Posts tagged " Holocaust "

Memories and Unanswered Questions

July 11th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 32 comments

This has been an unsettling week for me. A number of years ago, my mother’s sister passed away, the last of the five siblings. This month, her children sold my aunt’s house and one of my cousins had the unenviable job of cleaning it out. In the garage she found a few boxes that had been moved there from our grandparents’ apartment over forty years ago when my grandmother died. It became a running joke that each summer my mother, her sister and sisters-in-law would say they were going to sort through things, and as each summer ended, the boxes remained untouched.

Untouched they are no longer. My cousin sent some of the contents to me including postcards exchanged when my grandparents were courting, photos that span decades and a meticulously kept address book.

All these things have thrown me for a loop. I was very close to my grandparents; to this day I can instantaneously recall their phone number. My grandmother died shortly after I graduated college and my grandfather a few years later, so they were an important and loving presence through my growing up years. Now, decades later, I am seeing them in ways I never did before.

In my mind’s eye my grandmother, in particular, had one occupation— waiting for me to come visit. I never thought of what she did when I wasn’t with her, unless it was to cook my favorite foods so that they would be on hand when needed.  In fact, I found it irritating that some of my cousins had the ridiculous idea that she loved them as much as she loved me. In the self-absorption of youth (that may have only ended this week) I didn’t really see a need for her to have an identity separate from me.

Both my maternal grandparents came to the United States from Europe before World War I. While my grandfather was escaping the draft of an army that despised Jews, my grandmother told me that she came on a trip and was trapped here by the war. (Surely, I now think, there was a lot more to that story. Religious Jewish girls did not generally cross the ocean by themselves on a lark.) By the time the conflict ended, they were married and building a life in their new country. Neither ever spoke (to me at least) about the families and lives they left behind.

I never thought of what it was like for them to marry without the presence of parents or siblings, or, a few decades later, what it meant to lose almost every family member in the Holocaust. The exception was one brother each that they managed to bring over as Hitler’s evil spread. I knew that I was named for a murdered sister, but only this week have I begun to think of the depth of pain that kept my grandmother from ever talking about the parents and six siblings, their spouses and children, that she never saw again or how my grandfather felt knowing he had left his parents and sister behind.

In those old albums and ancient address book now on my dining room table, I see names and faces I do not know. Who are these people who cared enough to send photos to my grandparents and about whom my grandparents cared enough  to label and preserve their pictures? I have had trouble concentrating this week as I Google names, look up the history of towns whose Jews were overwhelmingly massacred and try to picture a young couple on their own, learning a new language, building a life and maintaining a deep connection with their faith.  They became the grandparents I knew, whose bottomless love for God, for me, for the rest of their family and for the United States was the bedrock of my childhood.

There is nothing new under the sun – the only choice we have is to respond similarly or differently than those before us.

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Yet We Live

April 12th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 11 comments

As human beings, we struggle to know ourselves; no matter how close we are to someone it is impossible to completely know another person. This is particularly true for our parents.

When my friend, Naomi*, was sitting shiva (the Jewish week of mourning) for her mother, she discovered some flabbergasting news. Naomi’s father was her mother’s second husband. Not only had she been previously married, but she and her first husband had two children. That husband and those children were murdered by the Nazis.

Naomi had known that her mother was in a concentration camp, though her mother never spoke of those years. She knew that her parents met in a DP camp; she knew that she and her older siblings, named for slaughtered grandparents, were born after her parents reached America’s blessed shores. But she never imagined that her mother’s life had included a previous young family. This information explained so much. She now could see her mother’s hyper-vigilance combined with a certain emotional gruffness not as personality quirks but as the tortured expression of inestimable pain.


I disagree with what you said

August 29th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 32 comments

(We received this comment in response to a recent Thought Tool, Egypt Made Me Do It, discussing the Biblical message not to focus on past evils. We felt that it was a worthy question for this format.)

I respectfully do not at all understand your belief that Jews do not focus on the past problems but focus on the future.

I love Jewish people and study the Bible through your perspective but it seems Jewish people and suffering go together like a dog and his bone.

I see many movies and TV shows, there are holy days reminding us of your suffering, and it seems one cannot talk about Jewish issues without bringing up the Holocaust. 

I’m not criticizing this observation and I do not feel it’s wrong, but to say Jews look toward to the future and do not think of the horrors of the past is just not so. Anyway that’s my take. Love your instruction and guidance as you have opened my eyes to truth and understanding. 

Lee S.

Dear Lee,

We appreciate your response and imagine that it is shared by many who may be less willing than you to pose challenging questions to us. We based that Thought Tool, as we do all our teachings, on God’s wisdom. Sadly, we human beings, and certainly Jews, often fail to follow His wisdom.

Imagine a future archeologist reports that 60% of American Jews of the early 21st century were registered Democrats. Does this mean that being a Democrat is a Jewish value? Of course not. Just because many Jews do something means it is average but not normal or necessarily correct. Most of the Jews chose not to leave Egypt with Moses but it was the wrong decision.


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