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A Grinnellian's Story

Sun, 2010-01-03 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)

James Holbrook ’66 leaning over drawings with ruler in hand

Holbrook calculated the trajectory of artillery shells on plywood like this.

Courtesy of Jim Holbrook ’66

Twenty-five years ago I helped kill dozens of other human beings.

At that time I was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Grinnell College with two degrees in philosophy. I also was an expert in directing 100-pound high explosive projectiles to scream from the sky and burst among the living.

I have experienced the cusp of modern American history. From the backyard barbecues and fall football games of the 1950s, to the selfishness and cynicism of the 1980s and 1990s. And in between were the protests, marches, craziness, and killing.

Grinnell took a gamble by accepting me and giving me a scholarship following an unpromising first semester at MIT. I felt at home at Grinnell in its small town atmosphere and rural environs. I met many others who were both very serious and oddly zany. I felt stretched and expanded as I shed an old skin.

Grinnell taught me that life is full of inherent ambiguity and real complexity. I learned that not everything is worth wanting, having, or doing. I found an intensity and tapped an unsuspected reservoir of energy and creativity. Grinnell was the prism that refracted my little beam of light and truth into a rainbow of potentiality. I left Grinnell planning to become a college philosophy professor.

Three years later I was an artillery fire direction specialist in the United States Army in the Mekong Delta region of South Viet. I had enlisted in the Army despite a graduate deferment to go to Yale. I elected to be sent to Vietnam — the only promise the Army every kept. I left behind a wife, a life, and a career track in academia that I never recovered.

Why did I do this? Was I so unhappy in an unhappy first marriage? Was I ashamed of my father who had avoided military service in World War II by working as a railroad fireman until the fighting was over? Was I a patriotic child of America bound by duty to serve God and country? Was I curious as many others before me to “see the elephant” and observe my reaction? I really don’t know. It could be some of this, or all of it, or something completely different.

Somewhere I once read that the root cause of delayed stress reaction among Vietnam veterans is guilt. It has taken 25 years for me to sense the enormity of killing all those people and helping to destroy their universe. I still dare not look this fact square in the face. What would I say to the grandparents, parents, spouses, children, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins, nephew and nieces of all the ghosts? How would I start? And where?

Having turned 50 this year has brought the past closer. I feel my own mortality and the presence of the ghosts heavy by my side. The weight is actually comforting. I will not collapse under its burden. It gives me some real measure of substance, stability, and purpose.

Earlier this year I pulled from a closet shelf the cigar box full of Vietnam memorabilia that I have carried with me all these years. I had the medals and insignia framed. The frame hangs in my office. On my desk is a brass Buddha from Vietnam cast from spent artillery shell casings. Close by is a replica of the “Thousand-yard-Stare” statue at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Grinnell seems further away than ever in my life. I don’t know whether I will make it back there again, or why. Instead, I need to visit the Wall, which I have avoided like a nightmare. I also need to return to Vietnam. I especially need to pay homage to ghosts at the “Wagon Wheel.” There, one afternoon, in the intersection of three canals near the Plain of Reeds, eight people departed this earth. Six thousand meters and 30 seconds away, I had plotted their demise. I am their witness and they must not be forgotten.

I wonder if we do have souls. And if those souls survive our bodies. And if those souls can communicate, and embrace, and apologize, and cry, and forgive.

Reprinted with permission from The Grinnell College Blue Book, 1996, as a web extra for The Grinnell Magazine, Winter 2009.

Challah-Making Workshop

On Saturday, Nov. 21, Chalutzim hosted a challah-baking workshop. Participants learned how to make challah, a braided egg bread served on the Jewish Sabbath. The challah baked at the workshop was given to the local foods Thanksgiving meal held the next day.

This article appeared as a web extra for The Grinnell Magazine, Winter 2009.

One woman watches while another shows her the bowl with yeast in it.
Liz Reischmann and Brendy Peralta (both ’12) mix up the yeast. By Aaron Barker ’11
Bowl with spoon and foamy liquid in it, egg carton on the side.
Waiting for the yeast to bubble. By Aaron Barker ’11
Man stirs contents of a bowl while woman adds something from a measuring cup. Third person watches.
Melanie Rockoff, Aude Bouagnon, and Max Calenberg (all ’12) measuring and mixing. By Aaron Barker ’11
Three people working over two bowls of dough.
Andrew Marcum, Rebecca Hughes, and Meryl Spencer (all ’12) make the dough. By Aaron Barker ’11
Woman manipulates dough over a bowl.
Carla Eckland ’13 works with the challah dough. By Aaron Barker ’11
Woman cutting a ball of dough with kitchen shears. Man stands ready beside her.
Sophie Klein ’10 and Peter Macfarlane ’12 separate the dough before braiding. By Aaron Barker ’11
People surrounding a table with several strips of dough and a few balls ready for rolling.
Preparing to braid the challah. By Aaron Barker ’11
Three people ham for the camera in aprons next to a flour-covered table.
Peter Macfarlane ’12, Eric Miner ’11, and Allie Greenberg ’10 have fun as they get ready to braid the challah. Courtesy of Rebecca Heller ’11
Women line up rolls of dough to braid.
Erica Seltzer-Schultz ’12 and Sophie Klein ’10 braid the challah. By Aaron Barker ’11
Three loaves being braided, each with four rolls of dough.
Braiding the dough — students experiment with four braids. By Aaron Barker ’11
Two people braid dough while a third pats a completed loaf into shape.
Debbie Stein (Rabbi Stein’s wife) (far left) helps Peter Macfarlane ’12 and Katie Queen ’11 braid the challah. By Aaron Barker ’11
Woman bastes a raw loaf as another looks on.
Katie Hawley ’11 (left) and Lilith Ben-Or ’12 prepare the challah for baking. By Aaron Barker ’11
Woman holding a sheet pan with two cooked loaves of bread.
Emily Ullberg ’12 shows off the final product. Courtesy of Rebecca Heller ’11
Three women stand next to a sheet of cooked bread.
Emily Ullberg ’12, Rebecca Heller ’11, Allie Greenberg ’10 proudly display the finished challah. Courtesy of Rebecca Heller ’11
Several golden-brown loaves of Challah.
Beautiful (and delicious)! By Aaron Barker ’11

Images of Vietnam

Jim Holbrook ’66 graduated from Grinnell with a passion for philosophy. He was on the brink of entering the Ph.D. program at Yale when his plans fell apart.

It was 1968. Martin Luther King was killed, and then Bobby Kennedy.

“The world seemed a little crazy,” Holbrook says. “I found myself feeling like what I really needed to do was join the army.”

His next stop — Vietnam.

Dong Tam was the headquarters base camp of the Ninth Infantry Division in Vietnam. Holbrook served at the Fire Support Base Moore west of Dong Tam.
Holbrook crouched in front of a crude tent
Holbrook in front of the Fire Direction Center bunker at Fire Support Base Moore.
Men manning an artillery gun
Holbrook was an artillery fire direction specialist in the U.S. Army in the Mekong Delta region of South Vietnam.
Men plugging their ears as an artillery gun goes off
Artillery experts often suffered hearing damage from firing the big guns.
One of the six 155-mm howitzers in B Battery. It could shoot a 95-pound projectile about 10 miles and drop it within an area less than the size of a football field.
Holbrook leaning over charts with ruler in hand
Holbrook calculated the trajectory of artillery shells on plywood like this.
men bathing in canvas-walled open air showers
Showering under the blue sky of Vietnam.
Man shaving in the open with gear on ammo boxes and clothes and towels drying behind him
Shaving required a steady hand and a helmet full of cold water.
Holbrook holding a couple of weapons
Like all soldiers, Holbrook became familiar with the care and use of weapons like this one.
Holbrook sitting on howitzer
One of the batteries in Holbrook's artillery battalion had 155-mm self-propelled howitzers.
Man in gas mask talking into a mouthpiece
Occasionally the gunners in Holbrook's Battery would 'frag' the FDC tent with a tear gas grenade.
Holbrook in sandals sitting on wooden boxes, crosses in background
Holbrook on Easter Sunday in Vietnam (note the crosses in the background).
mix of shells
A collection of shrapnel and mortar and rocket shells fired at Fire Support Base Moore.

All photos courtesy of Holbrook. This article appeared as a web extra for The Grinnell Magazine, Winter 2009.

Pittsburgh to Grinnell to Help Plan My 50th College Reunion and Back

Sun, 2010-01-03 00:00 | By Anonymous (not verified)

Liane Ellison Norman ’59Liane Ellison Norman ’59 wrote this poem about planning her 50th Grinnell College Reunion, held in 2009.

Eight hundred and ten miles each way,

a journey to the center of the country,

Interstates 79 to 70 to 74 to 80. We left

in 5 a.m. dark, fog thickening in hollows

of West Virginia, fanning out fall light

in Ohio, heading flat through Indiana

and Illinois fields of corn and soy, gentle

hills of Iowa. I remembered how I, a girl

of Wasatch Mountains loved Iowa,

alfalfa smell, silos, barns, Angus cattle grazing

mid-western houses with their generous

porches. Remembered how it felt to find

it was fine for a girl to have a mind.

I felt the campus like a soft, old shirt,

trees shading gracious brick and stone

buildings, some conflated in my memory

with others. Elegant new science center,

student union, dorms, all spilling students,

their unguarded piles of backpacks, bristle

of bicycle spokes and pedals, unlocked, around

each door, My classmates – their remembered

lineaments – were old. I was unaccountably

surprised – I don’t think how old I am,

though occasionally I come upon myself

in a shop window’s glass and wonder

who the shapeless old lady is. Drove home,

the same route reversed, among the jostling

trucks. By the time I’d parked, walked

the familiar fading garden, opened the door

to our house, I was still shaking

Originally published as an online web extra for The Grinnell Magazine, Spring 2009

150 Years — A Historic Postcard Slideshow of Campus

Chicago Hall, Blair Hall, and Alumni Hall in 1913
This postcard, postmarked 1913, depicts three of Grinnell’s most famous “ghost buildings.” From left: Chicago Hall, Blair Hall, and Alumni Hall. The rear of Goodnow is visible in the background, just to the right of Chicago Hall. Blair Hall is often considered one of Grinnell’s most beautiful structures.
Grinnell House
Grinnell House, a stately Georgian structure at the corner of Park Street and Fifth Avenue, served as the home of Grinnell College’s presidents from 1917 to 1961. John H.T. Main was the first president to live in Grinnell House. Today it is a guesthouse for the College.
Old Student Union
This rebuilt barracks building was moved to Grinnell from the Sioux City Air Base and served as Grinnell’s student union from 1947 through 1963, when the Forum opened.
Rand Gymnasium
Rand Gymnasium was built in 1897 and given to the women of the College by Carrie Rand, instructor in social and physical culture at Grinnell. In his history of the College, Joseph Wall ’41 wrote about the restrictions placed on women students’ physical activity: “Properly attired in heavy, many-layered, and restrictive garments, women could find physical exercise only in the decorous, ladylike strolls, like nuns always in pairs. … That the females survived this restrictive regimen designed to protect their innate weakness is, ironically, testimony to the strength of their constitutions.” Rand Gymnasium burned down in 1940.
Reunion Picnic, 1912
This reunion picnic in 1912 brought together alumni from the class of 1907. The picnic fare probably featured box lunches — see the many boxes scattered about. The Men’s Gym is visible in the background.
Men's Gym
The cornerstone of the Men’s Gym was laid during Commencement in 1899. It would be known as the Women’s Gym after Darby Gym was completed in the mid-1940s.
Quad Dining Hall Under Construction
Construction of the South Campus dormitories and Quad Dining Hall, circa 1915. President John Main dreamed of a residence hall system at Grinnell that would resemble the Oxford system, offering men and women a campus where they could live in small “homes” that would foster the community he deemed essential to the education of young people.
South Campus Residence Halls
This postcard image of the brand-new South Campus dormitories reveals a tennis court in the foreground. Tennis was considered “the ideal sport” by Grinnellians around the turn of the 20th century, according to Grinnell College in the 19th Century by Joseph Wall ’41. An 1890 report to the trustees asserted that tennis is a “peculiarly healthful amusement — adapted to both sexes — free from muscular injury and over-exertion incident to baseball and football.”
Main Hall
Main Hall, circa 1915, still under construction. The new women’s Quadrangle was dedicated later that year with the ceremonial “lighting of the fires.” President Main handed a lighted torch to physics faculty member and Dean of Women Fanny Gates. From the torch, six tapers were lit and handed to six women students, one for each cottage, to kindle the fires in the new hearths.
North Campus Residence Halls
Railroad tracks brought bricks and other materials to the construction site for the North Campus dormitories, which welcomed their first (male-only) residents in 1917. Ernest Jaqua 1907, assistant to President John Main, wrote, “We are planning Grinnell’s growth not for the next few years, but for 10, 50, and a hundred years.”

Originally published as an online web extra for The Grinnell Magazine, Winter 2009. Images of postcards courtesy of Mickey Munley ’87.

Inside the "Death Panels"

Tue, 2009-12-08 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)

Craig HendersonDr. Craig Henderson ’63 recently brought his perspective on health care reform to the Grinnell campus in his talk, “A View from Inside the Death Panels,” sponsored by the Wilson Program. Dr. Henderson presented a contrast to the controversy that has surrounded “death panels” in recent months by providing detailed and valuable insights into how a real-life panel operates.

Dr. Henderson, one of the nation’s top cancer experts and a Grinnell trustee, served on the Harvard faculty for 18 years and was CEO and chair of SEQUUS Pharmaceuticals, a biotechnology company. Today, he is a member of the Medical Advisory Panel of Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS), a confederation of 39 independent health insurance companies that collectively insure approximately 100 million Americans, or one-third of the population. The group is an advisory panel that reviews various treatments and tests to determine whether they meet preset criteria of safety and effectiveness.

Dr. Henderson explained that about two-thirds of the panel’s members practice medicine and see patients on a regular basis. He described the panel’s function as “evaluating the results of comparative effective research.” Of the roughly 20 voting members, the majority are not BCBS employees, and the group includes medical organization representatives, statisticians, and an ethicist.

The panel evaluates new surgical procedures, drugs, laboratory and radiological evaluations using a list of five specific criteria, including the amount of scientific evidence available and the quality of the studies involved. Popular perceptions about the efficacy of health care, though, are often not consistent with the panel’s conclusions, Dr. Henderson said.

Public pressure can compete with effectiveness data to influence coverage decisions, Dr. Henderson said. He cited the case of a procedure to relieve the pain of fractures caused by osteoporosis. Early studies and anecdotal evidence gave it the status of a miracle cure, and the use of the procedure doubled from 2003 to 2009. Several insurance companies covered the procedure. The panel, however, concluded that there was insufficient evidence to draw conclusions about its efficacy. Later, two randomized, double-blind studies reported in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the procedure had no beneficial effects.

According to Dr. Henderson, panels such as this fulfill an important role in exploring these vital questions as the nation tries to come to an agreement about health care reform.

Originally published as an online web extra for The Grinnell Magazine, Winter 2009

Reviewing Tosca

Fri, 2009-12-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)
students and Prof. Maynard

Assistant Professor of History Kelly Maynard (center) with students (clockwise from lower left) Paul Dampier ’12, Kim Knudsen ’10, Erik Jarvis ’12, and Briel Waxman ’12. Knudsen authored the review titled “Italian Opera Insults Catholics.” Photographer: Jim Heemstra

Each student in the course Tyrants and Tunesmiths: Music and the State in Modern Europe wrote a review based upon the experience of the performance, but adopting the perspective of a particular cultural or political figure from the original premiere in 1900 in Rome.

According to Assistant Professor of History Kelly Maynard, the exercise provides a good way for students to apply the historical training they have been receiving in this unique course to their evening at the opera.

Two students share their reviews:

Kim Knudsen ’10 — Role: Offended Catholic

Kim Knudsen ’10

Kim Knudsen ’10 wrote this review of Tosca from the point of view of an offended Catholic.

Italian Opera Insults Catholics

by Kim Knudsen

The weather in Rome is quite miserable this time of year, but the activities of the Holy Year have done much to keep my mind off the cold and the rain. After being thoroughly exhilarated by my religious activities, I decided to enjoy some of the sites of Rome and was fortunate enough to be able to see the new opera by Puccini called Tosca. Although my recounting of these events may sound positive, Rome is the location of many small anticlerical factions, which although annoying to those traveling for the Holy Year, did very little to bother us. The one place I was not expecting to see these hostilities was at the Teatro Costanzi, where Tosca premiered. Although I was delighted in being able to participate in the events of the Holy Year, my voyage was troubled by the anarchists who caused strife around the city as well as the events of Tosca, which darkened my mood.

The city itself was crowded and so was the opera theatre. The streets were overrun with individuals unable to find a hotel room who had to resort to living outside. Luckily, I was able to find a hotel due to my early arrival in Rome. The Teatro Costanzi was also filled to capacity with Italian dignitaries and I heard that Queen Margherita also attended, but I was not fortunate enough to see her with my own eyes. Being quite excited when the opera was scheduled to begin, I was concerned when it was brought to a halt and there were rumors of a bomb threat being murmured around me in several different languages. Besides their nervous mumblings, the audience was altogether polite, even though there were attendees that held very negative views of Puccini, including several of his critics. The building itself was rather luxurious, and although it was able to hold a large number of people, was very crowded, and the seat that I occupied was quite far away from the stage, so distant in fact, that I wished that I had brought some opera glasses. The sound carried well, even to my far away seat, even though I was unimpressed by what I was hearing as a whole, but if a more favorable opera was performed there, I can imagine my opinion to be far more positive than it is.

Tosca is done in by its very poor taste, as it is very violent and the characters seem to be lacking in any unique characteristics, but aspects of the opera besides the plot were performed beautifully. The technical characteristics of the opera were well done, including the lighting as well as the costumes, especially Tosca’s when she was in a crimson gown. The color was rather stunning and reflected the violence that would occur later in the opera, a foreshadowing, if you will, through her garment. The lighting was beautiful, as well as the props, which added to the setting. The major problems I had occurred in the second act of the opera. The setting was very minimal compared to the rest of the opera and although the lighting was stunning and added a frightening element of the shadows of Tosca and Scarpia climbing up the wall, much of the effect was lost due to my seat. I was unable to see whether Scarpia remained on stage though Tosca’s aria and this desire to know lost some of the suspenseful effects that were occurring in other parts of the opera.

This opera was rather disturbing due to its portrayal of the Catholic Church. The opera contains two murders, a suicide, a torture scene, and an attempted rape; all of these elements disturbed me greatly. Yet, the portrayal of Scarpia, a police commander who seems devout but is willing to mislead characters and use his power to influence others’ actions, is probably the most disturbing character to me. The man is a representation of the Catholic Church and to have him be so deplorable in nature astounds me, and to add insult to injury, the fact that this premiered during the Holy Year is very offensive. Aside from the plot, the singers performed exquisitely and their acting helped to add some life to the characters that were not very developed. The music was also rather disappointing, as some of the music does not relate to the stage action at all. For instance at the beginning of the third act, a beautiful sweet song begins with a lovely flute and French horn melody, but the scene opens on Cavaradossi who believes he is going to be executed. The scene, I thought, should have darker music to go with the mood. The lead soprano was excellent in supplying the necessary emotions with her voice, and her arias gave me chills several times during the performance. Both the singers and the performers did the best they could to add the necessary sensations into the pieces they were performing, because the libretto was short, blunt, and right to the point of action and had little room for the feelings of the audience to come to fruition, instead going from major event to major event without a period of calm.

Overall, I have mixed feelings about my trip to Rome. Although I immensely enjoyed the events of the Holy Year, seeing the opera Tosca has upset me and made my experience in Rome one that I would not care to repeat. Although the technical aspects of the opera were rather enjoyable, the plot and the characteristics of Scarpia have left a sour impression in my mind of how the Catholic Church is portrayed in its home country. If the opera had been different, I would have enjoyed my experience in Rome a lot more. In fact, I could not understand why the performers received several curtain calls, perhaps only for their skill and not Puccini’s; regardless, I clapped along in order to be polite, but as a whole I was not impressed by this opera. If I were to do this again, I believe that I would enjoy the events of the Holy Year very much and hope that the city itself is in less discord, but I would not attend an opera for it might give me a false impression of how the church is operating in Italy. Until then, I am very content to be back in my Spanish homeland and will continue to celebrate the Holy Year in a safer, more enjoyable place.

Anne Weeks ’10 — Role: Eager-to-Please Reviewer

Anne Weeks ’10Anne Weeks ’10 wrote this review of Tosca from the point of view of an eager-to-please reviewer.

October 3

Giulio Ricordi

Casa Ricordi

2 Via Berchet

20121 Milano

Signor Ricordi,

Please find enclosed a copy of my review of the October 3 premiere of Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca at the Chicago Lyric Opera, to be published in tomorrow’s paper. I hope that you will find it sufficiently complimentary for the promotion of Puccini’s work, and that I have preemptively addressed some of the points likely to be criticized by Signor Torrefranca.

The opera was a pleasure to watch, and I sincerely hope it does not suffer the box office disaster you anticipated.


Anne Weeks, freelance music critic


October 4

Tosca: Puccini’s Latest Triumph

by Anne Weeks

Years of waiting have finally been rewarded! Last night’s premiere of Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca at the Chicago Lyric Opera was an event worthy of the international reputation of Verdi’s heir. After such a performance, it may now be said that even on a crisp, overcast Chicago night, a ray of Tuscan sun may shine.

Although far from the composer’s home, the Chicago Lyric Opera has proven itself a worthy vessel for Puccini’s masterpiece. The elegant décor of the opera house, reminiscent of its prestigious European counterparts complete with golden flower motifs and richly colored wall panels, befits the début of such a highly anticipated work. Modern advances, however, also have their place: the orchestra is hidden in a pit below the stage, after the German fashion, and there is not a single obstructed view in the house. This last improvement was, to be sure, much appreciated by the multitudes of spectators who filled the theatre, anxious to be among the first to witness the newest Italian triumph. Come from far and wide, these people filled the theatre with countless languages, no doubt expressing their great anticipation, as we awaited the beginning of the piece, but all was silent as the curtain rose and the music began.

From the first, the remarkable acoustics of the venue, seemingly tailored to the needs of Puccini’s music, were noticed. Not a note of the beautifully exposed woodwind passages, nor a word sung onstage, was lost to the eager ear of the spectator, even in the highest tier of seats where perched your humble correspondent, and the powerful harmonic passages, incorporating the entire orchestra, filled the hall. This extraordinary dynamic range, and the variation in orchestration which so expertly sets the tone, showcase the composer’s individuality: refusing to be bound by Wagnerian ideas of organicism, he rises above any such equation to create a music that is truly Italian.

The production of the opera was also fantastic. The lavish costumes were realistic, tailored to the role of each character so that the visual aspect alone could be used to supply each figure’s pedigree. My readers in Italy will appreciate my noting that the representation of a cathedral was very well done, even in America, showing a great attention to detail. Scarpia’s bureau and the castle were also well represented, with the former set in an Italian color scheme dominated by red and gold and the latter an accurate likeness of a typical Italian fortress. However, it was not the sets themselves that were most impressive, but the lighting. In the second act, especially, the use of shadow to suggest actions taking place just off stage was a brilliant innovation. Nonetheless, even this carefully crafted space would not do justice to the opera, were it not populated by singers worthy of Tosca’s premiere.

Performers can make or break an opera, no matter how brilliant the composer, and, with so much of the opera devoted to scenes with only one or two characters, Tosca is especially dependent on the quality of the singers. The Chicago Lyric Opera is, therefore, fortunate to have such talents as Deborah Voigt, in the title role; Vladmir Galouzine, as Tosca’s lover Cavaradossi; and James Morris, as the devious Baron Scarpia. The chemistry between Voigt and Galouzine is especially remarkable in the first act, with their spectacular performance of the repartee between Tosca and her lover, and, of course, during the moving duet in the last act as Cavaradossi awaits execution.

All of the performers not only sang magnificently, but also truly embodied their character, perfectly conveying the host of complex passions found in this opera. Puccini’s skillful portrayal of emotions reinforces the Italian nature of his art: here there are no Germanic formulas, but only spontaneous feeling that warms the work from within like the Italian sun. In this way, Tosca is an improvement, even over its predecessor, La Bohème, in that the new work represents man’s strongest passions, and not merely an ambiance, as certain critics had claimed of Puccini’s earlier work.

The quality of the performance was not lost upon the audience, which was almost completely silent during each act and seemed quite fascinated by the action on stage. Each intermission, however, saw the halls outside the theatre filled with people of all ages, from young children to those of an advanced age. It was heartwarming to see the crowds that had gathered, many in elegant attire, to view the latest work of Italy’s most talented and beloved composer. The singers were called out for numerous curtain calls, facing thunderous applause from the delighted American audience. Yet again, Giacomo Puccini has proven himself the successor to the internationally renowned Verdi, a composer whose works will continue to remind the world that Italy is now, and always shall be, the home of great opera. I congratulate Signor Puccini on his latest triumph and speak for many, I am sure, when I express my impatience for his next success.

For those who wish to view the latest Italian masterpiece for themselves, a production of Tosca is planned in Rome, where tickets will soon be available. For more information write to Ricordi Publishing House at:

Casa Ricordi

Via Berchet 2

20121 Milano

Originally published as an online web extra for The Grinnell Magazine, Winter 2009

Jewish at Grinnell: Tushnet

Fri, 2009-12-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)

Naida C. Tushnet ’61My Experience: Naida C. Tushnet ’61

My story is that I came to Grinnell in 1958 as an early entrant (didn’t graduate high school) from an East Coast suburb.

Not only was I Jewish, but also I came from a secular Jewish, left-wing family. I think my Grinnell experience solidified my Jewish identification because I was seen as “odd” in a number of ways.

One small story: I was very blonde and have a fair complexion. During my first week at school, a classmate from a small Midwestern town and I were sharing information. When I said I was Jewish, she was astounded. She had never met a Jew and thought they all had dark complexions. When I said that I was, in fact, Jewish, and that all my family was fair, she thought a minute. And then she said, “Oh yes, I guess you really are Jewish. You wear half slips.”

I was too young and too taken aback by that particular stereotype to ask what she thought wearing half slips meant, but when I tell this story now, everyone thinks it was an image of Jewish girls as a little bit slutty.

My secular, left-wing background was also a subject of some issue to the other Jews at Grinnell. But in the next two years, two people I knew from before Grinnell with similar backgrounds became Grinnell students, so I didn’t feel so isolated … although isolated enough that I did summer schools and heavy course loads so I could graduate in three years.

Originally published as a web extra for The Grinnell Magazine, Winter 2009

Jewish at Grinnell: Rabinowitz Ericson

Fri, 2009-12-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)

Deborah Rabinowitz Ericson '71My Experience: Deborah Rabinowitz Ericson ’71

I am writing because I am intrigued by The Grinnell Magazine’s call for stories about the unique perspectives of Jewish students  the Grinnell Experience. I am a secular Jew who graduated from Grinnell in 1971. I was born in New York City and lived there until I was 12. My Jewish identity was then something I took for granted as so many other Jews lived there. After this period, my family moved to a town west of Chicago where people were churchgoers and there were only a handful of Jewish families. My Jewish identity became problematic because I did not go to church like everyone else; it was not something I cared to talk about.

When it was time to apply to college, my Jewish identity had nothing to do with my choice, Grinnell College. Thinking back, there was very little that was Jewish at Grinnell: I was able to take a literature course on writers from the South but no course on Jewish writers, courses in French but no course in Yiddish. There was no Jewish club or Jewish worship on campus. There were, however, numerous Jewish students, imported from New York or California. Some of these became my friends, while others were campus stars, well-known names because of their particular personalities and interests. The lack of Jewish culture at Grinnell never bothered me, as I was used to living in a non-Jewish community and wasn’t looking for Jewish culture at school.

I do remember two experiences at Grinnell that were related to an interest in my Jewish identity. The first is a rather dim recollection of participation in a Jewish holiday at a synagogue in an Iowa city: I don’t recall exactly where. A group of Jewish students took a bus there in the evening. It must have been a conservative synagogue, as I remember sitting upstairs with women in a cramped space and that there was a lovely yellow glow from ornate lights on the ceiling. I didn’t know any of the people I went with, and the event didn’t feel meaningful: this was the only time I participated in Jewish services there.

The other Jewish experience occurred in my senior year at Grinnell when I applied for a culture stipend. The previous year I studied in Tours, France, as part of my French major. During the summer I visited Scandinavia, since I knew nothing about those countries. I also visited a cousin from Chicago who was just beginning her life in Israel. There I met Sephardic Jews and read a book about their second-class status in Israel. This topic introduced me to another Jewish identity, and I was disturbed that Jews mistreated other Jews, something that I knew nothing about. I chose to apply for Grinnell’s culture stipend with a project on Israel’s Sephardic Jews. Unfortunately, I formulated my application too naively. Instead of writing neutrally that I wanted to study the Sephardic Jews by doing fieldwork, I said that I hoped to do something to improve their social status. I came close to getting the stipend, and was interviewed by the committee, one of which was a Jewish political science professor. He seemed mostly uncomfortable having to discuss my application. The winner of the stipend was one of the Jewish campus stars who had a project on comic strips, a topic less provocative than mine.

Although I didn’t receive that stipend, I was later able to do fieldwork in a Jewish community, not in Israel, but in Stockholm. Instead of going to Israel on a stipend, I went back to Sweden to study for a year on an exchange program. My stay has been much longer, and I’m still here in Uppsala, Sweden. After a couple of years in Sweden, I decided to continue university studies: I completed the equivalent of a major in social anthropology at Stockholm University with a fieldwork study on Jewish identity in Stockholm. Using that, I was accepted to the Ph.D. program where I replaced Jewish identity with Swedish artists, and I wrote my thesis, “In the Stockholm Art World.” After that I worked at the department of social anthropology for many years doing research, teaching, and working as dean of undergraduate studies. I am now retired. I wonder if I would be living in Israel and working in other ways if I had received that culture stipend at Grinnell. That project was, in any case, the fi rst impulse for my career as a social anthropologist.

By the way, Uppsala has a very small Jewish community, so my Jewish identity is as low-key as ever. Maybe that’s why I responded to Grinnell Magazine’s call for Jewish stories.

Originally published as an online extra in The Grinnell Magazine, Winter 2009

The Magical Place

Fri, 2009-12-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)

James R. Holbrook ’66

James Holbrook '66 with Meg Holbrook, his wife.

Originally published in the Summer 1976 Grinnell Magazine

Before I recount my tale about The Magical Place, I want to make one simple observation: Angels fly because they take themselves so lightly.

Once upon a time, a little boy named Jimmy discovered himself in a magical place. The place was like an island in a sea of gold or white or green, depending upon the season, as Jimmy was to learn.

The place which was like an island had many tall, sturdy trees and many mysterious buildings. It also had people: young people, like Jimmy, and some older people, like Jimmy wanted to become.

At first, it seemed to Jimmy that all the younger people did only ordinary things. Sleep, eat, walk, sit, and listen. The older people, however, did extraordinary things; they told stories to the younger ones. Each older person had a different story to tell, but each story was exciting. Some were about strange and exotic places where people spoke incomprehensible languages. Others were about faraway times when kings and nobles walked the earth and did good deeds. Still others were about tiny alive things that lived inside big, seemingly dead things and made the big things big.

The story Jimmy liked best was about the magicians who looked at the world in various ways and who could make the world seem first one thing and then another. Jimmy decided that most of all he wanted to become a magician when he grew up.

And he did begin to grow up. In fact, the other young people and Jimmy got older, while the older people got younger. Soon all the young people participated in the storytelling. Some young people were even able to tell a story better than an older person could, or so it seemed.

Finally, one unspecial day, Jimmy got old enough to know that The Magical Place and its magical time would not last forever for him. The magic of the place and time began to grow smaller and smaller until Jimmy was no longer able to perceive it. Soon after, Jimmy discovered that he had a new magical name — Boo Bear — and that it was time for him to leave The Magical Place and venture forth on his own.

First, Boo Bear traveled to a factory which turned would-be magicians into professional magicians. But instead of finding that he enjoyed being turned into a magician, Boo Bear learned that magicians had very dull lives. He stayed in the magician factory only long enough to become an apprentice magician and then he left, deciding it had all been a waste of time.

From the magician factory Boo Bear traveled to a strange and faraway land where people cried and slowly disappeared. There Boo Bear learned that good people can do very bad things to other good people, all the while believing they are doing good. Boo Bear left this sad country, but many good people stayed behind to cry and slowly disappear. This was a very unmagical time and place.

Next Boo Bear traveled to a second factory. This factory was designed to take its workers apart, piece by piece, more or less quickly, and then let the workers put themselves back together again. Most workers did put themselves together again; a few could not. Some who put themselves together emerged very different from what they were when they had entered. Boo Bear emerged with his heart where his head had been.

After he left the second factory Boo Bear was employed by a dragon to help the dragon be a strong dragon. The dragon was always good to Boo Bear, but he singed and burned many others with his fire.

While working for the dragon, Boo Bear began to recall the original magical place where he had slept and eaten and walked and sat and listened. The Magical Place had not really grown so small that he could not recall it. In fact, Boo Bear recollected the time he had spent at The Magical Place so well that he pledged little gifts as tokens of his deep and abiding affection for its magic.

Recently, Boo Bear has learned a number of surprising things. He’s learned that having a heart where a head should be is not at all a handicap. He’s learned that choosing a magical name for another prevents the other from having a magical name. (Everyone who has a magical name should choose it for himself, but only after he finds it, of course.) And, most surprisingly, he’s learned that magical times and places exist without magicians to create them. Magical times and places exist because that is what they are supposed to do.

Now Boo Bear has found and chosen a new magical name, which he cannot reveal because he is still using it. He is learning to see that many, if not most, things in the world are just as magical as The Magical Place, but he never would have learned this had he not first discovered himself there.

Magical places are good for people. They help people grow and change from one thing into another. Those younger or older people who are not now in a magical place should search for one. It would be a nice change.


Originally published as an online extra in The Grinnell Magazine, Winter 2009