With eyes wide opened, we’ll continue to sing

It never made sense to me, the designation of one day a year to remember the victims of the Holocaust. Wasn’t it something that we should always carry with us? Shouldn’t the flame of remembrance be a constant in our hearts and in our minds? What was this devotion to paying lip service for one day all about?

As a young child I understood that the lesson of the Holocaust was one that we should bear with us always, every day, every moment. The mantra Never again! was part of my soul. How could it not be a permanent fixture of every Jew’s soul? I felt it was the very least one could do to respect the six million that perished in the Nazi firestorm.

And, I knew it to be nothing less than folly if we let our guard down for a moment in a world where hatred of Jews was not restricted to Germany’s Third Reich. A lesson I learned time and again witnessing my older brothers and their friends set upon by Jew-hating gangs in our neighborhood, feeling the eggs thrown at us as we came out of shul on the high holidays, getting a bird’s eye view to one of my brothers felled to the ground by a cement brick thrown at his skull, and me, 11 years old, walking home, bruised and swollen-faced after having had the crap beaten out of me by a gang of Irish Catholic girls who were far tougher than I.

I remember looking into the eyes of my then enemy, seeing her unadulterated rage and wondering what the hell was she so angry about? After a few well-placed punches to my face, I stopped wondering. I realized it didn’t matter. It was what it was and the world hadn’t changed since my father was liberated from Auschwitz. But, even with my Jewish ego wounded, I thought to myself on that long walk home, at least I had the chance to fight back. With that, I was privileged.

It didn’t take too many years before I realized the difference – the difference between my Jewish peers who were children of survivors and those who were not. I also remember it as a very bitter pill to swallow when I learned of the general silence of American Jewry during the Holocaust.

A number of my friends were children of survivors. Many of us shared a common world view not tainted by rose-colored glasses.

We had a common distrust in the nations of the world including the United States, who closed its doors to Jewish immigration at a time we needed it most – A common distrust reserved especially for England who issued the infamous white paper barring an escape path for the European Jews to our ancestral homeland, blatantly ignoring the Balfour Declaration – A common distrust of our non-Jewish neighbors borne out of personal anecdotes we heard from our parents of their Polish, Lithuanian and Ukrainian neighbors who turned on them and hunted them down. And, although acquainted with heartening stories of righteous gentiles who endangered their own lives to save Jews, we shared a common distrust in “humanity.”

We were a cynical lot. But, certainly not without reason.

Many of us joined the ranks of Beitar and the JDL. I read Rabbi Meir Kahane’s articles religiously and wondered how he wasn’t more popular among mainstream Jewry. He spoke the truth without fear. It all seemed so obvious. So clear. So simple in its logic. He understood all too well the true intentions of the Arab people with regard to the State of Israel. It was never about the land.

How, I wondered, after the Holocaust can Jews still be so blind as to shun the facts and shy away from what needs to be said and done? If the Holocaust didn’t serve as a shot of reality, what would? What were we afraid of? After the Holocaust, what more could they do to us?

I was raised on my father’s belief system that every human being is essentially rotten. I know. It’s a harsh outlook, but one must understand where it comes from.

At first, I questioned it. I didn’t want to believe it. But, by the age of nine and already knowledgeable of my parent’s wartime experiences, I understood that my father knew very well of what he spoke. He was barely into his teen years when he was sent to Auschwitz and spent the next three years of his life there.

It was extremely rare that one would last that long. There was even an unspoken respect among the fellow prisoners and some German soldiers for one who lasted three years in hell. And, with three years in hell, one learns much about the human condition. Who was I to question him? His story is among the archives of Yad Vashem. And yet, while my father firmly believed in his take on the human condition, he was a man who loved to tell funny stories, loved to teach children and loved to sing. In fact, he would always be singing, and as a result, I too would always be singing.

On Friday nights, however, we wouldn’t sing the typical Erev Shabbat songs. Rather, fluent in Hebrew – self-taught, my father taught me and my brothers the songs sung by the early pioneers of Israel. Despite everything my father had gone through, he still clung to hope and believed in the destiny of our nation and in the fighting spirit of the Jewish people. And, certainly, one does not survive three years in Auschwitz without a fighting spirit.

There were times that I remained with my father at the Shabbat table late into the night singing along with him. When he first arrived in America after the war, although he was not as religious as he once was as a young boy – as he had his own private conflict with God, he moonlighted as a chazzan/cantor and by the time I was twelve I could master the nigunim/prayer tunes as well as any chazzan. I loved them primarily because they were the tunes he carried with him from the shtetle of Europe. I recognized it as some form of victory and I knew that when my father heard me sing them, he felt victorious as well.

Both my parents were fantastic ballroom dancers, though they rarely danced. They never felt comfortable with life’s simple joys. The guilt of survivors perhaps. Especially my mother. She needed to be coaxed. But when they did dance, it was something tremendous, not of this world, as if lightening hit the floor with their every step. The passion, cautiously concealed, was still in them.

It was important to my father that his children go through life with eyes wide opened. There was no room for delusions in our household. And, actually, knowing what my parents had endured, always gave me the strength to push through any difficulties that came my way.

Violence seemed to follow me wherever I went. Although I thought of myself as a street wise kid, and walked around with an in-your-face never again attitude, I nevertheless was an easy target. Still to this day, I’m not sure why that was. If it wasn’t some sort of anti-Jew gang on my back, I was dealing with sexual predators, from pedophiles to would-be kidnappers, would-be pimps and later to predators who hunted college-aged women and who seemed to get an extra kick out of preying on a “Jewess,” as one actually referred to me. I’ll spare you the details. But, one thing that stands out was the time when this guy/maniac stopped short of throwing me off the roof top of my building after forcibly dragging me up there. I never understood why he didn’t go through with it. I could only explain it away as having one of God’s angels looking out for me that day. And in my head, I also thought, God wouldn’t do that to my Holocaust surviving parents.

Whatever the case was, I have my father to thank for unwittingly getting me through it all.

I never told my parents of any of my experiences. I figured they had enough heartache for two lifetimes. I never told anyone, save for bits and pieces here and there and only for a specific purpose. I never believed in dwelling on things. Neither did my parents. They dealt with things and they moved on and I incorporated their philosophy into mine, based on the realism with which I was raised – accept it, deal with it and move on.

And, the bottom line was always the same – if my parents could get through the Holocaust and build a new life, if my father could brave three years of Auschwitz, I could certainly handle whatever life threw at me. Their strength as Holocaust survivors gave me strength. My eyes were wide opened. No illusions about the essence of humanity. No delusions. And like my father, I kept on singing.

Life is an ongoing battle. Perhaps that’s why I became a writer. While I may not be physically strong, I know that my words are and I write as if I take no prisoners and damned be the critics.

And if the pen is indeed mightier than the sword, then I’ve chosen my weapon of choice, and from my home in Judea, the very heartland of Israel, I’ll use it for the sake of Israel, for the sake of the Jewish people, and always, always having in mind the third of my people that were wiped out as the world silently watched.

It is our duty to forge ahead no matter what, to live in our land that is rightfully ours, to safeguard it for our generations to come, and to continue the fight for all those of our brethren who could not fight back.

For the sake of their memory, we cannot merely pay lip service for one day of remembrance.

We must live our lives with the memory of the six million emblazoned in our hearts, fanning the burning flames of their memory with every breath we take. The ashes of our six million demands us to hear their cries that call out to us from their graveless abyss – not to fall prey to those who wish to destroy us! Not to fall prey to false prophesy and false promises!

And therefore, we must remain true to our people, our heritage, our land, and not forsake one inch of it. We must weed out the conspirators from our midst that would have us worship delusion and have us surrender our land to our enemies.

And, not for just one day must we remember that in each generation our enemies have risen up to annihilate us and that our generation today is no different.

We must do what needs to be done to protect our people, and then, with eyes wide opened, we must dance with the passion that life commands, and we must always, always continue to sing.

Pop with one of his ten grandchildren...and still counting.
Pop with one of his ten great grandchildren…and still counting.
About the Author
Author of THE GILBOA IRIS (Gefen Publishing House) and SETTLING FOR MORE: FROM JERSEY TO JUDEA (Urim Publications).
Related Topics
Related Posts