What do you do with your parents’ possessions? With the collections of a lifetime? What do you do with the books?

I sat with my husband, Alan Snitow, in my mom’s living room in Jerusalem feeling the anxiety ebb and flow as we pondered these questions. My stepdad, Bill Daleski, had suddenly died, and I had just moved my mom, Shirley Kaufman, to the Bay Area to live near my two sisters and me so we could take care of her now that her dementia was rapidly progressing.

Now, I had flown back to this strangely quiet apartment in Rehavia, the old tree-lined neighborhood of the Ashkenazi elite: professors and intellectuals, mostly secular liberals, the generation that is now passing. We had had our share of passionate moments in this home — mostly arguments about Israel’s occupation of Palestine, but also scotch-soaked parties with...

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