Tuesday, June 1, 2010

What Family Secrets Will People Share?

Last night I was the guest speaker at a meeting of a chapter of Na’amat in Toronto. Eighteen members were in attendance. Their response adds to my conclusion that The Unveiling has the power to free many people of the burden of keeping their own family secrets.

The main focus of the organization is fund-raising, and they had a full agenda planning for two upcoming events. They changed the order of their program to let me speak first so they would have more time for the business at hand. I didn’t think this was an encouraging start.

To my surprise, once I began sharing the family story, I had their full attention. They shook their heads in understanding at some parts of the story, they gasped at the description of David learning about his father’s mental illness.

When I finished my presentation, many of the women immediately shared stories of secrets their friends and families have kept, including mental illness of a parent or a cousin, mental retardation in a family, and even a cousin’s prostitution. One woman pointed out that even when a relative of hers was diagnosed with cancer, they were not allowed to talk about it.

The women repeated many Yiddish phrases that indicate how it is better not to talk about something that causes shame for the people involved. I was surprised at how much of these Yiddish sayings I understood. I remembered hearing these comments as I was growing up and how much pain it caused my mother to know they were talking about her family.

Just before people left, one woman came up to me, thanked me for my courage in sharing my family’s situation and announced: “I have a family secret, and I have no intention of telling anyone about it.” I wonder if she will change her mind after reading the book.

(Photo was taken at a study group my father attended while still a teenager in Lithuania. He is the first one on the left reading a paper.)