Monday, April 12, 2010

What Makes Me Different From Many Other Jews of My Generation...

To set the mood, watch the new version of the classic Passover song Chad Gadya:

Unlike many of my peers of the immediate post World War Two Jewish world, I was brought up totally oblivious of the Holocaust.   No, it wasn't a silent, repressed and repressing shadow shading and affecting my life.  It just didn't exist, didn't affect my immediate family.  My parents' voices and those of the other neighborhood grown-ups were totally American though with Jewish inflections and Yiddish slang.  And before you guess wrong, I was born in Brooklyn and raised in Queens, New York.

The fathers in the spanking new garden apartment neighborhood of Bell Park Gardens, Bayside, New York, were all United States military veterans.  That was a condition of acceptance to the Veterans Authority co-op.  I wonder if any sociologists have written their doctorates on why that and other similar housing developments were almost exclusively filled with young Jewish families.  BPG was over 90% Jewish and so were the other nearby garden apartments, Oakland Gardens and Windsor Park.  The same went for the one and two-family homes in the neighborhood.  All of the new, post-WWII neighborhoods in northeastern Queens were Jewish.  Churches could only be found in older, pre-World War Two areas.

I first heard about the Holocaust when The Diary of Anne Frank was published.  It was featured on television shows, and I probably heard about it in Oakland Jewish Center's Hebrew School, which I attended for five years, three days a week.  At that time there weren't many books, especially for children, written about the Holocaust.  I tried to take out The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich from the Hebrew School Library, but the librarian offered me Minister of Death, about Eichmann, instead.  I presented it to my Sixth Grade class for an oral bookreport.  As soon as I named the book and author the teacher interrupted:
"No sixth-grader is capable of reading a book by Quentin Reynolds.  You must be lying.  You get a zero!!!"
In those days, one didn't question authority, certainly did  not argue with teachers.  I did read the book, though I probably didn't fully comprehend it.

I only became aware and met children of Holocaust survivors when I joined Betar.  Many of my Betar friends had the opposite Jewish childhood.  All of the parents in their circles were survivors or got out just in time.  Think of it as an old film picture and negative.  From different directions we ended up embracing the same ideology.  Many of us made aliyah and live in Israel.

My children, Israeli born and raised, grew up with strong knowledge and awareness of the Holocaust.  Jewish History is intertwined with Israeli culture and education.  Personal history, stories of bravery and survival from their friends' grandparents give them an intimate knowledge beyond anything I can comprehend or pass on.

Today is Israel's Holocaust Memorial Day.  It's a day I feel as a stranger here in Israel.  That may sound peculiar considering my politics and ideology.  Regardless as to how I arrived, I have no doubt that as a Jew my place is the Land of Israel.


Anonymous said...

This particular You Tube Chad Gadya has appeared on several blogs. It worries me that people haven't been commenting on these other blogs that the ONLY ONE who can save us is HaKadosh Baruch Hu and not the "mighty air force". Dare we be silent about this message that has been viewed by thousands of people? It is our job to spread the message of Emunah and Bitachon only in HaShem whenever we can.

Keli Ata said...

Amen, Anonymous, Amen!

I first learned about the Holocaust in high school, European History. The teacher, Mr. Fitzpatrick showed an old movie news reel of actual footage. I freaked out and he apologized for not preparing the class for what we saw.

I'll never forget what I saw in that newsreel or my reaction to it.

Of course that doesn't explain how or why I had dreams from age six that has been published on The Shoah Dream Project. How could I have recurring nightmares about the Holocaust when I didn't know of such a thing? And why did the nightmares stop as an adult when I learned to pray in Hebrew?

Guess I will never know, but I will always feel Hashem has drawn me to Him. Reaching out to me over some ocean of time. Sounds crazy, I know, but that's how it feels.

There were three key things about that nightmare--running for safety and finding it in a shul, being allowed to stay there, and learning Hebrew.

Anonymous said...

No offense, but I'll place my faith in the ''mighty air force'' - G-d helps those that help themselves.
In the meantime, Chad Gadya by Latma is brilliant.

Batya said...

Keli, that's very interesting about your dreams. Your neshama (soul) is connected to something Jewish for sure.
a1 versus a2, G-d does not want us to wait around. That goes back to delaying (refusing) aliyah because things aren't perfect in the HolyLand.

Daniel said...

"Many of my Betar friends had the opposite Jewish childhood. All of the parents in their circles were survivors or got out just in time. "

Your comment describes the problem with American Jewry before, during and after the Shoah (including today).

Batya said...

True, the leadership was mostly second generation.

Daniel said...

The heart and soul of American Judaism lies with families of survivors or those who got out in time. While up to 70% of American Jews are marrying out, the survivor communities think ortho are growing. When survivor over represented groups like the JDL and students for Soviet Jewry made Soviet Jews an issue, the Federation establishment had to be embarrassed to join the effort.

Batya said...

Daniel, I think you're making the same mistake I made when I was young. You think that you're of the dominent sector. American Jewry is much more complex and you'd be amazed at the amount of families descended from those who arrived long before the Nazis were in Europe and long after the Nazis were defeated.

Hadassa said...

Anonymous, who watches over the "mighty air force"? Action without prayer is just as bad as prayer without action.

Batya said...

Amen, Hadassa, right, again.