The Invisible Wall

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Some books leave an indelible mark on the soul. The Invisible Wall by British-born Harry Bernstein is one of them. This was Bernstein’s debut novel. He was a remarkable ninety-six years old when the book was published. He lived to be over one hundred years old.

Bernstein himself was remarkable for at least two reasons: anyone who lives to be well into their nineties and then delivers such a profound book is remarkable in himself; and, despite a childhood plagued with economic hardship and a harsh father, this book is also a testament by a small boy to a mother who nourished his spindly roots with love.

Fifth child in a family of Jewish immigrants originally from Poland, Harry lives on an architecturally typical terraced street in a mill district outside Manchester, northern England, prior to WW1. The Jews live on one side, the gentiles on the other. With an invisible wall down the middle. Their religions not withstanding, the two sides share common denominators such as extreme poverty and hunger. They do not hate. On the contrary, there is a mutual respect and a certain willingness to help. For small monetary fees. To keep everything straight. But winter requires two toboggan tracks. Sharing is unthinkable.

The real problems start when the younger generation grow older. Mutual attractions lead to invisible lines being crossed. These liaisons are predetermined by mutual bigotry to rip families apart rather than draw the community together. Or are they?

I would like to see this book become a school staple.

In today’s troubled world, plagued by religious suspicion and hate, this book has much to offer. It sadly demonstrates how little has changed, but also offers an alternative: acceptance and hope.

Quotes from The Invisible Wall:

“But there are few rules or unwritten laws that are not broken when circumstances demand, and few distances that are too great to be travelled; such was the case on our street and I was to play an important part, unwittingly, in what happened.”

“It was the one thing the two sides of our street had in common: our poverty. When the landlord came to collect his shilling rent on Sunday afternoon there was panic on both sides.”

“It was strange how they could laugh over their misfortunes and yet they did, often, but just as often they wept too.”

“Shiveh is mourning for the dead. The family has to sit for seven days in their stockinged feet. That is what they have to do when a daughter or a son marries a Christian.”

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