Dry eyes

My grandmother ran out of Poland towards Russia with only the summer clothes she was wearing and spent the next five years seeking warmth in a world that had frozen over.

I was raised on her story, as well as all the stories of my generation’s grandparents. We were their proof that it had been worth it and we were reminded of that as often as possible.

Black and white images of striped prisoners dominated my youth and I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that my life was a living testimony to six million corpses.

I devoured memoirs and drew black and white sketches of emaciated Jews melting in pools of blood. My drawings hung on the walls as trophies, as though they meant we had won.

I knew what gas chambers were before I had ever watched a Disney movie. I scoffed at Socialism before I learned about Democracy. I could recognize Hitler and Stalin and swastikas before I ever saw a picture of JFK. I wasn’t brought up in the shadow of the Holocaust, I was brought up in the tangible fear and hope and pain and joy of a generation who went through something they either couldn’t stop talking about or never mentioned at all.

I didn’t think death and destruction could faze me; I was basically a survivor.

Almost 11 months ago, my ninety-something-year-old grandmother walked across the green grass leading up to the hole they were lowering my 17-year-old sister into. She stood as tall as possible for a 4 foot-something woman and looked straight ahead. “Dayeinu,” she stated. She remained stoic and unmoving throughout the week, solid as a rock. When someone told my father that we don’t ask questions; we just cry, she marched over and made another statement. “We ask questions,” she said, “we don’t cry.”

At one point I escaped the crowds and went upstairs to the room with the candle where we watched my sister die. I took out her paints and brushes and covered one of the canvases she never got to use in the colors of my pain. The release was more powerful than a thousand tears. I brought it down to share with my family and someone said, “show Bubby.” I sat down at her feet and held up the painting. She stared at it and patted my hand. “Bubby, I can’t share any other way,” I said. I wanted her to know that my eyes dry up when it hurts, but the words caught in my throat. “I know,” she said, “I see you crying.”

My grandmother survived more than the Holocaust. She survived immigration, she survived the loss of her mother, she survived the loss of her son, she survived the loss of her husband and she just survived the loss of her granddaughter. Dayeinu.

For two years I held my breath as I waited for my sister to die. Then she died and I stopped breathing. For almost a year I have built up a tolerance to air filling my lungs. I can learn to live.

The siren blared yesterday and rang in my head all day. I wanted to think of the lives lost…I really tried…but I have carried their memories in my essence since the day I was born and yesterday I suddenly felt like I wanted to break away.

I turned on the TV and the images of my youth jumped out at me on every channel. Nothing made my soul churn, it was like flipping through a worn out photo album and knowing each picture before getting to the next page.

Without warning, images of Syrian children flew across the room at me and slammed against my chest.

I thought of a child running for the border with just the clothes on her back towards a future she could never be certain of. I thought of her grandchildren, raised on her losses. I thought of her eyes drying up.

The ringing of the siren subsided. I took a deep breath and I reached for those paints and brushes.

My grandmother’s story was told. It is time to tell the ones that are screaming out at us from behind our screens.

Source: Dry eyes

So Your Son Married a Zionist

Just don’t become a Zionist.

He said it with a slight measure of concern.  My husband and I laughed about it.  We know they’re afraid we’ve completely lost it…we know they don’t like the path we’re on.

Where he comes from the word ‘Zionist’ is dirty.  It means cutting off peyot and slipping pork into some poor family’s Shabbat meal.  It means working the land all through the days and years…Shmittah, Shabbat….Yom Kippur.  It means that some dark-skinned burly Kibbutznik wants to kidnap you and turn you into a goy.  It means a land of evil.  It means self-hating Jews who want to build a tower of Babel and call it Israel…and maybe even plant a flag on top, with a star on it that should be yellow, not blue.

I don’t like where he comes from, but I respect it.  I know the history of my country.  I know the dirty laundry.  I understand the fear.

All I ask is for you to respect me and where I’m coming from.

When I was growing up I had a morbid fascination with the Holocaust.  I read memoirs about it.  I read novels about it.  I even wrote a play about it.  And I drew it.

I drew emaciated bodies fading into dead trees.  I drew Sifrei Torah drowning in rivers of blood.  I drew boots.  I drew trains.  I drew death.

I felt as though I knew it.  I sometimes thought I had been there.  It was a memory that went with me.  It was a history that demanded something of me.  It spoke to me.

Don’t forget me.

How can I forget you?  You are everywhere.  You are in the air.  You are my past!

I am not the past.  I am here.  I am now.  I am your roots!

Then I will make you immortal.  I will put you on display and I will demand your right to be here!

And so began the search for meaning.  How do I take something so horrible and make it right?  How do I change the course of my journey?  How do I live with millions of souls in my mind?

When I heard that siren for the first time, I knew.

I’m coming from a place of longing.  I’m coming from a place of emptiness and want.  I’m coming from a land that means freedom…but for me it was freedom to forget.  And I don’t want to forget.

I don’t want to live in America.  I don’t want to be allowed to do whatever I want.

I want to feel every second of my life.  I want to look out over a land that I belong to and that belongs to me.  I want to FIGHT for that privilege.  I want to EARN that privilege.  I want to STAND for that privilege.

When the siren sounds for the tenth time since that moment of clarity and I go outside to stand in solidarity with people who are different from me – vastly different, and when the tears fall unabashedly down my cheeks as I think of the men, women, and children who stood together in silence as they walked towards their deaths, I am filled with the deepest sense of gratitude that I live HERE.

If being a Zionist means that I love my land, my home, my state and that I will raise my family with the deepest appreciation for this wonderful country and that I will obediently follow the laws that were put in place to keep me safe and that I will stand behind our soldiers with pride, knowing that it is they that allow me to live without fear and that my history is immortalized with the sound of a wailing siren…well then, sorry Ta, I’m a Zionist.

And Onward We Go

The siren’s wail is piercing through the land, interrupting my brooding thoughts.

I am in middle of watching a powerful man take great credit for something he only authorized to do.  I am irritated by him and his meaningless words.  He has overshadowed the intensity of this moment.

I read on, the descriptions of how it came to be flashing a silent movie in my head.

I see the shadowy figures systematically destroying each target, with no history of pain and loss impeding the operation.  These are machines made to work, sent by our sense of justice, vengeance and right.

The mess they leave is jubilantly celebrated.

I am stuck in the desert, thinking of all the other details.

I am thinking of the woman used as a shield for her husband, and how love was the last thing on her mind when she took the bullets meant for him.

I am thinking of a people brought up on a diet of rage.

I am thinking of the villain who will take his place.

I am thinking of the children who will die next.

The siren cuts through the path of unknown futures and directs me to past truths.

Another man died today.

Another war rolled its ending credits.

Another hopeful generation celebrated the just desserts of evil.

Another world was laid to rest.

The siren stops abruptly, echoes reverberating off surrounding hills.

Past, present and future unite to commemorate the victims of all things bad for one more moment.

My husband sits down beside me with a breakfast of eggs and matzoh, and we resume living.