An Open Letter to My Son in Poland

Amit, my third son, is in Poland this week.

In the past, I was not a big fan of this Israeli tradition whereby after a lengthy preparation period, 11th and 12th graders “tour” the horrors of the Shoah – “Holocaust”. However, teenagers being teenagers, my two older sons insisted on going and I accepted and respected their choices.

Today, I feel differently. Although I still have reservations about the ideology driving the trip on the national level (an issue I won’t tackle here), our school in Omer – a small town in the Northern Negev, has shown me that the experience can indeed be managed in a way that participating youth gain life lessons that outweigh my hesitations.

Amit has dedicated the last seven years almost exclusively to wheelchair basketball, a sport that has changed his life trajectory, helping to transform a challenging kid with a bum leg (and from the age of 11 a prosthetic leg) into an elite athlete, representing his country and vying for a college sports scholarship.

However, excellence has its price. For Amit, basketball means putting friendships and school on the sidelines whereby dedicating 30 plus hours each week to practice and traveling to practice from our peripheral little town to Ramat Gan as well to countless competitions in Israel and abroad.  Since 2012, Amit has happily paid the price, even adding voluntary practices to the mandatory ones.

Until the beginning of the school year, I wasn’t sure that Amit would travel with his peers to Poland.

This past summer, for the first time since discovering the gift of adaptive sports, I felt Amit’s need to be a part of something additional – to experience the last moments of adolescence together with his classmates. The 12thgrades’ traditional grand entrance marking the end of high school and the trip to Poland were two experiences that Amit was unwilling to forego.

In less than a year, Amit’s road will diverge from those of his school friends. Whereas, they will begin their obligatory 2.8 years military service, Amit will need to choose his own path.

In many ways, this trip to Poland links the past to the present and provides opportunities for each kid, including Amit, to envision and sometimes, re-envision his or her future.

Each parent is asked to write a letter to be opened on Friday night after Shabbat dinner.

With Amit’s permission, I share my letter – in memory of those who were brutally murdered, in honor of those who survived and rebuilt their lives to the best of their abilities and with hope for a better future for my children and for all children.

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Dear Amitush,

“You can be beautiful, handsome, smart and charismatic but without luck, none of those traits matter” was one of Nagymama’s most common sayings. My maternal grandmother, your great grandmother, should know. She barely finished high school when the war began but she was one sassy lady and while not stunningly beautiful, she was spectacularly classy and I remember clearly that men turned their heads as she walked by them well into her 60’s.

In May 1944, together with her mother, 9-year old cousin and aunt, my then 20-year grandmother stood on a train platform in rural Hungary. They arrived late to the deportation call and stood hesitantly at the end of the platform – Bad Luck, they must have thought…..but luck is a funny thing… it’s not always easy to distinguish between bad and good luck.

Another two dozen of our relatives stood at the other end of the platform.

When the train arrived, everyone entered the cattle cars. The train started moving and the doors were locked. After a few hours, the train stopped and was split in half. The back of the train with my grandmother continued to a work camp.

The other half made its way straight to Auschwitz. My grandmother’s grandmother, her aunts and cousins all perished in Auschwitz. Not one of those 20 relatives returned.

The beautiful, the ugly, the smart and the stupid, the rich and the poor were murdered together by people who chose to use their God given free will for evil.

Less than 60 years later, you were born. Our third son, you were simultaneously so perfect and so “damaged”. To our astonishment, you emerged with a serious orthopedic condition that manifested in non-malignant tumors and pathological fractures in your right shin.

One of the first doctors to see you jokingly declared, “I hope he has a good brain because an athlete he’ll never be”.  Bad Luck, we must have thought….

Your uncle, my brother, your Godfather, held you during your Brit. His face was pale as the Mohel performed the ancient ceremony marking a covenant between the People of Israel and their God.

My brother always considered himself lucky. Later, he told us that during the entire ceremony he prayed (and he is not a “praying kind of guy”) that his Good Luck be transferred to his tiny nephew.

I believe that your uncle indeed succeeded.

Seventeen years later, you are a kind young man, filled with empathy for others and acceptance of each person for who they are regardless of their status or background.

You have a wonderful mind and possess emotional intelligence and charisma that few share. Also, perhaps most remarkably, you are also a gifted, hard working elite athlete.

Your gifts and talents are yours alone but how you choose to implement them is and will always be a reflection of your character not your abilities. Every day you will be faced with choices.

Choose wisely, my love.  

You have so much to give to this world.  Please assume the responsibility and don’t waste your gifts.

As you experience this difficult week in a place that represents Hell on Earth, I hope you recall Nagymama’s lessons and use your God given luck combined with your free will to always choose Good over Evil.  

I promise that as long as I have breath in my body, I will always be here rooting for you as you and your actions continue to defy those who tried to destroy us… on any road you choose to walk.

I love you.

Ima

About the Author
Zimra was born in Budapest and grew up in New York City. She immigrated to Israel in 1994 and for the past two decades has worked with diverse for-profit and nonprofit organizations. Currently, she serves as a resource development expert on the Civics and Shared Education team at the Center for Educational Technology (CET) in Tel Aviv. Zimra is mother to 4 children, ages 11 to 20. Inspired by her 16-year old son Amit, a lower limb amputee, she is passionate about competitive wheelchair basketball and spends much of her free time rooting for her favorite teams. Today, she and her family are living in the Negev.
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