Tag Archives: memory

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

The Chametz Boys

by Chaim Weinstein (Brooklyn, NY)

When I was 11, I was the only one of my neighborhood friends who went to yeshivah. They all attended public school and then went to the Talmud Torah on Hendrix Street. 

My Talmud Torah friends and I rarely talked about school, religion, or life, but we all loved discussing baseball.   

We loved everything about the sport: playing it, watching it, trading team and player cards, knowing all the statistics better than we knew facts about our own families. I never knew, for example, the birthdate of my cousin Feivel, or where he was born, or exactly how old he was. But I knew everything about Mickey Mantle, including that he came from Oklahoma (an exotic “country” to us) and how extraordinary his baseball achievements were, especially in light of his being stricken with osteomyelitis. 

No one knew or cared then about his personal problems, just that he was voted MVP, won the Triple Crown Award, batted .356, and hit 52 homers in 1956, an extraordinary athlete. Plus, he wore number 7 on his uniform, so that meant he understood the importance of Shabbos. (Just kidding.)

But, seriously, how could you not love such a guy or his teammates, Whitey Ford, Tony Kubek or Bobbie Richardson, baseball warriors all? They played their hearts out with skill and passion, and we loved them for it.

Several days before Passover one year, one of my friends suggested that we all go to Yankee Stadium for a game. We grew thoroughly excited at the idea, and we all agreed to go. But we knew we could only afford to sit in the bleachers, where seats then cost about a dollar. My friends wanted to go on Yom Tov itself, but I convinced them to hold off until Chol Hamoed, the holiday’s Intermediate days, when work was permitted, so that we could all go together, and they agreed. 

I couldn’t wait for the day of the game to arrive.

Game day was a scorcher, 93 degrees in April at the first pitch, but who cared? We were traveling together on the subway from Brooklyn to a major league baseball game in the Bronx to see our beloved Yankees, and for me, a chance to see the great Mick. 

My mother, may she rest in peace, had made me a great Passover sandwich: egg salad on matzah, which she broke in half so I could feel like I was eating two sandwiches. It looked so good at home that I couldn’t wait to open it at the stadium. But when I saw what my friends were eating at the game, I was, frankly, you should pardon the pun, less excited: they’d bought franks at Yankee Stadium, and franks and more franks, and I was quite jealous. 

Still, we were all in the moment, sitting together at Yankee Stadium, the sounds and smells of a live baseball game filling our senses, and I eagerly awaited the appearance of my hero, Mickey Mantle, who would play centerfield and bat fourth, as usual. 

We couldn’t wait for the game to begin.

I stole glances at the hot dogs and buns and sodas my friends were enjoying, and I felt unhappy. But as they munched contentedly on their stadium hot dogs, I excitedly peeled back the tin foil that covered my egg salad matzah sandwich. When I took it out, however, holding half of my matzo sandwich in the palm of my hand in the noonday sun, both ends of my sandwich sloped downward, a soggy matzah mess. 

My friends looked at my wilting matzah sandwich and laughed out loud, elbowing each other and pointing to my sad matzah sandwich. I could only look at their buns and dogs and sigh jealously. They smirked, enjoying their hot food, and I sheepishly grinned, embarrassed at my own matzah and yellow egg-droop-sandwich and warm canteen water. 

In the end, none of it really mattered as all of us got caught up in the excitement of the game and watched the great Mick and his Yankees destroy the opposing team. 

The Cleveland Indians were the ones who really wilted in that game, and although my funny matzah sandwich was the butt of 11-year olds’ jokes for a few hours that day, we all glowed from the brilliance of the Yankees play in general, and the Mick’s in particular.

That was a happy Pesach indeed.

For more than thirty years, Chaim Weinstein taught English in grades six through college in New York City public schools as well as in several parochial schools. His poems and stories have appeared on The Jewish Writing Project, and his short story, “Ball Games and Things,” was published in Brooklyn College’s literary magazine, Nocturne.

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Release from Dachau

by Janet R. Kirchheimer (New York, NY)

“I had a dream last night,” my father tells me.
He dreamed the kapos woke him up at four o’clock
in the morning, on Friday, December 23, 1938,
made him strip out of his uniform, made him
wait in line for an SS doctor to examine him

for bruises and frostbite, made him listen to speeches
by the SS warning him to get out of Germany and never
return. They warned him if he didn’t, he’d be sent back to Dachau
and never leave. He dreamed he was assigned a place
in another line, waited to return his uniform and get his own clothes,
shoes and coat, and that the SS drove him to an area about four miles
from the Munich train station, then made him march the rest of the way.

The sky was so black, he couldn’t see the man who gave him a ticket.
It took twelve hours, and he changed trains twice. He had no money,
no food.
The train arrived on Shabbos morning, and he didn’t want to see
another person’s face and took the back way home through the fields,
crossing eight railroad tracks, careful not to get caught

in the track switches. His father was the first person to see him
as he opened the shutters he closed each night so no one could throw
rocks into the house. He went through the front gate into the house,
saw his mother had baked challahs, and ate an entire one. He went to sleep
at eleven o’clock in the morning and slept until the next day.

“That’s exactly how it happened,” my father tells me. “That’s how I
got home.
Can you believe I still dream about it sixty years later?”

Janet R. Kirchheimer is the author of How to Spot One of Us, poems about her family and the Holocaust.  Her recent work has appeared in The Poets Quest for God and is forthcoming in Forgotten Women.  Janet is currently producing AFTER, a cinematic film about Holocaust poetry.  https://www.facebook.com/AfterAPoetryFilm/

 

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Filed under European Jewry, Family history, German Jewry, Jewish identity, poetry

Anniversary

by Jacqueline Jules (Arlington, VA)

Eight years after
the seven-day candle in the tall red glass,
I light a small candle
and consider your existence
in a realm beyond my knowledge.
If life on earth is only one stage in a series,
you could be safe in an ethereal cocoon,
preparing to emerge with splendid wings in Eden.
I’m ashamed to say
your transformation into something better
brought little comfort to me in the beginning,
as I decried my status as a caterpillar,
a frightened worm, vulnerable to a large and hungry bird.

Living without you
was never as difficult
as living with your death.
The burial of a face
that still smiles at me in photographs
seemed, at times, slightly less credible
than spaceships landing on my lawn.
If I believed in death before,
it was the same way I believed in another universe
and other life forms—somewhere out there—
I wasn’t prepared . . . .

To light a candle every year in place of going out to dinner,
seeing a play or planning a party. This summer
would have marked twenty-five years together.
Would we have gone dancing? A little circle
of light flickers on the ceiling, waltzing with the shadows.
I smile. You are dancing for me,
whirling in the endless light of memory.

Jacqueline Jules is the author of many Jewish children’s books including Never Say a Mean Word Again, The Hardest Word, Once Upon a Shabbos, Sarah Laughs, Miriam in the Desert, and Goodnight Sh’ma. Visit her at www.jacquelinejules.com

“Anniversary” appears in Stronger Than Cleopatra, a collection of poems about going forward in the face of loss. It is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author. For more about the book, visit ELJ Publishing at http://www.booknook-eljpublications.com/store/p4/Stronger_Than_Cleopatra.html

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Filed under American Jewry, Family history, Jewish identity, poetry

Cousins

by Mel Glenn (Brooklyn, NY)

Ashamed of my father’s family,
heavy accents and old European ways,
I had ignored my ancestral roots and
clinging branches that urged me to reconnect
to the shetl stories I had heard so long ago.
But when two long-lost cousins,
one a psychologist and one a rabbi –
two professions not dissimilar from each other –
invited me to their play on the Lower East Side,
where one performs and one witnesses,
I felt a gentle pull from the stage lights
back to my cultural and religious heritage with
a sudden flashback to my bubbe’s chicken soup.
Why am I attending this very Jewish play,
with dialogue in Hebrew, Yiddish and English?
The answer came with one commanding
sweep of the talis thrown over the shoulder
of one of the actors, my cousin
who now draws me back to my four year old self
when I sat with him in the summer sun
on a fire escape in Brighton Beach
and swapped childhood secrets long since forgotten.

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 a new YA anthology, This Family Is Driving Me Crazy,  edited by M. Jerry Weiss.

If you’d like to learn more about his work, visit: http://www.melglenn.com/

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Filed under American Jewry, Jewish identity, poetry

Unlikely Pair

by Chaim Weinstein (Brooklyn, NY)

I don’t dare stare at this Yiddish-speaking pair;
I eavesdrop instead, not nice, but life’s tough,
Waiting here in the cold for the 44 bus.
One, white-stubbled, stooped, bushy-browed
The other, nine, scrawny, short-limbed, pale,
Under black velvet cap long sidecurls twist,
Tsitsis turned yellow beneath his vest,
Like an old book’s pages, brittle beliefs,
Each a symbol centuries in his time.
Rough sage stares at Sidecurls’ gash;
Young boy shrugs, evasive eyes.

Old man nods, tells his tale right there:
An old Riga field, survived a bomb blast,
Head ringing, a brief deaf-mute;
About, blurry lines of white lab coats,
Dying to know it, fight his fate, stand his ground.
Doctor’s voice icy now, pierces his ears:
“We’ll amp this gangrene leg in his sleep.”
Adrenalin-lava explodes to his gurgly, “Nein!”
Blue veins in taut neck thicken, loudest, “Nein!”
Docs stop dead in their muddy tracks to hear,
Mouths clamp shut as he cries out loud
Moaning heart, Shema-tongued, mouth unstilled,
So Jew-like, he survives himself alive again.

“Now, Yingeleh,” hoary one says,
“Take care of your boychik self,
And don’t take no klops from hate-filled goys,
Gedenk: we Yidden give smacks, don’t take ‘em.”
With that he hobbles into coldest night,
Leaves sadness on the sweet young face.

The little boy, guideless, sighs, confused:
Torah-seeking, no-wave-making Jew,
Or Stubbled, injustice-smashing proud one?
Ovens and gas and beatings
Now a throbbing memory in each
Like an elusive melody
Dares us to remember
Dares us to forget.

Chaim Weinstein taught English for more than thirty years at two inner-city junior high schools in Brooklyn, NY. Two of his poems, “The Shul is Dark” and “Mr Blumen,” appeared last year on The Jewish Writing Project, and an early short story, “Ball Games and Things,” was published in Brooklyn College’s literary magazine, Nocturne. He is currently working in several genres and is hoping to  share a larger selection of his work in the future.

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