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Rosemund Handler

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Letter to my daughter

Letter to a daughter

Hi Mims

I was lying awake at dawn on the fourth day of the hike. My bunk was low to the ground but I could see the sky lightening with the promise of sun after it had bucketed down the day before. You stole into my mind: your bright face in all its striking beauty and goodness.

Behind you was my dad.

It came to me that you had forgotten, and that I had too. You had forgotten what I had told you of him; and I had forgotten to remind you. Yet your grandfather Alec is who you are and where you come from; as is his mother – your great-grandmother; to a lesser extent, I see your great-grandfathers in you. Your dazzling spirit of adventure, your activism for social justice, your empathy for the downtrodden – straight from your grandfather and, with the limitations of those times, your great-grandmother Beila.

I may have omitted to tell you that Beila started Bikkur Cholim – the visiting of the sick – in Johannesburg and headed it for decades. She found out that people who were ill and dying in hospital, especially Jews – she was a very religious woman – often had nobody to visit them. Family members were working too hard to comfort terminal patients in hospital. So she undertook to do it, bringing them the word of God and gifts of chocolate. She did it all her life. My mother was recruited and visited the hospitals for a while, but found that she grew depressed – the small comfort she could offer cancer patients took too much out of her, and she gave it up.


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