Book: Diane Arbus: A Biography

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he frequently reaffirms his Jewishness. Perhaps his clearest statement is in the poem “Debate with the Rabbi,” part of which goes:

Stubborn and stiff-necked man! the Rabbi cried.

The pain you give me, said I.

Instead of bowing down, said he,

You go on in your obstinacy.

We Jews are that way, I replied.

Later Diane would take dozens of photographs of Jewish matrons in which she explored not only their collective memories but the relationship between role-playing and cultural identity. And she was to find an affinity with the famous fashion photographer Richard Avedon because his Russian immigrant father had also owned a Fifth Avenue dress shop; she Howard admits that some of his earliest poetry, which has a despairing, almost rabbinical quality, was probably inspired by his grandfather Meyer, whom he calls “one of the wisest men I’ve ever known.” Meyer Nemerov, the Biblical scholar who often wept when he read the Old Testament, instilled in Howard a love of and dedication to words.

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