My mother was kicked out of her house on her 19th birthday, with the clothes on her back, and fifteen cents in her pocket. Like many young women growing up in Los Angeles, she dreamed of becoming an actress. She met my father at a Hollywood fellow-actor-wannabe party. Suffering from malnutrition and double pneumonia, she fainted from illness. He took her to the hospital, and sat by her bed for three days.
“So I married him,” she said, always finishing the story with the same of course little smile.
She was a lapsed Catholic, unwanted and physically and emotionally abused. He was a second-generation victim of Hitler’s maniacal destruction machine. My paternal grandmother saw a Nazi toss a grenade at a look-alike cousin — Here, boy, catch! — and though the family later showed her that her son was okay, had in fact been hiding under a haystack during the ordeal, she was never quite right again.
Unbalanced begets unbalanced: She used to say to her young son that the world owed him everything, because it had murdered nearly all of his family. But in the next breath, she would say something like “Little children get killed in traffic every day. Why don’t you go play in the street?”
Needless to say, both of my parents grew up with a few problems coping.
The marriage didn’t last — but from it, my sister and I were granted life, and I got a yerusha, an inheritance of “Jewish,” to fully realize with my Orthodox conversion decades later.
I sometimes wonder what it must be like in the Next World, now that both of my parents are there. Have they rekindled their romance? She never entirely stopped loving him. Are they together again at last, chatting from their new perch in Mental Health Central about their daughters and grandchildren, their brief love, the fascinating things they saw and did together in that short marriage?
I like to think that they are both happy with the end result of their efforts. My sister is an accomplished musician and teacher, a devoted mother and grandmother, an outspoken supporter of fairness toward Jews and Israel.
I have Jewish sons and Jewish grandchildren. Hitler didn’t succeed entirely in wiping out this family. A little Catholic girl so loved her slightly tragic husband that she shared stories with her daughters, even after their father was only a personal history. This is your heritage. Part of you belongs to this Jewish people. These are the stories I have for you, of your father, and his parents, and his parents’ parents. Don’t ever forget…
And she had the chance to see before she died that her little girl was happy.
The best blessing I can give anyone, and I give it to everyone who has not yet found her life partner: by next Valentine’s Day, you should find the life companion that will make you as happy after nearly 30 years of marriage as the Dearly Beloved has made me.
Nothing would make your parents and grandparents happier than this.