Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Pain and Power of Yom HaShoah

Yom rishon, 27 Nisan 5773.

This is a four-year-old post.  Sports Guy is now a soldier, as are all of his brothers.  I can't say it better now.  Please share your thoughts.

Photograph from the Main Commission for the Investigation of Nazi War Crimes, courtesy of USHMM Photo Archives.
Tonight is Yom Hashoah.  Sports Guy (all of 14-years-old) attended a Bnei Akiva event to educate Israeli youth about the Holocaust.  I only hope he didn't see the video. Of all my children, he is the least able to cope with the Shoah.  I remember standing in the public 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 -- something about a US president, probably.  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?"


"Any questions?"


"You okay?"

"Yeah.  You?"

"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 Mama and Papa to be proud.  He has a beautiful voice, does Soldier Boy.  He learned all of the words to "Mama Rochel," a famous Yaakov Shwekey song, written by Abie Rotenberg.

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.  To fight to protect our people, in our land.   And everything that means -- even to protect the holy aspects some of our grandparents did not know.

That's what it's about, isn't it?  Never, ever again.


Varda Meyers Epstein said...

OMG. That was such an incredibly sad story about your grandmother and her family. I think all along, this is what you wanted to keep far away from Dani: this very personal, sad story. Sad isn't the word. There are never the right words.

Bat Aliyah said...

There should be a word for something that is sad and beautiful at the same time.

Danale's Ramblings said...

What a hauntingly beautiful post, thank you for sharing it.
What a beautiful soul your great grandmother Ruth must have been, to not let a child die alone. May all of them rest in peace.

David Tzohar said...

Historial perspective lets us see today
that without the holocaust there would be no State ot Israel. Just as without 210 years of slavery there would have no Exodus; or Torah or conquering of EretzYisrael. Like your sons( mine and myself) have been soldiers. We
have been in two wars, two intifadas and border patrols in between. And yes,I agree.That is what it is all about. Never,never again.

Batya said...

Ruti, gorgeous story. Your baby soldier has a COS who also cries at Holocaust memorials. This is a Jewish country; we're all the same.

Judy Bickford said...

When Danny B was born in Stuttgart ,I felt the irony of the situation. Here I am in Germany having a baby boy and then celbrating his brit milah withthe small community here was a very power statement of fact. We are here and Adolf(yimach shemo)is not.

Lauren Hirchler said...

What a story! Sad and beautiful all at the same time! Your great grandmother must have had such a gentle and caring soul to do what she did. All of these stories we hear hurt... going to Poland to see what happened is painful. But soon we wont have people telling the stories... They all matter. Never Again!