by Arthur Dean
($19.95, paperback, 240 pages, with 6 photographs)
You’ve enjoyed reading Singer, Bellow, Malamud and Potok. Now feast your eyes on the short stories of the “Dean” of Jewish authors, Artie Dean. A periodontist by vocation, he found his calling writing pieces for The Jewish Leader, the bi-weekly newspaper serving Eastern Connecticut. This versatile writer is equally proficient with fiction and non-fiction, mysteries and reflections, profound insights and humor. You will cherish these writings, especially if your literary taste buds savor contemporary Jewish perspectives on matters as diverse as Israel, synagogue, baby boomers and baseball. Regarding the latter, Dizzy and Daffy Dean enthralled fans in the 20th century. Now is Artie Dean’s time. Enjoy!
—Rabbi Aaron Rosenberg, Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Emanu El, Waterford, CT.
Finding humor and meaning in life’s day-to-day happenings is the secret of a good storyteller. Artie Dean is a masterful story teller. You will enjoy these stories! Growing up in Washington Heights, New York and then raising a big family in suburban Connecticut with children choosing markedly divergent paths, has provided Artie Dean with a wealth of material to fashion heartwarming and enjoyable tales. You will enjoy these stories very much!
—Jerry Fischer, Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of Southeastern, CT.
In this engagingly versatile collection of stories, Artie Dean, a dentist by trade and a writer by birth, plumbs afresh post-war Jewish life here with wit, intimacy, candor and nostalgia about characters and community, family and personal history, all the while serving up unflinching and indelibly familiar portraits of who we were, are and ever will be.
—Steve Slosberg, Retired columnist for the New London Day.
If you want honest and genuine sentiment that touches the heart and soul, sip Artie Dean’s My Two Cents slowly. Here you will enjoy writing that resonates with rich and riveting treasure—at once a touching personal diary of emotion, empathy and angst, a reflective biographically driven narrative that flirts with fiction, and a penetrating tribute to the measure of our humanity. Here, regardless of your background and experience, you will find real life full of hopes, fears, dreams, humor, joy, sadness and longing.
—Marc Goldsmith, Professor of Communication Arts and Humanities, Mitchell College, New London, CT.
I have always envied writers who lived through difficult times—war, famine, international intrigue. If they followed the old adage, “Write what you know,” they had plenty of material. When I first began to write, in my mid-forties, often at 4 or 5 in the morning, I feared that my “ordinary life,” as a first generation Jewish-American, was far from interesting. Yet, despite my misgivings, I plunged ahead, letting my everyday concerns surface in my writing.
Frequently I felt my stories wrote themselves, with characters and plots that seemed to jump from my subconscious. Conflicts with children, parents, and teachers pervaded my early morning ramblings. Doubts about the proper way to live my life and raise my children resurfaced, steeped in my memories of a childhood spent trying to assimilate.
To my delight, readers seemed to find a connection with my characters’ struggles, ordinary as they might be. So I continued writing, working out my protagonists’ conflicts when mine were much harder to resolve.
My sensibilities reflect the Jewish-American experience of a generation born in the fifties to immigrant parents. I was born in New York in 1953, to Jewish parents from Austria whose lives were shattered by the holocaust. Miraculously, as teenagers, they each escaped Vienna on the Kindertransport, lived out the war years in London during the Blitz, and eventually settled in America. They met in Philadelphia on an arranged date. Within a short time they married and settled in New York City to pursue the American dream, in the Washington Heights neighborhood, a stone’s throw from the George Washington Bridge. That’s when I came into the picture, blithely unaware of my parents’ travails, or the tragedy that had befallen our family at the hands of the Nazis in the shtetls of Eastern Poland.
So, there I was, growing up in one of the most culturally diverse neighborhoods in America, with children of all races and nationalities. We mixed in the schools, on the baseball diamonds, and in the schoolyard, where the art of stickball and punchball seemed far more intriguing than the traditions my parents hoped to instill. They longed to preserve their heritage, despite all that had been snatched away. I attended Hebrew School and synagogue, as instructed, but, I admit my mind was not always fully engaged.
Wanting desperately to fit in to my American homeland, I felt strangled by the traditions of my parents. I wanted to be an American first and foremost, not a reflection of my parents’ values. While they clung to their European roots and emphasized religious observance, I pulled away, pursuing baseball and basketball and all things American.
The 60’s and 70’s were turbulent times. The Vietnam War and loosening cultural taboos polarized an already confrontational New York City, often pitting the baby boom generation against their parents. Perhaps generational conflict is common to the immigrant experience in America, or perhaps I was a bit of a rebel. Either way, early conflicts were hard to overcome.
Life experience changes us. I married. I raised a family. I got older. I began to see value in maintaining my heritage and traditions. I raised four children with my wife, Barbara. I had hoped my own conflicts might help lead my children through the mine fields of youth. Instead, as the children grew, they developed opinions and values of their own, often sponsoring vigorous debate as they navigated through their teenage years. Sometimes, I would find myself taking positions that sounded much like my own father’s, an irony that continues to surprise.
I began writing essays for the Jewish Leader newspaper nearly twenty years ago when I was asked to write an article about our yearly synagogue baseball game, an event I had helped organize. Later I gravitated towards fiction. My stories often reflected things that were going on in my own family, a catharsis that might have helped me cope with the challenges of parenthood.
I started a biweekly column for the Southeastern CT Jewish Leader newspaper and called it “My Two Cents”—thus the title of this short story collection. I’ve been writing for the Leader regularly for 15 years, publishing more than 300 essays and stories. I consider the pieces in this collection my best. Most are from my work for the Jewish Leader. Many of the sports related stories appeared in the Waterford Times newspaper. The trio of, “My Father’s Shoes,” “The Kiddush Cup,” and “A Family Found” were picked up and republished in the Masorti/ Conservative Judaism magazine, a national publication that reaches Conservative Jews throughout the United States and Canada.
Most of my characters happen to be Jewish, but I believe their challenges are universal. Some grapple with questions of faith. They have conflicts with their fathers, or mothers, or perhaps their own children. Some have turned their back on their religion, or their family, and want to make amends. Some are estranged from their children and yearn for a second chance. In the story, “My Father’s Shoes,” the little boy who stayed out of services too long on the day of Yom Kippur is perhaps a metaphor of my own life experience. The boy plays tag outside the synagogue, loses track of time and then falls and rips his pants. He returns to the Synagogue, bathed in sweat, ashamed to face his father. Years later the boy, now a man in his fifties, remembers the event, and thinks, “I did come back. It just took longer than I thought.”
If you’re a sports enthusiast there’s plenty in this collection for you. Check out the, “Let the games begin,” chapter. Love baseball? Try, “Yankee Fantasy Camp,” or, “The Anniversary Gift.”
I’ve reserved some of my longer stories for, “The Big Picture,” chapter. In “You Can’t Go Home Again,” a young man is forced to deal with the rifts in his family when he is mistakenly accused of child abuse. In “The Big Picture,” a man nearing retirement reconnects with his estranged daughter and infant granddaughter putting his savings and, ultimately, his life in danger.
The “Holiday Blues,” chapter contains stories with the Jewish Holidays as a backdrop. If you like a good dog story you might enjoy “Celebrating Chanukah,” the story of a lost dog whose love of latkes ultimately reunites him with his family. For fans of Charles Dickens, you’ll recognize his influence in “’Twas the Night before Passover Story,” a parody that shows even the most hardened heart can repent, and find a meaningful life. I suppose that is all we can hope for.
The stories in “Reflections on Raising Children,” were written over a ten-year period while my four children were still at home. It was a tumultuous time. One of my New London readers once lamented to my youngest son, “I only like when your father writes stories about himself.” To which my son laughed and said, “Every story is about my father.” Our children only think they know everything, but on this occasion he may have been right.
For those trying to raise teenage children, you know how humbling it can be. Our kids are married now, some with children of their own. I look forward to seeing my children raise their own children. I doubt it they’ll ask for my advice, but if they do, I’ll try to hide my smile.