Tag Archives: family rituals

Look to the Sky

by Toba Abramczyk (Toronto, Ontario, Canada)

When I was a small child, my dad, a Holocaust survivor,  used to take me over to the window and ask me to look to the sky. He would take my brother and sister and ask them to do the same thing. This happened all the time, whether it was a barbecue or a family occasion, he would take us out and say “Look to the sky.”

When I got married, he took me outside. It was the hottest day of the year, but he asked me to go out and look to the sky

When I had my first child, he said “I am not good with babies. Don’t let me hold her, my hands can’t carry her and I will drop her.”

His hands were bent and swollen from years of hard labour and butchering meat for years and years.

The day my daughter was born, there were about ten family members in the hospital’s recovery room, all waiting for a turn to hold her. All I could see was her little body bobbing up and down from person to person.

There was so much noise and laughter, but through all this hoopla, I could see my dad holding his first grandchild, tears streaming down his cheeks. He was singing so softly to her. I had never heard my dad sing. Perhaps this was a lullaby his mother sang to him. He then walked my daughter to the window and said, “Look to the sky.”

That’s when I got it, I finally got it, and I started to cry.

I was sobbing so hard, everyone around me thought I was breaking down, but my mom understood. She took my hand and smiled.

All these years, all the times we had “looked to the sky,” my dad was showing his family, everyone who he had lost in the Shoah — mother, father, sisters, brothers – he was showing our faces to them, his legacy, and now his granddaughter.

Toba Abramczyk is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor. Her father was born in Belchatow Poland, the only survivor of seven children. His parents and two younger sisters, grandparents and extended family were taken to Chelmno. One older brother was shot on the street; two older sisters and an older brother were taken to Lodz and then sent to Chelmno in 1944. Her father came to Canada in 1956 after serving in the Haganah as a soldier (1948-1952) in the engineering corp while in Israel. Her mother came to Canada from Rovna Poland in 1930. A single parent of three children, Toba  lectures on the Holocaust, has gone on the March of the Living as a chaperone, and volunteers with various Jewish organizations. 

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Filed under Canadian Jewry, European Jewry, Family history, history, Jewish writing, Polish Jewry

Bearing Witness

 by Barbara Krasner (Somerset, NJ)

I never knew my grandmother.
I never knew why she left her Polish shtetl.
I never knew why she was Austro-Hungarian and Polish at the same time.
I never tasted her stuffed cabbage with raisins in white sauce.
I never ladled the cholent she left on the stove all day for her boys.
I never ate her boiled hot dogs on a bun on Market Day.
I never went by two buses with her to the Prince Street Market.
I never sat on her knee while she kibbitzed with neighbors by the front window radiator.
I never appreciated her generosity as she doled out clothing after the celluloid explosion of ’33.
I never rang her cash register.
I never witnessed her haggling with New York City wholesalers.
I never saw her hold fabrics between her fingers to decide what to sell in her store.
I never scolded her for wearing such thin flowered dresses.
I never noticed the flash in her eyes before a belly laugh.
I never beheld her penetrating gaze or fell victim to her caustic words.
I never addressed envelopes in English to her sisters in Europe.
I never spotted worry lines on her face with three sons in the U.S. Armed Forces.
I never accompanied her to the Joint to sponsor her only surviving relative to America.
I never visited her, wracked with cancer in the hospital.
I never felt her joy when her brother arrived from the DP camp.
She never knew me.

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, Jewishfiction.net, 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 www.barbarakrasner.com and her blog The Whole Megillah – The Writer’s Resource for Jewish Story.

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Filed under American Jewry, European Jewry, Family history, poetry

Crumbs

by Sheldon P. Hersh (Lawrence, NY)

Crumbs are rarely, if ever, a topic for discussion. And rightly so for these annoying particles serve no obvious purpose and even tend to complicate our lives by finding their way into some of the most obscure and difficult to clean places. Crumbs, by their very nature, deserve to be thrown out with the rest of the trash. My mother, however, had an entirely different outlook when it came to crumbs. A Holocaust survivor, she would never permit food, no matter what the size, to be discarded in so demeaning a fashion. In her kitchen, crumbs were afforded a layer of respectability and were never included with the refuse that was thrown into the trashcan. At our home, crumbs were properly collected and set aside so as to ensure a more fitting and sensible method of disposal.

With her hand properly cupped, my mother would deftly sweep every visible crumb into a waiting bag that had recently been selected as a repository for our collected crumbs. “How can I throw this food away? These crumbs could have been a source of nourishment and hope in the camps and ghettos where there was little or nothing to eat,” she would solemnly recount. When it came to food, nothing would ever go to waste; it was simply out of the question to do so.

During the war, Jews, like my mother, quickly became masters of improvisation, cleverly turning less than desirable edibles and scraps into presentable, life-sustaining meals. Crumbs were part of the process and had taken on a new found importance in the camps and ghettos. Leftover bits of bread were always eagerly sought out and occasionally fought over by those driven by all consuming hunger. Oftentimes hidden on one’s person, crumbs became the currency of survival when food rations were not forthcoming or when a sick loved one was in dire need of nutrition. While growing up, if we children happened to be present during the collection of crumbs, mother’s stories relating to food, or lack thereof, would always accompany the gathering process. “We scavenged for crumbs,” mother related tearfully. “Crumbs meant survival.  Crumbs could have given a ghetto resident another day of life.”

Each meal and snack produced a new crop of crumbs and the bag would slowly fill. Once it was decided that the right amount was present, my mother would dutifully make her way to a pre-determined site in the back yard and begin sprinkling crumbs upon the ground. In no time at all, birds, accompanied by an occasional squirrel, would appear and descend upon this feast of tantalizing crumbs. The symphonic rhythm of the birds’ frantic pecking interspersed with the sporadic sounds of flapping wings had become an unforgettable melody that would bring a knowing smile to her beaming face. She was overjoyed knowing that nothing, not even the smallest crumb, had gone to waste and that some hungry creature had been given a proper meal.

Our custom of collecting crumbs quickly ended with my mother’s passing. Crumbs had suddenly become a nuisance of sorts and there were more important things to do with our precious time.  Yet every year when the winter months arrive, I find myself hypnotically drawn to the window that overlooks my own backyard. The ground, now bare and frozen, provides very little nourishment to the few winged residents that have elected to remain behind. Every once in a while, a number of birds land unexpectedly beneath the window and begin pecking aimlessly at the lifeless ground below. With nothing to show for their efforts, I can sense their frustration and disappointment as they raise their eyes in my direction and give me a look that nearly always conveys the same simple, yet urgent, request: remember… please remember us. 

Sheldon P. Hersh, an Ear, Nose and Throat Physician with a practice in the New York metropolitan area, is the co-author of The Bugs Are Burning, a book on the Holocaust. For more information about his work, visit:  http://tinyurl.com/86u3ous

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Filed under American Jewry, Family history