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Meryl Ain

Keynote speaker was acclaimed writer, author and educator Meryl Ain

Huntington Town Supervisor Ed Smyth hosted the Town of Huntington’s 12th Annual Anne Frank Memorial Ceremony at Arboretum Park in Melville, home of the Anne Frank Memorial Garden, on July 26. The event was be held mid-way between Anne Frank’s June 12th birthday and the August 4th date of her capture. Frank would have been 93 this year.

“We must counter the voices that seek to divide us and fight ignorance with education, which is why the Town honors the memory of Anne Frank every year and, through her voice, all those voices silenced through the Holocaust,” said Supervisor Smyth, pictured in photo on right at the podium. “The iron wedding dress sculpture in the Anne Frank Memorial Garden appears vulnerable yet it has withstood the elements, and even acts of vandalism; its endurance represents the strength and fearlessness with which we must fight evil, ignorance and hate.”

This year’s feature guest speaker was Meryl Ain, a Huntington resident who is an acclaimed writer, author, podcaster, and career educator. Her award-winning post-Holocaust debut novel, The Takeaway Men, was published in 2020. Its sequel, Shadows We Carry, was published in April 2023. 

The Takeaway Men is the result of her life-long quest to learn more about the Holocaust, a thirst that was first triggered by reading The Diary of Anne Frank in the sixth grade. While teaching high school history in the Syosset School District, she introduced her students to the study of the Holocaust.

The Anne Frank Memorial Garden, unveiled by the Town in June 2010 at Arboretum Park, symbolically captures the journey of Anne Frank’s life. It features a circular pathway that surrounds a garden, which leads to the sculpture of a young girl’s dress. The Memorial Garden serves as tribute to Anne’s legacy of wisdom and genuine belief in the goodness of mankind and human nature, despite the ugliness of war and discrimination.

The Ceremony concluded with a song from Cantor Hazzan Steven Walvick and a final Benediction by Rabbi Asher Vaisfiche.

'Shadows We Carry'

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Meryl Ain’s debut novel, The Takeaway Men (2020), focused on immigrants Aron and Edyta (Judy) Lubinksi and their twin daughters, Bronka and Johanna. Refugees from Hitler’s Europe, the family settles with Aron’s cousins in Bellerose, Queens. 

Author Meryl Ain

The absorbing story traced their struggles with adjusting to the new world and the burdens and guilt related to survival. Dealing with both the aftermath of the Nazi genocide and the rising Red Scare during the Cold War, The Takeaway Men offered a vivid portrait of a family in transition and ends in 1962.

Ain’s sequel, Shadows We Carry (SparkPress) picks up a year later for a brief prologue on the day of President Kennedy’s assignation. As the teenage Bronka states: “This is the end of the world … Nothing will ever be the same again.” 

In Shadows We Carry, Ain focuses on Bronka, the more serious of the twins. The narrative follows the young woman’s journey from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. Ain once again displays her deft gift for presenting the intersection of historical events and cultural awareness. 

The sisters are a portrait in contrast. Bronka studies history and political science, aspiring to a career in journalism. Johanna (called “JoJo”) studies music education but has no desire to teach. However, her musical theatre dreams are derailed by a pregnancy, leading to an alternately fulfilling and frustrating married life.

Bronka’s odyssey takes her through a range of personal and professional obstacles. A well-drawn character, complicated yet likable, she is a good but flawed individual, often getting in her own way—a case of wrong for the right reasons. Even with her strong Jewish identity, she tends to seek romance with unavailable men. The first is Ned, the Queen’s College newspaper editor-in-chief and a graduating senior. Later, she falls for a priest, the charismatic Father Stan. Even more importantly, Bronka represents the pull between career and homemaking: her passion for making a life in the news world versus her desire for a traditional family constantly battles. 

Shadows We Carry also emphasizes the age of rebellion, reflecting an era of burgeoning self-discovery. Bronka’s neighbor and lifelong friend, Mindy, a middle-class version of anti-establishment, confronts Bronka with a hard truth: “Look, my mother and Tina Rosen and her sisters will all end up in boxes. It’s up to you whether you do or not. I think both of you could go either way. But I sure as hell will not. I’m going to find a different path. But first, I have to find out who I really am.”

In search of self, Bronka is unsure of her niche. Too intellectually curious to accept a narrow conservative marriage, she is conversely uncomfortable with the free-love, drug-taking hippie element. She constantly faces less than thinly veiled chauvinism and misogyny. 

Ain’s gift is the ability to veer from domestic drama to social and political issues. Whether addressing the mother’s Catholic heritage but embracement of Judaism (or the priest’s mirrored journey), she delves into the psychological turmoil of her characters. 

Mother Judy clings to an outdated vision of what women can be, subsuming her dreams to the needs of her often taciturn and haunted husband, Aron. Residuals of the Communist Witch Hunt and the search for Nazi War criminals play out against the age of the Viet Nam War. 

Canvassing for Eugene McCarthy, along with the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, are affecting milestones. The beginning of the AIDS crisis is touched upon in a subtle but powerful stroke.

An interesting event occurs in 1973 when Bronka covers the renaming of the Nazi streets in Yaphank’s Fatherland Gardens. She is accompanied by a photographer unaware of his father’s direct connection to Auschwitz. 

If The Takeaway Men focuses on the immigrant experience in the post-1945 world, then Shadows We Carry highlights the assimilating America of the 1960s and early 1970s. Its quick, taut chapters reflect the peripatetic and energetic pacing of the latter part of the 20th century. A book of identity, it asks the twin questions “Can you ever escape history?” and “Can you ever escape your history?” 

A smart and welcome coming-of-age novel, Shadows We Carry is available on Amazon.com.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

We saw from a distance the open truck with children. Marta was standing next to me with her twin girls, who were five years old. The Gestapo was looking for more children. The girls screamed to Marta, “Mama, the takeaway men are coming, they’re going to take us away!” And they scooped up my little nieces, and the truck — loaded with children — drove off, and we never saw them again.

Author Meryl Ain

This vivid and disturbing description will come back to haunt Aron, a Holocaust survivor, in a very different way.  

Meryl Ain’s The Takeaway Men (SparkPress) is an exceptional and vibrant first novel. It is the story of Aron and Edyta Lubinsky and their twin daughters Bronka and Johanna. It is a tale of painful secrets and complicated histories. It shows the shift in the United States and in the free world from the desire to find justice for the victims of the Nazi’s genocide to the paranoia surrounding the Red Scare during the Cold War. But The Takeaway Men is also a portrait of the power of love and the ability of family to embrace and heal.

The prologue takes place in Poland, 1942, at the threshold of the Holocaust’s darkest hours. It then briefly jumps to the displaced persons camp outside of Munich, where the twins are born on July 4, 1947. Finally, the main portion of the book begins in 1951, settling into Bellerose, Queens, where it plays out for the next eleven years. Here the Lubinski family is taken in by their only living relatives, Izzy and Faye. In 1908, at age twenty, Izzy had left Poland to escape an arranged marriage and a religious life. In America, he found a new path, opening up two bakeries, and enjoying both a more relaxed existence than he would have found as an orthodox rabbi.

And while the issues of fascism versus communism are part of the book’s political core, The Takeaway Men is truly a celebration of America. There is a deep appreciation of the United States as a country that welcomes refugees and it shares the message without preaching. It embraces the wonder of a free democracy to give hope to those fleeing tyranny and seeking a new life:

“You know,” [Aron] told Izzy, “in Europe, people think the streets are paved with gold.”

“Yes, I heard that rumor before I came here too,” Izzy said with a laugh. “America accepts people like us and gives us the chance to get ahead on our own merit — that’s what’s golden about it …”

But even here in America, Aron continues to be haunted by his past. When the neighbor Lenore is arrested by men in suits, he sees the shadow of the Gestapo. Lenore’s daughter cries: “The take-away men took Mommy away.  When is she coming back?”

What is revealed is Lenore had a vague connection to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were arrested, convicted, and then executed for espionage. The plight of the Rosenbergs is one of the many historical elements that are subtly introduced throughout the story’s arc.

The Lubinskis remain with Izzy and Faye as the girls grow up. Aron has actively chosen not to reveal his nor Edyta’s history to the girls.  But several incidents, including a fascinating scene in which a Hebrew school teacher shares what she feels is necessary knowledge, the publication of The Diary of Anne Frank, as well as a suspected Nazi working in the neighborhood, force some painful and startling revelations.  

In addition to the central characters, the book is populated by characters richly drawn in all their human complexity. Izzy and Faye’s mentally troubled daughter, Becky, returns to the fold, introducing someone who has a capacity for great love but is chased by demons of her own. 

Jakob Zilberman, a gregarious friend, survived as a member of the Sonderkommando, the prisoners who were forced to work in the gas chambers and the crematorium. Unlike Aron, he is compelled to speak out on his experience. He is another man plagued by not only what he witnessed but by his own actions: “I would prefer to tell you another story, one in which I look brave and fearless. I would prefer a story where I was a hero and saved people. But that wasn’t possible in those circumstances, and I wouldn’t be honest if I embellished what really happened to make myself look better.” Ain gives us more than a hero:  she gives us a human being.   

And, at the novel’s heart are the twins, Bronka and Johanna, as they grow up and grow apart but never lose their bond in this every changing world.

Many of the characters struggle with their religious and ethnic identities. Izzy and Faye’s son has married outside the faith and it is a fascinating study of conflict to see the parents try to find a way to accept this without losing their own cultural commitment. The issue of what it is to straddle the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds is addressed without judgment. The question of how to belong and yet not lose one’s sense of self is raised in all its contradictions.   “It was easier to be a Jew in America than in Poland, but it still wasn’t easy … when you’re a Jewish immigrant in Bellerose, you don’t quite fit in, no matter how many Christmas carols you know.”

There is a refrain in the book that references the biblical Ruth. Ruth, who was not Jewish but married an Israelite, in widowhood remains with her mother-in-law. The idea that “whither thou goest, I will go” resonates throughout.

Ultimately, The Takeaway Men is not just about family — it is about a neighborhood and a community. It is about the choice to survive even if you must make great sacrifices in the process. But finally, it is about finding that acceptance comes from understanding and understanding is what can make one whole. 

Available Aug. 4, The Takeaway Men may be pre-ordered at BookRevue.com, BarnesandNoble.com and Amazon.com.