectures by esteemed university professors or open mic poetry readings, whether they were in French, English, Yiddish, or Russian, whether the weather was clear and sunny or minus 20 and the streets were blanketed in two inches of ice. I knew nothing about him, save his name (he called me Mister Rothchild and spoke to me with a certain respect that, given my youth and his age, I considered comical). If there were two people in an audience (which happened more than I'd like to admit) one would be Mr. Schneiderman, and when he was missing, it had to be serious (As it turned out one time it was, he was mugged in the street.) This book is a loving, moving tribute but even more it's a testament to one ordinary, unassuming man's quiet courage and the enduring power of the human spirit.

No comments: