Mirinda Kossoff’s "The Rope of Life: A Memoir" is a powerful story over 20 years in the making.
"The Rope of Life: A Memoir" tells the story of Kossoff’s father, Hugh Kossoff, and the challenges he faced as a Jewish man in the gentile South. Kossoff initially felt driven to tell the story in the early 2000s for herself and others who have experienced discrimination or being “othered” in several different ways.
“These threads of systems of oppression, identity and anti-Semitism formed an evil braid that eventually brought my father to his knees,” Kossoff said.
Kossoff’s father married a Southern Baptist and moved to Danville, Virginia after serving in World War II. During his lifetime, he was the target of severe anti-Semitism that led to declining physical and mental health.
He was failed by the North Carolina Dental Board because “they didn’t want another Jew practicing in Winston-Salem.” He also ran for local government positions and lost twice.
“I can remember sitting at the Woolworth’s counter in Danville, and a man said to my mother, ‘I don’t know who I'll be voting for, but it won’t be for that Yankee Jew,'’’ Kossoff said. "My father felt that very keenly. He was an intelligent man with wonderful business acumen. His patients loved him. From all outward appearances, he was a great success. But, he had so much self-hate that wasn’t expressed.”
Kossoff questioned how her father’s failed assimilation affected his mental health.
“I also wondered how forsaking his heritage affected him,” Kossoff said. “He saw what happened to Jews in WWII, and I wondered if he didn’t want to be a Jew anymore because he didn’t want that persecution.”
Jewish students at the University have been able to connect with Kossoff’s story of Jewish marginalization in the South. First-year Elias Horowitz grew up in a similarly blended household with one Jewish parent and one Christian parent.