Yom shlishi, 27 Nisan 5769: Holocaust Heroes and Martyrs Remembrance Day.
It was amazing to have four boys (and one wife of a boy) here for Pesach! Soldier Boy and his bride, heavily-laden with the next generation... First time I have had most of them at the table since the wedding.
Upstairs, the Sephardim are loudly and joyously debating, or singing songs that are different from ours, but equally delicious. They worry: Are they too loud? Does their singing and chatter bother us? I try to explain that I move to certain areas of the house in order to hear them better. Thank you, Hashem, for allowing us to hear such beauty.
Yeshiva Bochur leads the second Seder for himself and three equally aliyah-retarded guests. I am proud of my 19-year-old for being comfortable enough in his own skin to lead a Seder. Some of what these guys say is remarkable in its sweetness. It is like a photograph and scratchy phonograph record of songs I remember from childhood.
Some of it is wistful, as this quartet really wants to be here, to live here. I daven, as I photograph them, that next year they will keep one day, as citizens of our Holy Land.
Tonight is Yom Hashoah. Sports Guy (all of 14-years-old) attended a Bnei Akiva event... I only hope he didn't see the video. Of all my children, he is the least able to cope with the Shoah. Weird. I remember standing in the library with him as he tried to do research for an assignment for his third grade class. He was supposed to write something regarding the period between 1930 and 1945. It was clear that the teacher was gearing up these Jewish kids to do a paper on the Holocaust. We pulled out a book designed for children. (It was important to me as a mother to keep my kids from seeing stuff that was more graphic than their ages should be able to bear.) We were looking at this kids' book, which dealt with the subject in a very sensitive manner. And then my Dani looked up at me with eyes frighteningly shining with tears. "I can't do this, Ema."
My eyes filled. "I know, Honey. I know."
After a long quiet hug, we found something else about the Thirties to write about. I don't remember what it was. But we established a clear understanding between us at the time: Dani doesn't do Holocaust. Intuitively, I understand that he "carries" it differently than my other sons do. Is he "an old soul"? Does he have dreams like his mother's? I don't know. But I respect that he handles this differently than his brothers do. His brothers all want to crush and destroy anyone who would threaten the Jewish people ever again. Dani agrees. But something in Dani remembers or just knows how much it hurt to be a Jew then. He feels it in a way they cannot.
As I type, I glance at the clock. I know that I am going to ground him for being late getting home, just like normal mothers do in normal times. Baruch Hashem, he will say that he is sorry, and that he will get better in the future. Just like normal kids, in normal times. Thank G-d.
"I'm sorry. I was hanging out with friends. I lost track of time. I know -- it's my fault."
"Did you see the film?"
"No. I'm sorry." (He thinks I'm disappointed. Oy, vey.) "I was talking, and I came too late. A couple of mothers and a kid talked. Hebrew. I didn't understand much.
"Then, we all sang 'Gam ki ailech' and 'Ani ma'amim' and 'Hatikvah.' That was pretty cool."
"You know what it was all about?"
"Yeah. Go to bed, okay?"
"Okay, Ema. G'night. I love you."
"You, too, buddy."
After Sports Guy trundles off to bed, I think of a cherished memory.
Soldier Boy was younger, and was -- uh, let's just say he was "giving me fits."
But deep down inside him was a kid who wanted Ma & Pa to be proud. He has a beautiful voice, does Soldier Boy. He learned all of the words to "Mama Rochel," a famous Shwekey song.
We don't speak Yiddish in my house. Not our cultural upbringing. But he memorized all of the words, even the Yiddish words.
And while he was singing the Yiddish words at the end, I thought suddenly of my father's grandmother, Ruth, for whom I am named. As far as I know, she was the last religious person in my father's family. As the story goes, the family was pretty wealthy. They had gathered at the family farm just outside of Warsaw... and then the Nazis came. One of them said to my father's lookalike cousin, "Here boy -- catch!" And this animal threw to my father's cousin a hand grenade. My grandmother saw "her son" blown up -- and even though they presented him later (he'd been hiding under a haystack) -- Rita was never the same.
There was a mentally-retarded girl in the family. The Nazis decided to take her into the woods... Of course she was afraid. My paternal great-grandmother, Ruth, said, "I'll go with the child." They were taken into the woods, and that is the last anyone in the family knew of them.
So when I heard my son, in his unbelievably sweet tones, singing this Yiddish lyric... I thought I could hear Ruth, Hy"d, saying: "I won, Adolf. I am still here, through this boy. YOU are gone. But I am still here."
To carry on. To keep singing and telling over... To let them know that we will never let them down again. And everything that means -- even the holy aspects some of them did not know.
That's what it's about, isn't it?
Glossary: Sammy, just call me on this one, okay baby?
Haveil Havalim #213, the It's Been A Long Time edition, is live at The Real Shliach.