I apologize in advance…this may be slightly scatter brained, I tried writing it last night, and my client crashed, and I’ve been crying while writing it so I’m not thinking straight:
even when it isn’t shining.
I believe in love
even when I do not feel it.
I believe in God
even when he is silent.
These words were found scrawled on a cellar wall where Jews had hidden in World War II in Cologne, Germany.
By many miracles, I am here today. One of them was Soccer.
On Krystal Nacht the Nazis ordered the local police in the Shtetl in Vienna, Austria to round up the Jews. The two officers who were sent to my Grandfather’s apartment building knew this building. They knew the door they were knocking on…they knew my grandfather: they played soccer together. Though they saw him hiding underneath the bed and they knew he lived there, they let him go.
This would be the last time that my Grandfather would see his parents. My Great Grandfather’s last words, as we know them are “Come along, we’re going…” as he grabbed his hat, and he escorted my Great Grandmother and my Grandfather’s Twin Sisters out of the house. My Great Grandfather and my Great Grandmother would later be murdered at Auschwitz. My Grandfather’s twin sisters would – by the grace of HaShem and by a miracle, escape Mengel and eventually also find their way to freedom.
My Grandfather would make his way to the Swiss border where he was promptly turned around; on the train he took to get back, he was informed by a fellow passenger that the train was going to be stopped for inspections…as it slowed, he jumped holding onto his Violin, the Violin he was given as a child.
That Violin bears silent testimony as it hangs the wall in my parent’s house; surviving Krystal Nacht with my Grandfather.
Eventually my Grandfather would manage to escape to Caracas, Venezuela (where most of my family was and where most still reside) and then he would emigrate to the United States where he would enlist in the U.S. Army.
He became an Interrogator, a Map Maker, and a German Translator…through his travels he would wind up saving a Torah from a wandering tribe. That Torah too survived and found freedom and now rests safely and with honor inside the Ark of a Synagogue in Passaic, New Jersey.
On Krystal Nacht, my Grandfather was 13 years old.
How many of us, at age 13, could ever do such a thing? Be so brave, so strong?
Upon completing his tour of duty with the Army; he was honorably discharged and awarded some medals for his service. He was also given his U.S. Citizenship. He was finally free. He eventually moved to Long Island and setup shop to do what he was trained to do as a young boy at his trade school. He started a tailoring business and lived out the rest of his life as a humble man.
The first time my Twin Brother and I went to see him in Florida with my Grandmother (they moved to Florida before we were born, and while they were at our life cycle events as babies, we were too young to remember them) the first thing he did with us was play Soccer; then later that day, when we were napping – we were four – he went to play Violin at the club house with the orchestra he was in, and later tailored the swath of clothing that my father brought down with us. He did not view himself as a war hero, he viewed himself as Grandpa. If I knew then, when he first played soccer with us, what I know now about what that sport really meant to him: I would have dedicated the rest of my life to it.
He also didn’t question me or have a single question when I came out so I didn’t have a question for him either, just the unspoken understanding between two men that skeletons look the same at the gates of the camps if they’re wearing stars or triangles…it wasn’t anything that we needed to speak of together, so we didn’t. Many years later, we had him and his sisters write down (and we had him record on an audio tape) their life stories for us. I have copies of all of them and I’ll be bringing them to the archives at Tel Aviv University and Yad Vashem (if they want them) when I go to Israel this summer.
The hardest thing I have ever had to hear in my entire life was when we laid him to rest two days before Thanksgiving (I believe it was two days, I’d have to check my Yarzheit calendar to be sure, it might have been the day before) and as they were playing taps – two soldiers dressed in uniform presented my Grandmother with a flag and said “On behalf of the President of the United States…” at which point I noticed I wasn’t standing but rather I was being held up by one of the taller and stronger family friends who noticed that I was about to give way, he had already put his arms around me and was holding me up against him so he wouldn’t fall…because friends are there to hold you up when you can’t yourself. We still had Thanksgiving that year (it’s my Mother’s favorite Holiday) because our family was already there, and my Mother cooks for a month prior and dammit, we had food and we had something to be thankful for that year.
Yom HaShoah seems to be about so much more though, for me, these days.
The Armenian Genocide (which is still denied by some); the Holocaust (which is also still denied by some), Darfur (which is being ignored by almost everyone as history repeats itself), the Pagans who had to fly silently into the night during the burnings while their brothers and sisters were tortured and burned to death…so many people have died because of hate.
Could it happen again? Absolutely (and no, I’m not being alarmist): look at Darfur and the deafening silence…though, God Forbid if our people are attacked again; this time we will not be going out with our hands up; that much I can assure you. It’s the year 5767; arguably we’ve had 2,104,955 days (minus however many we have left until the New Year) as a world to get things right, and by all accounts, we’ve failed to make significant changes and it just doesn’t make sense to me. If children are starving, you feed them. If people are cold, you clothe them. If people are sad, you sit with them and you listen to them. Where’s the holdup? Please, explain to me what part of the message you don’t get. We don’t need to wait for people to get funding from organizations: I have a sandwich, I can cut it in half, you have water, you can pour it into cups: when will we just get that we’re all human and because of that it’s our job to take care of each other.
Do you remember the story of Stone Soup? Where the entire village came together to make a soup…it’s sort of like that. Why wait for governments to do what we should be doing, what we can do better than they can anyway?
And to be totally honest, I don’t understand the hate and I mean that earnestly…all I want in life is to make a difference, to do good work and to find a husband whom I love and who loves me in return; three simple goals. One of them I’m working on at the moment, one I’m not (I know I’ll find him, but not here in Buffalo, and not now, but one day…sooner rather than later I hope) but I can tell you that I’ve felt the universe pulsing through me as I’ve listened to the heart beat of my lovers, as I’ve laid on their chest as we’ve fallen to sleep together, and as I fell asleep in bliss I thought to myself: how can anyone who has ever experienced love want to destroy? How has anyone who has ever felt lips pressed against their skin want to hate? How has anyone who has ever had their breathe taken away by seeing their lover covered in the moon light turn to hate…how can anyone who’s heard a child’s laughter with reckless abandon be angry?
How can anyone choose hate over love? The choice is so simple: hate destroys you from the inside and everything around you…love just, fills you up, it creates, it protects and it encourages people to do things they never knew they were capable to save someone.
But wickedness endures, and unless we rise up and stop it; it can consume…
And there’s children in Darfur who are screaming out in pain and there’s children who are hungry around the world and people shoot each other for such stupid things as televisions and video games: there material objects, they’re so worthless when you see the bigger picture.
Please Today, Jewish or Not…take some time to Remember; remember the Jews, The Righteous Among the Nations, the Armenians, The Pagans and please pick up your phone and call your senator, your representative, your boss, your mother and say “what can we do about Darfur?”
And then please, and I mean this so seriously: tell your children that you love them, tell your parents that you love them, tell your brothers and your sisters that you love them…tell your friends that you love them; climb to the highest mountain and scream it to the heavens…because you’ll never know when you won’t have the chance to say “I love you” ever again; never go to bed angry, life’s too short to not be true to who you are or to hate.
I’m sorry, again that this is scatter brained; it’s been a hard night.