I am in my grandparent’s kitchen on a cold Shabbat afternoon, eating quietly when my grandfather creeps up silently beside me to show me a photo of his wife when they first got married. He proudly opens up a magazine from the 60s on which she was featured, with a huge smile on his face and that’s when I see it. Lying in front of me so prominent and so real. I had never seen one without a glass case over it. Never seen one that I could touch.
A yellow star. Exactly like in the photos but this time it was real, and worse it belonged to my grandfather. I always knew he had a difficult life and I always understood that his journey was arduous; I heard his story a hundred times, but I had never truly internalized it. Until now.
Over the years, my “papi” as we call him, has started talking more and more about the war, always with so much pain in his eyes, for us it’s just a story, for him it was reality. A reality, I distanced myself from…. it was too hard to bear.
But this time I couldn’t detach myself, for all these memories of the war were staring at me, forcing me to face them. One was a children’s book, called “Youpino” a pejorative term to embarrass Jews. The book incited to violence and hate against the Jew, twistedly, written with playfulness and innocence. Papi explained that he would walk in class and the professor would ask if they had all received the book on the “enemy of France”. Could you imagine what it felt like to be the Jewish kid in that class?
But he fought and he didn’t let anti-Semitism tear him apart. And with G-d’s help, he became one of the most successful people I know. Unfortunately, however, the anti-Semitism didn’t magically disappear after the war like many people think. And it grew side by side with his family. Being a Jew in France wasn’t easy and evermore so today, with the growth of a new anti-Semitism, a justified one: Israel.
I’ve seen many things in my young age, but what destroyed me beyond repair was seeing my grandfather watch a protest of pro-Palestinians’ with neo-Nazi signs that read “Death to the Jews” and “Hitler was right” during the Gaza war of 2014. As I watched him in tears, he didn’t move, didn’t get angry or agitated. He stood there transfixed as his eyes travelled far, far away from any of this, back to Paris, back to 1940, as he said “Je ne suis meme pas encore parti, que ceci recommence,” I am not even yet gone, that it’s happening again.”