“We Are Both From Here, Like You I Was Born Somewhere Else”
Jerusalem, on the street where I live
31° 47′ 0″ N, 35° 13′ 0″ E
Jerusalem, which from 10:00 a.m. until 10:02 a.m. contained within it: Lublin Poland 1938, all of World War II, the march East away from Hitler’s Germany into Stalin’s Soviet Union during the 1940s, the S’finat HaMa’apilim (clandestine immigration ship) “The SS Negba”, Haifa, Israel, 1948 and Utuado, Puerto Rico, 1958
At 9:57 a.m.: I was racing up my street focused on running an errand. I walked past the building next to mine where a man slightly older than me in a white shirt, black slacks and wearing a black velvet kippah stood alone in that building’s parking lot. We glanced at each other, without breaking my rushed stride I moved past him. As I passed the next building, a woman, old enough to be my mother, stood alone, she was wearing a peach colored winter jacket. In her eyes I saw the veil of cataracts. I moved on. I stopped short turned back around to face her. She was looking straight at me. This second look confirmed that in her eyes I also saw the echoed shadows of other older more painful images.
The importance of the errand I needed to run melted. My 25 year old habit of standing outside during the siren and simply stopping in the middle of my mundane activity faded away. In Hebrew I asked her: “May I wait with you for the siren? Would you mind if we stood together?”
“Of course, it is fine, we can stand together.”
Other people were pulling their cars over and starting to get out of them. It was almost time for the siren. I asked her “Where are you from?” She said: “We are both from here, like you I was born somewhere else. I was born in Lublin in 1938. I spent the war in the Soviet Union. I arrived here on the SS Negba in 1948.”
I had enough time to say: “This is a clandestine immigrant ship.”
10 a.m.: The Holocaust Remembrance Day Siren began sounding. It is really only the long blast of the “all clear” siren – the siren on our street is particularly powerful, it drowns out every other sound. I reached for the older woman’s hand. We held hands as shy children who have been suddenly matched up in a crowded “hold hands, stay together” school trip moment. I closed my eyes.
The full text of the Kaddish* refused to do what it always does when I close my eyes during the siren, the beginning words did not appear. Before my closed eyes I only saw the Hebrew letters forming the middle of the prayer: “…Behayekhon uvyomekhon uvhaye dekhol bet yisrael be’agala uvizman qariv ve’imru amen” (…“during your lifetime and during your days. And during the lifetimes of all the House of Israel, speedily and very soon! And say ye, Amen.”)
Then my heart felt the cold fingers of a 10 year old child tightly holding on to the SS Negba’s railing as she looked towards “We are from here” Haifa Port, Israel.
And then the prayer’s letters skipped down to “di b’atra qadisha haden vedi bekhol atar v’atar, y’he lehon ul’khon shlama rabba hinna v’hisda v’rahamay v’hayye arikhe” (“in this holy place or in any other place, may there come abundant peace, grace lovingkindness and compassion, long life”)
Hand in hand we were marching east across the unforgiving endless Russian Steppe away from Lublin towards…a cold life.
Hand in hand we were inside the latrine of a dark camp.
Hand in hand we were looking out over a peaceful Lago Dos Bocas, in Utuado, Puerto Rico, the blessed waters near my birth place.
As the siren stopped I heard the birds sing out on our street here in Jerusalem just before I opened my eyes I saw “Oseh shalom bimromav, hu berakhamav ya’ase shalom alenu v’al kol ammo yisra’el; v’imru amen.” (“May He who makes peace in His high places, grant in His mercy, peace upon us and upon all His nation Israel and say ye Amen.”)
10:02 a.m.: Only then did I let go of her hand and turned to hug her, in standing with her, I was able to recite the most imperfectly perfect Kaddish of my whole life.
The rest of the conversation between this gentlewomen and me remains private. Suffice to say that I know that the Nazi’s murdered her grandmother but they have lost for I have inherited the knowledge of her grandmother’s favorite color.
May the memory of those who were murdered by the Nazis come to teach us about memory and lovingkindness.
“We are both from Here, like you I was born somewhere else.”
*Kaddish: An Aramaic hymn of sanctification and praise to G-d which does not mention His name but is a public declaration of His Greatness and Eternity; it is one of the most important and central elements in Jewish liturgy.
Photo by Isa David-Ben-Rafael, owned by IsraeLightly