Here is a brief excerpt from the profile, which is in the January/February 2015 issue of Moment Magazine. The whole article is here: http://www.momentmag.com/richard-zimler-last-kabbalist-lisbon/
Richard Zimler hardly planned on becoming Portugal’s national Jewish conscience. Growing up in the deracinated suburb of Roslyn, New York, to first-generation non-believing Leftists, Judaism was a faint backdrop in Zimler’s life. Like many students in the 1960s, “I found more inspiration in Buddhism than Judaism—which I found outdated, even when majoring in comparative religion at Duke,” he tells me.
For the past 24 years, Zimler has worked tirelessly from a contemporary duplex condo in Foz. Nearby we look out over the blue expanse where the Douro River, lined with the steep terraces that produce Port wine, empties into the Atlantic. I feel instantly drawn to this lanky, chuckling man with a wide brow and deep-set blue eyes. He is dressed in a rainbow-colored scarf and floppy pants, which make him appear youthful for 58: half-clown and half-muse. Like a tall—and intellectual—grasshopper, as a friend would aptly describe him. And Zimler tops off his unpretentious and caring manner by displaying a confident Portuguese with loud New York intonations, revealing that he is as unabashed in his embrace of his adopted land in life as in writing.
After obtaining a master’s degree in journalism from Stanford University, Zimler landed a corporate writing position in the Bay Area and dreamed about writing a novel someday. He might never have done so but for a chance 1978 meeting in a San Francisco café with Alexandre Quintanilha, a professor of physiology ten years Zimler’s senior. It was love at first sight, and they have been a couple for 36 years—a partnership confirmed as soon as gay marriage was legalized in Portugal in 2010. But it wasn’t any great desire to know Quintanilha’s homeland that led to Zimler’s discovery of Portuguese-Jewish pogroms. Instead, it was the modern-day plague of AIDS.
In 1989, Zimler watched helplessly as his beloved older brother Jerry died of the disease. “When someone you love dies at that young an age, you start to question the justice of the world,” he says. “You feel cheated. For a long time, it was as if I were carrying Death around in my pocket.” During this period, San Francisco was “fading to grey during the viral eclipse,” Zimler recalls. HIV infection “was all everyone was talking about.” Although they shared an idyllic life in a Berkeley Hills cottage, Quintanilha suggested they escape the epidemic and accepted a job offer from the medical school in Porto. Zimler himself got a position at the university’s journalism school. “I prepared for months to teach in English, but on the first day, I learned my course had to be in Portuguese,” he recounts. “I got through it by memorizing 50 key nouns and 10 verbs.”
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