One of my favorite elements of my childhood home in Baltimore, Maryland, was the lilac bush that grew wild along our driveway. No matter how hard my father and countless gardeners tried to tame it, the bush refused to be contained.
Many of my fondest childhood memories are laced with the soft and sweet fragrance of lilacs. Bouquets of lilac were a staple of every Mother’s Day breakfast in bed. My best friend and I played basketball for hours, retrieving rebounds from the vast violet foliage. I had never seen another bush quite like it until today.
The familiar flowers swaying in the breeze stopped me in my tracks. I didn’t quite know what to feel. I couldn’t figure out what it meant to be reacquainted with a happy childhood memory in Auschwitz of all places, where so many were robbed of their childhoods.
But then it hit me.
It was a sign from my Grandma Esther, the vocal survivor whose Holocaust narrative of her own lost childhood was the soundtrack of my youth, who like the lilac was full of life and refused to be contained.
“There was death here,” she whispered as the scent of lilacs wafted towards me. “There was death and pain and suffering here, but we fought to survive and emerged bent but not broken. Now, it’s your job to flourish as Jews and as people. Make every Jewish childhood a happy one and keep our dreams alive.”