4: Text excerpts, David Bezmozgis’s "Roman Berman, Massage Therapist," 2004.
The Kornblums invite the Bermans for a Friday night meal—a meal to celebrate the Jewish sabbath. Like the vast majority of Soviet Jews, the Bermans have no experience practicing Jewish rituals. This is in part a result of the history of the Soviet Union itself as an atheist state, suspicious not only of Judaism but of all religious practice. At the same time, the Bermans come to the Kornblums bearing a homemade apple cake, which, in the family’s lore, carries the weight of their unique story as Soviet Jews.
Suggested Activity: Read the two excerpts from the story about the apple cake. What do we learn about Jewish observance in this family over several generations? How does the apple cake function symbolically in the excerpt? In the second excerpt, why does the apple cake not appear at the dinner table at the Kornblum house? How does its absence highlight the ways in which the families’ different approaches to Jewishness conflict in the story? Now invite the students to imagine an alternative reality in which the apple cake that the Bermans brought to the Kornblums could appear at the dinner table—maybe it couldn’t be served and eaten, but perhaps it could somehow make an appearance instead of being left in the kitchen for the duration of the meal and then given back. How would the encounter between the Bermans and the Kornblums—and, perhaps, the encounter between Soviet Jews and Toronto Jews—unfold differently in that situation?
Source: Excerpts from “Roman Berman, Massage Therapist” from NATASHA: AND OTHER STORIES by David Bezmozgis. Copyright © 2005 by David Bezmozgis. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Users are warned that this work is protected under copyright laws. The right to reproduce or transfer the work via any medium must be secured with Farrar, Straus and Giroux.