Looking Through the Glass

As I listened to the radio one evening while I was in the kitchen, there was a discussion about the benefits of looking through a window for a few minutes first thing each morning. I could do that!

The following morning, I seat myself at the table in our family room. There are a series of four slanted windows that attach to four vertical windows below, creating a south-facing glass wall. If I look out the vertical windows, I see lattice work and a little bed of succulents. But if I look out the slanted windows, especially the two in the middle, all I see is sky. I choose the sky. This morning there are shifting clouds that morph and move gracefully across the ether. I am reminded of modern aquariums, where fish swim above people in underwater tunnels─a wondrous reversal of nature where normally people are above and fish below. The fish are confined to the water, but the clouds glide across the limitless sky and release life-giving raindrops to the earth.

Gradually the days get shorter, and as I look up through the windows the sky is darker and has an air of mystery before the sun heralds in the new day. It is hard to discern the clouds, but what appears like a grey canvas inspires me to reflect about the yesterdays, be mindful of the now, and plan for the day and the tomorrows.

On Shabbat, when I don’t feel like jumping out of bed, I look out the bedroom window and see the silhouette of our gingko tree. Gingko is said to foster memory, and I see the playful patterns formed by its branches and fan-shaped leaves: hearts, hands and other whimsical shapes. I am reminded of my childhood, finding pictures in clouds or abstract curtain fabric.

One morning, I forget to do my morning window gazing. I am going with my cousins to visit our grandfather’s grave in Fawkner Cemetery, while one of the cousins is visiting from London. They are coming back to my place for afternoon tea, and I decide to make savoury muffins. I am looking at recipe books, not the sky.

After brunch at one of the cousins, we head off to the cemetery. What I thought would be a forty-five-minute drive turns out to be an hour and a half. Through my car window, I see the many faces and sites of Melbourne: the casino, the aquarium, the former Pentridge prison, young people in grunge, women in hajibs. From St Kilda to Fawkner, we see a cross-section of cultures, shops and homes.

But far more interesting to me is the dynamic conversation within the car. The cousins realise that we have never been just us together; there are usually other family members around. We cover diverse topics from the Gaza war, English politics, kosher bakeries─my London cousin’s son owns two─and gluten intolerance. We have plenty of time as the car haltingly weaves its way along King’s Way and Sydney Road, and the words flow freely, unlike the midday traffic.

Finally, we arrive at the cemetery and our grandfather’s grave. One cousin contacts the sixth absent cousin, my sister, who is in Berkeley for her granddaughter’s bat mitzvah. By virtue of WhatsApp, the six of us pray together silently at the grave. We are all aware of the uniqueness and spirituality of those few special minutes. A cousin comments that she sensed our six diverse prayers joining together over the grave and rising above. If our grandfather and his four children who survived the Holocaust, our parents, were looking down from the heavens, they were surely pleased and comforted to see us praying side by side at the wrought-iron fence around the grave.

Our London cousin reads out and translates the epitaph on the matzevah, written in the acrostic form. Our grandfather’s life in Czechoslovakia was dedicated to Torah learning. His wife and three of his seven children died during the Holocaust. He came to Australia in 1950 to be reunited with his four surviving children in Melbourne. He was the founding teacher of a cheder for boys, and he learnt with other men from the numerous sefarim he had salvaged from Kosice after the war and brought with him across the oceans. After only two years in Australia, he passed away at the age of sixty-one. Avraham ben Yozpheh is survived by his grandchildren and B”H numerous great- and great-great-grandchildren.

The next day as I look through the glass before sunrise, it is dark, and stars still shimmer in the sky. The Torah tells us that Hashem promised Avraham his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. Despite all the evil attempts throughout history to destroy us, we survive and flourish.

About the Author
Pauline Schwarcz is a freelance writer with a background in genealogy. Formerly a health professional, she enjoys writing about family history and her reflections on life. Pauline was born and lives in Melbourne and is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor.