Mayyim Hayyim (A Triptych)

by Arlyn Miller (Glencoe, IL)

Gathering the Waters
Approach the water.
Bring who you are
and what you have lost.

In its transparency
the water holds
every color.

Like light – every color contained;
though we cannot see this,
for seeing through it.

Enter the living water
which carries where it came from
and the mystery of its destination.

Immerse your self
and emerge with the whole
of who you are

which contains who you have been
and who you will be, though it may be
as invisible as light.

As if you didn’t have a body,
were all thought and feeling.
As if the clumsy feet, the aging hands,
the blemished skin and unwieldy hair
were not you. Most of the time
you can move about in this way,
and name yourself
what’s housed inside, incorporeal.

The water will disabuse you.
Temperature and displacement
a stark mirror: you are finite and imperfect,
separate from what is not you,
no matter how connected,
connected, no matter how separate.

The waters have parted
to make room for you
and gathered you in.

Neither have they drowned you
nor have you made of them a flood;
you’re not that powerful – only human
holy human.

Mikveh Prayer
This time in benevolence
without violence or betrayal.
This time without someone else’s story
dragging you under, drowning
you breathless with terror.

This beginning
begins with you.
Take the love you have been given,
that which you have seen
and that to which you have been blind,
and sew it together to make a whole
cloth of shelter and fertile comfort.

Pick a name for yourself,
the name by which you want to be known,
the name by which you want to know yourself.

A poet, essayist and journalist, Arlyn Miller was inspired to write these three poems while attending an international conference at Mayyim Hayyim, a progressive, inclusive, egalitarian mikveh and learning center for Jewish spirituality near Boston, MA. Of the three poems, “Gathering the Waters” (which was also the title of the conference), appeared in the Jewish Women’s Literary Annual, Volume 9, 2013, and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.

Arlyn is the founding editor of Poetic License Press, which publishes creative writing that is “authentic, accessible and engaging,” including the poetry anthologies, A Light Breakfast: Poems to Start Your Day and A Midnight Snack: Poems for Late Night Reading. Arlyn teaches writing workshops in the Chicago area.  Her poems, essays, and articles have been widely published. 

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Filed under American Jewry, poetry

My Olympics

By Ellen Norman Stern (Willow Grove, PA)

I didn’t think I had remembered. Or perhaps it was something I had wished to forget over the many years since it had happened.

But then the sight of the five interlocked Olympic circles, the flag-bearing gymnasts marching into the crowded spectator-filled stadium, the familiar melody of the Olympic hymn sounding through the television screen brought back a long-forgotten memory best not remembered.

In the summer of 1936, Berlin experienced an uncommon heat wave not usually felt in this temperate European zone. Earlier that late spring, as an eight-year old, I had suffered a heat stroke while playing in the school yard. As a consequence I was forced to spend the many days until summer vacation at home, dizzy and nauseous, lying on the bed in my darkened, spinning room, with a wet cloth covering my head.

Like everyone else in the city I hoped to be well again by the time August came around.

Then the much-awaited Olympic Games were to start in Berlin. The capital city was looking forward to become the site of a world event.

I had the fervent wish to be a part of it. To walk through the avenues flagged so splendidly with the banners of the Olympiad and Germany, its host country. To be in the crowd welcoming the many top sports champions from all over the world. To see them perform, perhaps. To witness their receiving the medals for which they had all struggled so hard.

How I would manage to achieve my dream I did not yet know. Nothing in the real Germany of the day favored the daydreams of a small Jewish child.

And yet…hadn’t I heard of things loosening up in the anti-Jewish world around me? Even from the hushed sound of voices in my parents’ living room rumors reached me that most of the fashionable restaurants in town were starting to remove the signs in their front windows, signs that spelled out Jews Not Welcome. “Even Dobrin and Kempinsky are among them,” I heard them mention two of Berlin’s top cafes. Many friends of my parents looked for every possible sign that the icy spirit of Hitler’s Germany was thawing before the eyes of the world.

Not many days later the sob-filled telephone call of my father’s secretary informed us that he had been arrested right within his office and that we had better not expect him home that evening because she assumed that he was taken right to prison. She had no idea what the charges were.

It took my mother several days of frantic investigating to discover that the charges were “bicycle theft” and were brought by an unknown party.

This type of “denunciation” had become a standard procedure in our day. Anyone with a grudge was using it to get “even” for an unknown slight. Especially if it was against a Jew.

However, it seemed particularly ridiculous in the case of my father. Even I knew that he hardly needed to stoop to such a crime. While we still lived in Hannover, prior to moving to Berlin, he had been a successful businessman driven by a chauffeur; my mother, a fashionable, artistic lady whose household had included a cook, cleaning maid, and a laundress. Why then, bother with such a lowly accusation?

A clue emerged a few days later when my mother received a letter from the police. She opened it with shaking hands, only to drop it with an outcry of horror.

“You are hereby informed to report immediately to the Olympiastadion in Grunewald where you are required to help in the construction of the “Reichssportfeld” by doing Feld-Arbeit clearing the grounds for the upcoming Olympic Games.

“This action is required in reparation for the charges incurred by your husband’s prison sentence and subsequent costs borne by the German government.

“Heil Hitler!”

I, of course, had not the slightest idea what all this meant. All I knew was that at last we, my mother and I, would be traveling to the site of my dreams, the Olympic Stadium in the Grunewald. And I was overjoyed!

Every morning of that summer of 1936 my mother and I boarded the U-Bahn (subway) at our stop in Charlottenburg and rode to the end of the line in the Grunewald Forest. Since no one was at home in our family, my mother was forced to take me along every day of her work. Each day she carried a sandwich for me and a bottle of water, plus a sunhat and appropriate clothing for me to wear during the heat spell. After all, I had already experienced one sunstroke.

This area was to be the future home of Berlin’s 1936 Summer Olympics. It had been designated long before, in 1912, by the International Olympic Committee.

The First World War had prevented any games from taking place. In 1933 when the Nazis came to power, the party decided to make the most of the tremendous propaganda occasion by using the Olympic Games as a showplace for the upcoming progressive world of the Third Reich.

The plan was the construction of the Reichssportfeld, a huge arena that was expected to take two years to build.

One of the sites included in the field was the Waldbuehne, an amphitheater with the capacity to seat 25,000 people.

It was this location which would require the labor of my mother and the many other women who were forced to convert the area into a showplace.

I had no idea of any of this when we arrived for work the first day.

With other women who had shared the train ride we climbed up the subway steps. A huge rock-strewn field of weeds awaited us at our destination.

I held my mother’s hand with one hand and carried my sandwich bag and a book with the other. We were met at the top by brown-clad SA men who registered us and turned us over to matrons who led us to a nearby cabin. There the women changed their dresses into more appropriate attire for the work ahead. Before each person left the cabin she was handed a rake and a hoe.

I do not remember any other children present. My mother settled me into an available chair, said that she would check on me whenever she could, and told me to be good.

And then she stepped outside into the burning sunlight and was assigned a stretch of the large field.

I could see her from my chair inside, although she was out of reach of my voice. In the stuffy heat of the cabin I saw my pretty mother chipping away at rocks or bending down to pull out the weeds she had loosened. It was an unreal, nightmarish view I wish I did not have to witness. It may well be the reason I have tried to forget this episode for a major part of my life.

So began each long, hot day, boring and tiring and far from my dreams of the Olympic experience. It was not until the sun began to set that the hoped-for hour of going home arrived.

August 1 arrived, and with it the opening of the 1936 Olympiade.

It was a time before television brought events into every home. I was not able to view the grand episodes I had hoped to see.

Eventually I saw pictures of the rock-strewn weed-filled field, which was now a lush green carpet terminated by a beautiful amphitheater named the “Dietrich Eckhard Buehne.” Another area of the terrain housed the special box of honor where Adolf Hitler greeted his guests. Everything was grand and splendid and politically motivated. The “Fuehrer” was shown bursting with pride, just as another evil dictator named Vladimir Putin would posture unsmilingly in a similar situation in another country many years later.

The sound of the Olympic Hymn in 2014 brought it all back. How little things have changed!

Born in Germany, Ellen Stern came to the United States as a young girl and grew up in Louisville, Kentucky. She’s the author of numerous books for young adult readers, including biographies of Louis D. Brandeis, Nelson Glueck, and Elie Wiesel. Her most recent publication is The French Physician’s Boy, a novel about Philadelphia’s 1793 Yellow Fever epidemic.

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An Appreciative Smile

by Sheldon P Hersh (Lawrence, NY)

He stopped rather suddenly at the door pausing to take in the room’s layout and carefully eyeing its contents. Visibly on edge, he began to fidget nervously as though preparing himself for some  unforeseen danger that could possibly be lurking nearby. After all, he had managed to survive the war when so many had not. His short stature belied an inner strength and tenacity that had helped keep him alive during the most difficult of times. He had seen and experienced things that few could ever imagine and survival meant being constantly on guard–taking nothing, absolutely nothing, for granted. Although those horrific days have long since passed, he continued to feel ill at ease whenever finding himself in new and unfamiliar surroundings. Such indeed was the case today during this initial visit to the ear doctor’s office. Noting that all seemed to be quiet and in proper order, he took a deep breath, cautiously moved inward, and, as instructed, sat himself down on the waiting chair.

“Doctor, something tells me that you are a religious person. Are you orthodox by any chance?” he inquired just as I made my way into the room.

Hardly a question I would have expected from a first-time patient. It was the tone of his voice, however, laced with an equal mix of criticism and bewilderment, that caught me off guard. Sitting here before me, I thought, is a patient unlike any I had encountered before. Very few individuals would take the liberty to speak in this manner, especially before formal introductions were made and a doctor-patient relationship established. I could not think of any other patient or acquaintance, for that matter, with the temerity to ask such a question before meeting someone for the very first time. Yes, he certainly was different and only later on would I learn how remarkably different.

“Well, tell me, doctor, am I right? Are you religious?”

Not knowing how to respond to his persistent questioning, I quickly organized my thoughts and replied, “What is it exactly that makes you say that?”

Grinning proudly, he answered, “Well, every room in this office has a mezuzah, and not a one is covered with any paint. That tells me that the mezuzahs are routinely removed and probably checked every so often. Only religious people would bother doing such a thing. Isn’t that so doctor? Isn’t that what religious people would normally do?”

I nodded in silence, uncertain as to where this was all heading.

“What brings you here today? What seems to be the problem?”

“Oh nothing too bad,” he began.  “Just some ringing in my ears and I think my hearing may not be as sharp as it used to be.”

His distinctive accent, animated expressions and mannerisms were remarkably similar to what I had been exposed to while growing up. “I see you come from central Poland,” I remarked while removing a hefty amount of wax from his right ear.

But before I had a chance to attend to his left ear, he  turned abruptly in my direction. His face now sported a wide quizzical smile accentuated by the glitter of a solitary gold tooth.

“You are absolutely correct,” he exclaimed somewhat begrudgingly.  “But how could you possibly know? What tells you that I was raised in central Poland?”

It felt as though we were playing a long and difficult game of tennis and I had finally succeeded in gaining the advantage.

“My parents were also from central Poland, and they spoke with the same accent and often used the same expressions as you.”

In short order, we compared notes, discussed wartime experiences, and soon discovered that both he and my father were prisoners in the Flossenburg concentration camp. They were both liberated by American forces while on the same death march. For the first time since entering the office, he was at a loss for words. Just as the word ‘Mister’ left my lips, and before I could even mention his family name, I was cut short and reprimanded.

“By the way, doctor, from here on in, I want you to call me David. We have a lot in common, you and I. You must call me David.”

I had completely lost track of time. The door to the examination room suddenly opened and my receptionist entered advising me that a number of patients were still waiting to be seen and were beginning to complain about the long wait.

“Mr. …, I mean David, we have to end at this point. Forgive me but there are others waiting. Perhaps we can continue our conversation at a later time?”

He rose, took my hand, and declared, “I will be back doctor. I promise you I will be back.”  David was to  keep his promise in more ways than one can imagine.

There were times when David made appointments much like any other patient, but on other occasions he would arrive unannounced, usually when I was just about ready to leave for home.  During these latter visits, there would be a firm knock on the door and there stood David stating that he came to talk.

“We must talk. So few people want to listen. Nobody wants to hear about our lives back in Poland. No one wants to know what happened to us during the war. But I sense you have an interest in hearing about all that we Jews were forced to endure during that dark bleak period in our history.”

Well, David pushed the right button, and we spent many hours discussing his personal experiences during the Holocaust, Jewish life in Poland, and his views on religion.

He spoke emotionally of his family back in Poland, all of whom were strictly observant, God-fearing Jews. “How could it be that they all perished and I alone survived?” he would occasionally whisper when lost in thought. Although he had long since strayed from organized religion, David loved to describe Jewish customs and tradition in great detail. He spoke tenderly of a way of life that suddenly was no more, a life that had gone up in smoke along with the victims.

After an hour or so of conversation, he would check his wristwatch, finish his sentence, and then declare, “I’m sure you have had a long day and want to get home to your family so we will end here.”

In spite of the late hour, I knew only too well that he wanted to stay longer, but in spite of my best efforts I could no longer conceal my impatience. On many an occasion, he would call me either at the office or at home asking if I had a minute or two to spare. There was something that he wanted to share–a story, a thought, or perhaps a recollection. Once he began, he found it difficult to stop. He had a mission to complete, and complete it he would.

During one particular office visit, David entered excitedly and informed me that in six weeks he would be returning to Germany. “I have been working with some German officials about commemorating the death march we spoke about earlier. A number of survivors along with family members will be going back to revisit the route by marching from the camp to where we were finally liberated. Doctor, I think it would be worthwhile if you were to come along and see firsthand where your father spent the last months of the war. Come with us to Germany. There are a number of survivors who are returning with their wives and children and wish to retrace the death march perhaps for the last time. You will be able to speak to people who may remember your father. And, by the way, don’t worry. There will be plenty of kosher food. As a matter of fact the inn where we will all be staying is to be entirely kosher. Many of us are no longer religious but keeping kosher would be the proper thing to do while in Germany.” How could I possibly say no?

It is difficult to describe the survivors’ reactions as they retraced their steps as free men. Some would stop at particular locations revealing all that had transpired at one site or another. Talk of death and suffering permeated every discussion. There were some, however, who remained silent–their teary eyes making it clear to all that certain recollections were to be kept within.

We paid homage to those who died while on the march stopping at a number of makeshift burial sites where nameless corpses were laid to rest soon after liberation. The haunting words of the Kaddish could be heard at each stop. This special prayer for the dead was recited in unison by the entire group. It mattered little whether one had forsaken religion or still happened to observe. The words of the Kaddish touched everyone’s heart and literally singed our souls. Thanks to David, I had the opportunity to visit the camp where my father had been brutalized and tormented. At the end of the march, I stood at the place where he had likely been liberated, rubbing his eyes in disbelief as American servicemen fast approached. And for that I shall forever be indebted to David.

David was always on a mission of some sort traveling back and forth to Poland and Germany, either seeking to right a wrong or fighting to keep the few remaining vestiges of Jewish life from disappearing.  He would arrive at the office seeking medical advice or simply wanting to sit down and talk for a while. David’s visits were becoming somewhat less frequent and I assumed he was involved in some new Holocaust related venture. And then sadly, two days before Christmas, I received a phone call from a friend of David’s family informing me of his death. Apart from the day, time and place, no other details were given. I rearranged my schedule and set out for Manhattan in the early morning hours on Christmas eve.

I approached the rabbi who had officiated at the service and asked who would be saying the Kaddish for David during the next twelve months.

“I’m not certain,” declared the Rabbi. “I did not know him very well. There are no sons and I know of no one in the family who is likely to do so.”

I remembered the very first time I met David and how curious he had been about my religious observance. What is there to think about, I thought. Before the Rabbi could offer a solution, I immediately volunteered to say the Kaddish. Given the choice, David would have preferred that  the Kaddish be recited by someone with a familiar face and an appreciation of all that he had endured during the Holocaust.  And so I say the Kaddish every day.

Just as I begin to recite the prayer, I sense David’s presence and can make out the defining features of his face. His customary smirk has now been replaced by a soft appreciative smile.  David seems finally at peace.

Sheldon P. Hersh, an Ear, Nose and Throat Physician with a practice in the New York metropolitan area, is the author of Our Frozen Tears(, as well as the co-author of The Bugs Are Burning, a book on the Holocaust.

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The Circle of Life

 by Barbara Krasner (Somerset, NJ)

Yiddish births my mama’s mother tongue
Yiddish silences my mama at death
Yiddish curls around the circle of life
Yiddish comes up from beneath the dirt
Yiddish spits, curses, and insults
Yiddish grabs like my bubbe’s cheek pinch
It is the language I cannot speak.

Barbara Krasner holds an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her poetry and short fiction have appeared in or are forthcoming in Jewish Women’s Literary Annual, Poetica Magazine,, Nimrod, Paterson Literary Review, Lips, Minerva Rising, The Copperfield Review and others. She teaches creative writing at William Paterson University in New Jersey. She is the author of Discovering Your Jewish Ancestors (Heritage Quest, 2001) and the forthcoming Goldie Takes a Stand! (Kar-Ben, Fall 2014), a tale of young Golda Meir. You can read more about her at her website and blog The Whole Megillah – The Writer’s Resource for Jewish Story.

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Mechitza: The Partition

by Mel Glenn (Brooklyn, NY)

Some call me a wall of division;
some call me a wall of unity.
It depends on your point of view,
literally, from where you sit.
But I have no use for labels,
no use for whether you dress me
in wood, cloth, or glass,
no use for whether you decorate me
in rich curlicue and seraphim,
for I have stood proudly for many a millennium,
holding together the traditions of the Jewish people.
I help keep worshipers focused,
with no distractions, on the eyes of God.
Now, here in the 21st century,
people have begun to question my role –
whether it is right or not to separate the sexes.
Let the two people below debate this question.
Let each give his and her reasons.
I take no sides.
I only answer to God.


Now don’t get me wrong –
I love all women, any size or shape.
I can’t tell you how many times
I dream of them, day and night.
I’m a man, what do you think.
But when it comes between me and God,
I don’t want to have visions of
silky bodies in my head, distracting me.
I mean how right would that be?
When you’re praying, nothing else
can get in the way, know what I mean?
It would not be proper to think of
bright lips, smooth thighs, big breasts.
I mean I just can’t turn these thoughts on and off.
You think I’m a sex maniac obsessing about women?
Oh, no, not when I’m conversing with God.
I just need a bit of help; the wall needn’t be too high.


We deserve to be up in the balcony,
or at the least separated by
wood, cloth, glass, whatever.
Having to pray with the men
would be too much a disturbance for them.
God knows, they wouldn’t be able
to keep their thoughts on their prayers.
Worshiping with us is preposterous, I know,
and flies in the face of Orthodox tradition.
They have every right to exclude us
from leading them in service.
We are meant to be not seen, not heard,
and the further we are away,
the less seen and heard we will be.
So I propose we sit in a different building altogether.
Only the men deserve to be physically closer to God.
Obviously, we continue to be unworthy,
only valuable enough to stay home with the children
and to be happy to serve our husbands dinner
when they come home tired after a long day at the temple.

The author of twelve books for young adults, Mel Glenn has lived nearly all his life in Brooklyn, NY, where he taught English at A. Lincoln High School for thirty-one years.  Lately, he’s been writing poetry, and you can find his most recent poems in the YA anthology, This Family Is Driving Me Crazy,  edited by M. Jerry Weiss.

If you’d like to learn more about his work, visit:

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Exploring “Emotional Genealogy”

What is “emotional genealogy” and how does it differ from traditional genealogy?

Award-winning travel journalist Judith Fein describes “emotional genealogy” as a combination of a family’s history and the behavior of family members who have created that history.

An acclaimed speaker and workshop leader, Fein is the author of Life Is A Trip: The Transformative Magic of Travel and the just-released The Spoon From Minkowitz: A Bittersweet Roots Journey to Ancestral Lands. (If you’d like to read an excerpt  from The Spoon From Minkowitz, click here:

She was kind enough to share some thoughts on “emotional genealogy” with readers of The Jewish Writing Project:

JWP: How did you first come upon the idea of emotional genealogy?

Fein: I noticed that when I saw names and dates on my family tree, I fell asleep under the branches. I so admire people who do genealogical research, but I realized that I am definitely not one of them. On the other hand, whenever my parents or relatives related the slightest crumb of family stories, I became ravenously hungry.  “Hmm,” I thought. “What do you call it if you are mesmerized by the tales of those who came before you? Emotional genealogy. It seemed to fit.

JWP: What is emotional genealogy?

Fein: It is not only the stories that are told and have been handed down, but it is also the family behavior patterns that are transmitted. There are positive behaviors–like optimism, the thirst for social justice, kindness, an artistic or musical bent–but also the dark ones like rage, violence, lying, addiction, stonewalling silence.

JWP: What if I don’t know anything about my ancestors?

Fein: There is always a snippet of information or a piece of a story. Even the most minor details are pieces of the puzzle. If you have older relatives who are living, they are a prime source. If you have cousins, they may have some stories. As a child, you certainly observed behaviors of your relatives. Do you see them in yourself?

JWP: What if no one in my family knows or wants to talk about them?

Fein: Then you go to Plan B, which involves research or using your intuition. Are you particularly drawn to a certain country? You may have had ancestors there, even without knowing for sure. Are you attracted to certain types of people? Well, you may have an ancestral connection. Your own intelligence, creativity and intuitive instincts are sources of a different kind of information.

JWP: What did you gain from approaching your genealogy search in this way?

Fein: First, by learning the stories, I feel that I have roots in a very rootless world. They give me a sense of meaning and purpose. That is why I wrote my book, The Spoon From Minkowitz: A Bittersweet Roots Journey to Ancestral Lands.

Second, I have understood the behavior patterns in my family–especially the toxic ones. I have seen how negative traits are passed down from one generation to another. And I have vowed that the buck stops with me. As someone recently told me, “If you don’t transform it, you transmit it.”

JWP: Thank you, Judith. Good luck with your explorations!

If you’re interested in exploring your own emotional genealogy, visit Judith Fein’s website for more information:

And if you’re interested in hearing her speak, click on this link to hear her inspiring TED talk on the beauty of travel:

You can view more of her work at her website:

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Sell Me The Child

by Sheldon P. Hersh (Lawrence, NY) 

I first heard the story many years ago and at the time, quite frankly, never gave it much thought. But when I heard the story a second time, I was shocked and bewildered. How would things have worked out had my parents relented and given their blessings to an arrangement that few could ever fathom? How could any sane individual make such a proposal and expect a positive reply? But judge for yourselves. Listen to my father’s story as he details an event that occurred right before the birth of my younger brother.   

On the days immediately following liberation, if a survivor had gained enough strength to stand before a mirror, he or she would probably have had a difficult time recognizing the image appearing on the glass surface. The reflection would likely be that of a  stranger dressed in rags with shaven head, emaciated body and deeply  sunken  listless eyes. That is how we looked as we emerged from years of darkness and entered a world ablaze with freedom and light. The years of suffering and abuse had taken its toll leaving us both physically and emotionally disabled. How could we ever regain all that we had lost and how do we go about rebuilding our shattered lives? Entire families were murdered, our homes and  possessions were long gone and we had virtually nothing but the clothes on our backs. We were the broken remnants of a forsaken people who had been sadistically tortured and systematically exterminated while much of the world stood idly by without raising a whimper in protest.

Who but a survivor could best appreciate  another survivor’s needs, fears and aspirations?  We quite naturally gravitated to one another. Friends became more than friends and often assumed the role of siblings and parents providing the comfort and support that could only come from a close family member. Each survivor knew that only another survivor was able to appreciate the  pain and sorrow that would  remain deeply implanted within each of us. After liberation, we were all displaced orphans who placed our trust in one another, relied on each other and yes, married one another.

I was liberated by US military forces while on a death march that originated in the Flossenburg concentration camp, the site of my last confinement. My struggle first began in the Lodz ghetto, continued in Auschwitz and finally ended in Flossenburg, a slave labor camp located in Germany. How we managed to survive when so many had not is a question that I am often asked but unable to answer.  After considerable thought, I came to the realization that perhaps it is better for all concerned that this question remains unanswered. Each response, each and every attempt  at providing an answer tends to appear so utterly superficial and woefully inadequate.

I was now free but had no idea how to go about restarting my life. My wife and three children were gone; I had no home, no source of income and no  documentation. Like most other survivors, I decided that my first priority was to return home in hope of locating any family member or acquaintance that may have survived the war.  Most would soon learn that few, if any, had survived.  And to make matters even worse, returning Jews were not welcomed back to their hometowns and were often threatened, beaten and, in some cases, murdered without the slightest bit of hesitation by the local citizenry.

Many survivors were quick to marry and start families. Survivors often married out of necessity and on many an occasion, for reasons that would often be frowned upon  today. We were pragmatic rather than romantic and realism far outweighed love and the idealistic and fanciful images of securing the ideal and perfect mate. I married a former neighbor who had lived with her family just a floor above my apartment in a working class neighborhood in Lodz, Poland. We were the sole survivors of  our respective families and our marriage proved timely and sensible for both of us.  We knew each other and trusted one another and that was more than enough. We were married in Poland but with anti-Semitism still an overriding concern, we decided to seek safety in Germany of all places. Two healthy children were born in a displaced persons camp a short while before we set out for the United States.

Survivors formed close bonds with one another. How could an outsider ever appreciate  what we had gone through? They could never possibly understand and there were times when outsiders, including those amongst our own people, became adversaries rather than advocates. Whenever Holocaust experiences were discussed, there were a good number of individuals who voiced outright disbelief and often accused us of exaggerating facts or spreading falsehoods. Some even advised that we not talk of our experiences so as not to upset friends and acquaintances.

I was once asked how I felt about bringing children into a world that tolerated the murder of so many innocent Jewish children. My response was simple and to the point. I had never come across any survivor who had the slightest reservation about having children. In fact, not having a child, left many emotionally devastated and deprived of joy and fulfillment. Now that you have the necessary background, permit me to share a story with you.

My family had befriended a couple who, like us, had married after the war. He was considerably older than she but what did it matter? They were both vulnerable and isolated and, like many survivors, decided to wed. Try as they may, they were unable to have children.  As each year passed, both grew increasingly despondent and were desperate for a child whatever the cost. They would often come to visit and showered my children with love and affection. We comforted the couple as best we could but their desperation worsened with each visit.

Approximately four years after we settled in America, my wife was pregnant with our third child.  We were once again paid a visit by our childless friends who now learned of the pregnancy while we were all sitting at the kitchen table talking about life back in Europe. I could sense that something was not right as they both fidgeted with their tea cups and eyed one another in a way that I found troubling.

Our friend placed his cup on the table and suddenly gave us a look unlike anything we had observed  throughout the many years of our friendship. With eyes awash in tears, the tormented fellow began speaking somewhat haltingly but with a tone that could only signify deep pain and desperation. “You already have two children and could likely have more if you so wished….sell me this unborn baby. I’ll pay you whatever you want but we need a child. Without a child we have nothing, nothing at all.” He continued in this vein without letup for a minute or two hoping to convince us to do the unthinkable, to consider the impossible. He promised the world if we would only agree.

I had to put an immediate stop to this madness and as my neck and chest began to tighten, I started out by telling them that I understood their grief and felt their sorrow. “This is nothing but foolish talk, the talk of sheer desperation. I know what you feel, believe me I know,” I whispered. “But we could never do such a thing. I wish there was some other way to help you but we cannot do such a thing.” Not another word was said. As I looked at this sad and desperate couple, I saw tears streaming down their ashen faces. My dear friend knew that I had already lost three children and would never agree to his request. But what was there to lose? He had to ask.

We remained close and whenever the couple  came to visit, they paid particular attention to my younger son, the baby they so desperately wanted for their own. I also noted a slight change in behavior whenever they rose from the couch as they prepared to leave for home. While adjusting their coats, they would take a longer than usual look back at the giggling toddler before slowly approaching the front door.

We were like brothers, perhaps even closer than brothers. Our experiences bound us together in a manner that defies description and can never be adequately put into words. My wife and I  would have gladly done  anything for this sad couple but this was one request we could simply not honor. Two or three years were to pass before they finally succeeded in adopting a baby girl.

Sheldon P. Hersh, an Ear, Nose and Throat Physician with a practice in the New York metropolitan area, is the author of Our Frozen Tears (, as well as the co-author of The Bugs Are Burning, a book on the Holocaust. “Sell Me The Child” is excerpted from Our Frozen Tears with the kind permission of the author. 


Filed under American Jewry, European Jewry, Family history