I want to tell you a story about silver sabbath candlesticks, a pretty plum tree, and the American dream.
It is a story about a family.
This is Bernard Leon Singer and Goldryn Malka Singer nee Blonder, and their 2 eldest daughters, Maida and Judy, in their sweet little matching checkered dresses, born 18 months and 25 days apart:
Maida is the one with the whimsicle smile and the little round glasses with her eyes closed.
She was famous for taking photos with her eyes closed:
Judy is the one with the blunt bangs her mother cut with the kitchen scissors, taking family picture posing very seriously.
But not always:
They lived in Chicago on Fairfield Avenue.
They had a backyard with a plum tree, and a train set that looped through the living room and the dining room.
Maida loved to read.
Judy loved to climb trees.
They lived the American dream.
Maida and JudyBernie and Goldryn looked like movie stars.
When they went on their honeymoon there was a sign in front of the hotel that said “no dogs and no Jews.”
Bernie owned a business, and Goldryn ran the house and gathered ripe plums from the plum tree and made preserves with her sister Eva who lived downstairs.
They packed their kids in the car every summer and took them to the lake. Bernie used to ride a bike with Maida and Judy on the handle bars, the girls shrieking with delight while Goldryn stood on the front steps shrieking at Bernie to turn around this second before he got in an accident.
(He never got in an accident.)
(And he always turned around and came back.)
Goldryn liked to knit, and bake, and every Friday she would polish the sabbath candle sticks. Her car always smelled like butter scotch candies.
Bernie liked playing poker and he smoked two packs of cigarettes a day until one evening when he was 75 he said enough and he quit. He loved making salami omelets and dancing to klezmer music with Maida.
Their daughters Maida and Judy and their little sister Caren Sue (who looked like Little Lulu only cuter) got bigger and picked plums and polished the Sabbath candlesticks and rode their own bikes.
Maida loved writing, and she was nice to everyone in high school, and she was voted Sophomore Favorite.
She joined the Peace Corps and built a school on Palawan in the Philippines, and then came back and joined the Robert Kennedy Campaign, and became an advocate for social change and a children’s book author. She could type 120 words per minute and loved listening to mystery books on tape.
Judy loved Hollywood musicals, and going to the movies, and she’d sneak cigarettes in the bathroom when she was fifteen.
She followed the great big Hollywood sign out West to California with her kids and worked for a movie studio, and then another and another, working her way up to the very top of Warner Brother’s, and she hosted poker nights and Oscar parties. She wore the prettiest shoes and served thr best hors d’oeuvres and chicken soup.
This is Celia and Chaim Blonder.
They were landsmen from the Old Country.
They came to Chicago before WWI, and raised their family, ran their Kosher butcher shop, planted a vegetable garden, and never went to sleep angry.
They wrote letters back home to the Old Country, and gathered together in the evenings to read the replies.
Week after week, year after year, they polished their silver Sabbath candle sticks, and their garden grew and so did their children.
Then the letters came from the Old Country about the others who disappeared into cattle cars and headed East.
Then the letters stopped altogether.
Goldryn was their second youngest daughter.
This is Faye Weiss nee Singer.
Faye served in North Africa in WWII, and when she came home from the war, she played the violin in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. She was whip-sharp and wore ruby red lipstick and had finger waves and was a knockout at the beach during the summers they all went to the Lake.
Actually, she was just a knockout in general:
This is her brother, Oscar Singer.
He also served in WWII.
Oscar was a mad scientist who loved looking at clouds and rain and hail and sleet so much that he learned how to predict their patterns. He was a weather man who advised President Roosevelt that the weather off of Normandy would be rough — but safe enough for landing.
He helped win the war.
Faye and Oscar were Bernie’s sister and brother.
Maida and Judy were born during WWII while Celia snd Haim were waiting for letters from the Old Country, and Faye and Oscar were fighting the Nazis, while the Nazis threw the rest of their family into the hungry maw of Auschwitz, where their cousins and uncles and aunts were devoured alive and sucked dry — where the Nazis tossed their corpses like simple afterthoughts into big bureaucratic ovens, where they threw their bones and teeth and sinew into jagged pits (but kept the gold fillings from their teeth, their diamond engagement rings and silver Sabbath candle sticks to send home to their pretty wives.)
This is what separates animals from monsters.
Humans can behave like animals.
The Nazis were monsters.
Bernie and Goldryn and Maida and Judy were my grandparents and my mom and my aunt.
And Bernie and Goldryn and Maida and Judy and Celia and Chaim and Faye and Oscar lived the American dream with their backyard and their plum tree and canning preserves, and the train in the living room and the dining room, and butter scotch candies and poker nights and Oscar parties and bike rides and trips to the lake and ruby red lipstick and Hollywood musicals and social activism and watching for the weather to change while they polished their their silver Sabbath candles – and they lived and died in that rare pocket of time between WWII and January 20, 2017 when folks were a little more quiet about hating Jews.