Holocaust Memorial Day 2013.

We will never forget.

These words have been everywhere the last few days, commemorating Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day.

Amongst the six million Jewish souls who were brutally extinguished by the Nazi’s, were 1.5 million Jewish children, only one of whom I know the name of.

Edith, my namesake, was just a young child when her life was taken away from her, along with her mother Sabina, (my grandmothers sister) and my great-grandparents Chaim and Malka. And of course, countless others.

Edith was my mothers first cousin, the only one she would ever have, and yet her death came before my mother was even born. The easy family rapport that spans oceans and forgives absences and long silences was therefore never my mothers to experience. The large family gatherings of shared memories and relatives and marking anniversaries and birthdays together was just a fantasy to stand on the outside of, looking in.

Edith would have one day had favourite foods, books and games. She would have had teen romance and best friend quarrels and anxieties. Perhaps at her batmitzvah, in the forties, my grandmother would have been holding my aunt in her arms just a baby herself, dancing with her sister, Edith’s mother, and sharing the closeness that she would in reality only see secondhand in her own girls. Maybe my own mother and her sister would have been bridesmaids at Edith’s wedding, all dressed up in meringue dresses with giant bows in the dated style of the sixties. Maybe they would have been too old to be flower girls, instead dressing in modern gowns that my granddad wouldn’t have approved of but never would have said for embarrassment and fear of female confrontation. The cousins would have danced together excitedly, maybe best friends or maybe not, but family nonetheless.

My brothers and my cousins were born in the seventies, and never had second or third cousins to play with or visit. I have spent Jewish festivals since i was 8 years old, and many a happy memory, with my second cousins on my fathers side of the family, and I assure you, the words may sound distant, ‘removed’ or ‘third’ but they couldn’t be more kin to me than my own siblings.

Our walls are covered with the ghosts of photos which could have been. The unborn children who should have played and fought together, the hastily snatched dinners of her generation all together when babysitters or favours could be taken advantage of. Me, a little girl in the late eighties, celebrating Edith’s 60th birthday, perhaps covered in cake and smiles I would never remember. The six of us, our mothers children, surrounded by more blurred faces, our second cousins, maybe Edith’s own nephews and nieces had they been allowed a chance at life. As the decades go on, more colourful digital snaps, less spontaneous because we can now try as many times as we need to get it right. Edith, standing with her arms around our mothers at our wedding, me dancing dutifully with her and her children; aching to finish so I can grab my own friends. A shiny image of her holding our own R, her great great nephew a few days after his birth. She would be in her eighties now, vibrant and strong, unscarred by tragedy.

Every memory I’ve listed had the potential to exist. They aren’t fantasy, they should have been our history. They were stolen from her, and stolen from us as well. We will never know the make up of our family had Hitler not decided to murder her innocent soul, before she even took her first steps or said her first words. She was one child, one person, one story. In our own family we have half a dozen more stolen lives, and in our community countless more. As a nation, six million stories and lifetimes were brutally snatched from those of us left behind. Never forget? The true tragedy is that we were never given the opportunity to remember the memories which were rightfully ours.

May God ensure that their perfect souls are resting in everlasting peace.

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Shelter

Sitting at home listening to the rain quite literally pounding against my window-pane, like tiny fists desperately begging for entrance. Angry sounds of rain against glass, of the wind whistling through the swaying trees, the silence and darkness of cars parked in driveways, not a night to be out and about.

But some people are.

This time of year is not only one for repentance and forgiveness, but also for being grateful. Talking to God has never been something I struggle with, but recently it feels almost overwhelming to imagine asking God to let me keep the people I’ve learned to build my life around. Horrible things happen every day, people I know lose seemingly everything in a split second. I cant let myself think about the possibility of that happening, or I wouldn’t be able to let those I love out of the door every morning. But what I can do, is be grateful that they are mine, and tell God that, as honestly and meaningfully as possible.

But tonight, during the ten days of penitence, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude and sadness in equal measure, but not over any person in my life or missed from it. Simply having a roof over my head, something we all take for granted, isn’t an obvious truth for everyone. I’ve always had what you could call a soft spot for the homeless, giving where I can, signing up to Shelter and other charities similar to it. But still, no matter how involved I try and become, I cant fathom the idea of someone not having anywhere to lie their head at night.

Maybe it’s about being part of a community. Even if you discount family and friends, I cant imagine a situation where there would be absolutely no one I could turn to to ask to stay for a few days, a week or two. And if there was? All I would need is courage to go and ask the local Rabbi for some hospitality from somewhere in the community.

So to me, who could list off the top of my head, fifty people who would open up their spare rooms for the night before I was turned onto the streets, and thank God, could afford to be in a bed-sit, a hotel, or a studio for quite a while even if there was no-one to call, I shudder to imagine the bodies wrapped in soggy newspapers lying rough tonight.

The small taster we are about to receive, no doubt sitting in the rain in our ‘temporary dwellings’ this Succot, should be enough to remind us all how much we have. As we go into Yom Kippur, for me at least it helps to go back to the very basics, and remember how lucky we are to be able to complain about the cold and the rain from the inside looking out.

Rosh Hashana 2012

Hopes and thoughts for the year ahead

  • My little once baby boy is now a toddler. I am so proud of C and myself for everything we have managed to give him in the last year, and he is a confident and happy little boy. However, I am hoping that this year will give him the communication skills to speak to us and to others, and make himself verbally understood. By this time next year he will be starting his third term of nursery, and I can only leave it in Gods hands to make sure he is ready for this huge step in interaction and social understanding. (Gulp.) He hasn’t ever let his eyes hold him back until now, long may it continue! I get frustrated and worried when people ask me ignorantly “is he really partially sighted?” I suppose my greatest hope is that people always continue to ask me that question!
  • I could never have imagined coming this far in my relationship as a daughter this time last year. My mother and I no longer argue, (although we drive each other mad sometimes) and in many ways our relationship is stronger than it’s ever been. I can say without doubt that I understand her more than I ever have done, and that I no longer worry that she doesn’t really want the relationship to start with. I hope that this year we can begin to enjoy each others company the way we sometimes used to during the manic bipolar nature of our time together during my teenage years. I also hope I can show her that she can trust that I’ll always be in her life, she isn’t alone, even while I cant soothe her loneliness. If I’m really honest, my fear is being sucked back into the craziness, and losing myself in it, in trying to help what can’t ever be changed. I think only heaven can show me a way to balance love with self-preservation. It’s certainly not something I’ve ever had much luck with in the past.
  • I could never have imagined that the biggest challenge of adulthood would be friendship. While my old friendships hold strong for the most part, it seems to be a well known but un-discussed fact of being a grown up that it is about 50 times more difficult to make lasting relationships. While in high school, all it took was a few shared classes or break times, nowadays things are so much more complicated. Play dates, Shabbat lunches, chats at the library… when do acquaintances become real friends? I finally feel like we have a community to be a part of, and have met some lovely people with kids similar ages to R, and a similar lifestyle to C and me. I hope that this year will bring us closer in a deeper way, and they will move from being people to pass time with, to being people we call in times of joy or need.

Reconnecting with old friends and family, finding peace with things which cannot be changed. Making the next steps towards goals both old and new, treating ourselves to much needed “me-time” and “family-time” alike. Success in our careers and family life and personal aspirations. The ability to give and accept, in equal measure.

I want to wish all this and more to all my friends and family, along with a huge thank-you to everyone who continues to read and support me, I cant say how much it means to me. To everyone who celebrates in one way or another, a Shana Tova U’Metuka, a healthy, happy and sweet new year.

I don’t mind, so long as they’re happy. And an Olympic Athlete of course.

I often hear pregnant women and expectant fathers discussing what their new arrival might be like in personality and appearance. The conversation always seems to end the same way. “Of course, all I care about is that they are happy and healthy.”

I used to say the same thing myself for the most part, and to be honest, I think it’s time for all us parents to admit to the world that we are lying. I don’t deny that without our medical well being, we have nothing, and that the most important thing for us all is that our children are healthy. I can’t imagine for one minute what parents with truly sick children must be going through, and not for one second do I mean to belittle that in any way.

But even when my baby couldn’t see, and we were concerned about the possibility of fairly serious issues behind his lack of vision, I would not say that “all I cared about” was his health.

Because even if I am only speaking for myself, I want my son to be happy and healthy-sure. But I also wan’t him to be clever. And funny. And popular, and to find love. And to say that the only important thing which contributes to happiness is our health is frankly naive at best.

Perhaps you could say that it’s the happiness part that is the main thing then. All I care about is that my children are happy. After all, plenty of people live with medical issues and health problems and live long happy fulfilled lives as well.

Also nonsense. If someone told me that my son would grow up happily, but unmarried, not interested in Judiasm, and living off unemployment benefits, perfectly content with his lot in life, you would have to peel me off the bathroom floor. I would be entirely miserable, despite his happiness. Because we all want certain things for our offspring. This is the same issue as arguing that you don’t care about your child’s gender. Because you do care. You’re allowed to have an opinion. We all care and we all have expectations about what our children will do or will not do. The best we can do is to manage these expectations and be honest about them.

There is a rumour going around that all parents think their children are beautiful, and clever, and hilarious. I’m yet to find out if this is the case, (as my son really is clever and beautiful and hilarious ;)) but if as I suspect, that when honest we can see our own kids flaws as well as the annoying neighbours ones, I think we could all benefit from being honest about our fears and expressing them as positively as possible.

I am not going to deny that I’ve always worried that I will find it difficult if my children were to end up unintelligent. It’s not something a mother is supposed to admit, that they worry about spawning a dunce, but there we go. I don’t see it as the worst thing in the world. I suppose I feel that the responsibility lies mainly with me. Everything being equal, most children have talents and abilities. Most kids shine at something, as long as they are given the tools. Bringing your kids up with confidence and independence gives them the ability to find their own intelligence. After all, it’s not like I’m dictating that I will be devastated unless they becomes one exact thing, a Brain Surgeon or a Professor of the Fine Arts. After all, I believe it is just as damaging to tell your children “I don’t care about how clever you are” as it is to say “you must get all A’s.” I see so many people, adults and children alike, who are stifled by the wrong expectations, either high or low from their parents, and who I’m sure under a different upbringing could have been just as ‘clever’ or ‘capable’ as someone at the top of their field.

I can’t pretend I don’t want R to be happy in my way as well as his. I can’t tell him I’d be over the moon if he married out of our religion, or decided his vocation was to be a starving artist. Maybe that will change as I watch him grow into his own person not just our baby. But while he is young, all I can do is try to give him the space and encouragement to find out what I’m sure is there. What makes him clever, or funny, or socially capable, and then help him shine. And brag about it of course. After all, I am still his mother.

As an added treat, here’s Rachel and Ross on this issue, 🙂

The Grudge

Tonight, I went to one of those social events where you’re bound to run into a million faces you haven’t seen in forever. Some are genuinely a nice surprise, while others you cross the room multiple times to avoid. Awkward encounters are inevitable, as facts and faces are forgotten and small talk ensues for far too long when the appropriate ‘get-out’ sentences elude you.

Normally, I enjoy these mingling affairs, and catching up on what people are doing in their lives. Tonight, a weird encounter almost immediately after I entered the venue put me on edge for the night, and has left me bemused to say the least.

The hall was filled with stalls and tables, women everywhere, familiar faces and otherwise, and I decided to make a quick circle around the room before a more detailed second viewing of the ladies and their various wares. I was in a semi-conversation with someone I hadn’t seen in ages, and was genuinely interested in swapping baby-talk with, our kids bridging any gap that existed as a result of time spent apart. A lady approached me, who seemed entirely unfamiliar. She launched into what sounded so much like a prepared speech, that it took me a few seconds to realise I wasn’t being given sales patter for any of the items on sale this evening.

Evidently, we had worked together at some point, not very closely, but in the same place. And her being far more religious than I am now, (and certainly than I was at the time) I had inadvertently said something which had hurt her feelings. Not only that, but so oblivious to what I was doing, I had apparently repeated the thought many times over the time we worked together. Tonight, she repeated the story like it was so big deal, a funny anecdote to share with an old colleague, but as she quoted me verbatim, I could tell that it was so much more than that to her. Frankly, I didn’t even recognise this woman; I wouldn’t blink twice if I saw her in the street, after all it has been over 4 years since I saw her last. And yet she made a beeline for me the moment she saw me, and offloaded her hurt feelings which she has clearly been holding onto for almost a half decade.

Why didn’t she just say something at the time? I would have apologized, we might have laughed, I certainly wouldn’t have said it again at the very least!

I can appreciate that different people, like different cultures, can take serious offence at various things which I myself wouldn’t even consider. Personally, even after hearing from her tonight, I think what she is upset about is ridiculous, and even after being told, I don’t really understand her point of view. But without being told, I have zero chance of ever understanding it.

Sheer fluke brought us into the same room tonight, and we mix in entirely different circles. If she hadn’t run into me this evening, would she have held this grudge forever? Tonight, I laughed as if it was a semi-joke, out of sheer awkwardness, and said sorry almost too effusively-to keep up the appearance of levity that our conversation was balancing its fragile weight on. Her words “Dont worry about it” seemed flat even to me.

I wish she’d made the effort to explain to me her point of view 4 years ago. We were colleagues then, we saw each other every day, the conversation wouldn’t have been that awkward, and we both might have learned a thing or two about the different kinds of people that embrace our religion and how to live in harmony despite our differing practices. Certainly neither of us would remember it today.

Now its far too late to have that conversation. Even if I knew how to get in touch with her, it would be beyond awkward and ridiculous, and she would have to admit that it bothers her, an impossible thing to ask of a virtual stranger. All I know is, unfortunately for me, a woman I barely recognise is somewhere out there holding a grudge against me, and unfortunately for her, she still holds that grudge.