Portland poet and author David Biespiel’s new memoir reflects Jewish life in Texas he left behind

As a child, David Biespiel knew who he was: a Jewish boy who grew up in Meyerland, the Jewish enclave of Houston. One day he would be a rabbi.

As Biespiel navigated through his teenage years, however, he began to question Judaism, hammering more and more aggressively until he created irreparable rifts between himself and his community and between himself and his faith. At 18, he left Meyerland for good, after what he described as “a public quarrel with one of the city’s main rabbis”.

But Meyerland never left Biespiel: as he moved from state to state, eventually settling in Oregon, he still considered himself a Texan expat. In his new memoirs, “A place of exodus: home, memory and Texas(Kelson Books, 202 pages, $ 20), Biespiel writes: “The streets of Meyerland for all these years have been like bones from a past life, a heirloom that I carry in a wooden box from town to town. With the lyricism he cultivated as a nationally recognized poet (who wrote a poetry column for The Oregonian / OregonLive for a decade), he meditates on the places and ourselves we call home. , no matter where we are.

“A Place of Exodus” creates an almost palpable sense of belonging on the page. Biespiel describes a tight-knit community of the 1960s and 1970s where the holiday dinner air was filled with “Chag Sameach, Y’all’s” and the Houston Oilers were hailed not just as a football team, but as a team. player who hired a Jewish head coach. Finally back in Meyerland for a visit decades later, Biespiel is enthusiastically embraced by childhood friends who take turns asking him, as if he’s just gone out for a beer run and never returned. : “David, where were you?

On those memorable days, the rain fell: a family health crisis, a parental divorce and the big life-changing breakup for Biespiel. He reflects on how he defined himself almost as much by the absence of Meyerland from his life as by his previous presence: navigating our economic positions, we recognize the importance of place.

Biespiel gratifyingly dwells on the description, especially of the Houston landscape, and the details. His account of a childhood Seder in particular, with its deep specificity of table jokes and guest dynamics, universally resonates with human gatherings. As is his reflection on how we remember such events and the people and circumstances around them: “To research your past is to organize a series of questions about yourself that allow you to find out what actions and what events, what behaviors and what decisions led you to ask these same questions.

This reflection is also representative of a cerebral sequence, sometimes detached, which crosses “A Place of Exodus”, echoing the youthful affinity of Biespiel for verbal jousting with the rabbis.

“A Place of Exodus” is a place of inquiry and introspection that deserves a visit.

[email protected]; Twitter: @ORAmyW

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