My mother claims it was my brother’s bris that made her turn from Judaism. This was August 1965, at my grandparents’ place in Westport, Connecticut, where I spent each summer until I was eight. I was present that day, although I don’t remember: It is the back-and-forth where memory begins. What I have seen are the home movies, shot by my grandfather, like Abraham Zapruder, in washed-out, eight-millimeter film. The greens are too green, the reds too red, and then there are all those faces, round and sweaty, crammed into my grandparents’ low-slung living room. In the center is my brother, dressed in white cotton as if this were a christening, the kernel from which my mother’s disillusion grows. Watching, I try to read her body language, to discover the exact moment the shift occurs. The camera pans and jitters, but her demeanor—her face, her posture—does not change.


David L. Ulin is the author or editor of ten books, including Sidewalking: Coming to Terms with Los Angeles, which was shortlisted for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. A 2015 Guggenheim Fellow, he teaches at the University of Southern California.

Photo by Dinty W. Moore