Review of 'As I Lived It'
As I Lived It
by Irma Miriam Lopes Cardozo
Self published: 2010. 254 pp.
At a time of intense national debate and discussion about immigrants and immigration, it’s refreshing to read this memoir by a Jewish woman whose life experience has been so very different from the Eastern European background that is familiar to most of us.
Irma Miriam Lopes Cardozo was born in 1924 to a Jewish family in Surinam. Her father and mother were both leaders in the Sephardic community there, yet because of the tolerant nature of Dutch society, there was much intermingling between religions and races (although, perhaps not surprisingly, less civility between the older, established Sephardic Jewish community and the newer Eastern European Ashkenazic community).
Lopes Cardozo came to the United States during World War II to work for the Dutch Marines. With little to keep her in her native Surinam, she sought to remain in the States after the war ended and managed to establish an independent life for her self.
With marriage to a cantor at the major Sephardic temple in Manhattan, whom Lopes Cardozo had known from Surinam, her life’s rhythms changed. She soon became a mother, living modestly on her husband’s salary–supplementing as she could with small projects from her former employer at a Dutch bank in New York—and became as integral a member of her Jewish community as did her husband.
Above all, the reader gets a sense of the author’s deep devotion to her husband and family. Much of the book is, one suspects, a tribute to her late husband, a gifted and modest man who unstintingly gave of himself to others.
There’s almost an anthropological quality to this memoir. What’s charming are the many festive and celebratory meals Lopes Cardozo evokes, with details about foods, Dutch Jewish visitors and conversations, that evoke a slower, gentler era that eludes most of us today. It’s not so much an exercise in nostalgia as a portrait of a vanished world that many of us wish we could visit. #