Reut Amit
Reut Amit is a Canadian Human Rights lawyer.

The Crimes of Those We Loved

There is an interview with a Jewish woman describing the morning after Kristallnacht. Upon waking to the destruction in the morning, all her neighbors looked so guilty and apologetic. And she thought, “If everyone is sorry, who broke the windows?”

That story haunts me more than others these days.

It haunts me as the faces of those I love and have raised my children to love, have changed form. The foundations I have built so carefully and believed in so completely, are violently shaking beneath me, unearthing thousands of years of memory. The disorientation is dizzying, revolting. I remember this story. My grandmother used to tell it. But she told it in a different language, in a way that felt distant and impossible. Yet I find myself opening the book this night to read to my sleepy child, and the letters are distressingly clear.

The platitudes of those I believed belonged to me and to whom I belonged, so empty. Oh, how the heart breaks. The stomach turns. Like a night terror in which I am screaming frantically, clearly, and those around me do not even lift their gaze. They cannot hear me, or perhaps choose not to.

They do not see the responsibility that rests on their shoulders. How they are the only ones who can change the course of the wind. And I recall an understanding from the depths of a place I cannot quite decipher, yet is so familiar- that they would shed tears as we were taken, but do nothing that came at even the slightest expense to themselves. Perhaps they would feel shame as they watched their grandchildren play in the yard, but that will be too late for my children and their children begging to be born. They may tell these grandchildren about the friend they once had, but they will not teach them of their complicity, as their grandparents did not, proceeding with the unbroken chorus.

It was a little while ago that I understood they are not blind. That they see and they know what they need to do, but refuse. I realized that if they could not say to their small audience that danger is coming, that my children, the children I raised to trust them, deserve to live, deserve to thrive, deserve to be safe, then what hope do we have that they would endanger their own children to hide us? How defeated I was at this realization.

I know now this was a youthful naivete. All at once, the things they did to those before us have come into sharp relief, as if looking through glasses for the first time. Not the horrors of strangers, but more painfully, the crimes of abandonment and betrayal- the crimes of those we loved.

It follows me these days, an echo reverberating on the wind, whistling behind my ear, You didn’t think you could escape that ancient lot that caught your forefathers, did you? It isn’t patronizing. It is, in a strange way, comforting, advising. Like a mother, sad and resigned to the evils before her. Fighting to protect her children, but tired. Recognizing we are encircled but belong to a meaning, to a people, larger than ourselves, larger than this particular cycle of death.

They don’t understand how we see it playing out yet, how we see the picture unfolding before us. They will. As their grandparents did. And theirs. But it will be our children who bear the price in this world. Perhaps them in the next.

It seems youthful arrogance now, to think we could have escaped the betrayal and the ugliness. What makes us so different?

Some have said that we are defined by those who have sought to destroy us. That we survived only by their cowardice and hatred. I admit I’ve thought about this, how acceptance and assimilation would have been the clearest way to destroy us. This can offer a karmic explanation for why we must remain in a perpetual cycle of pain and abandonment, to remind us of who we are and to whom we belong. But these days, I’m not sure.  I wonder if maybe it is not us who are defined by their hatred, but their hatred which defines them. It is they who must face themselves before we can be free.

About the Author
Reut Amit is a Canadian Human Rights lawyer. Reut immigrated to Canada from Israel at a young age. She returned to Israel in adulthood to study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Reichman University, from which she holds a Master of Arts in Government with a specialization in Diplomacy and Conflict Studies.
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