The Boy Who Made Me Cry Today

The Boy Who Made Me Cry Today

I wrote this post last Yom HaShoah

When I took Yoel into his cheider this morning, I wasn’t crying. But by the time I left, I was.

As Yoel’s classmate walked away from his father towards the cheider, his father said to him:

“Avi, listen to me, when the siren goes off this morning, don’t forget to recite Psalms. You know Bubby? Who you love so much? She lost 11 brothers and sisters and all of her relatives in the Shoah. And you know Zaidy? He lost his parents and 7 brothers and sisters in the Shoah. Bubby and Zaidy are the only ones left from their entire families. Avi, don’t forget to say a Psalm for all of our family that was killed…”

Avi is the tallest boy in the cheider. He also knows, I have heard from my Yoel, how to stand up for himself. But watching him walk towards the cheider in his blue polo shirt, khaki shorts, and Bob the Builder backpack, tears fell from my eyes watching this young child charged with preserving the memory of an entire murdered generation. A 5-year-old who carries the world on his shoulders.

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When we moved into our home 11 Passover Eves ago, we met Miriam, an older woman who lives a few buildings over from us. Miriam never married and isn’t on good terms with her family. She has a chronic illness, sleeps most of the day and is awake all night. She proudly describes herself as “prickly” like the Sabra she is.

When we first met her, Miriam was virulently anti-religious. She always had something negative to say about Judaism and those of us Jews who choose to practice it.

But about eight years ago, we invited Miriam for Seder night, and she has never been the same since.

After that special night spent discussing the Haggadah, Miriam started listening to tapes about Jewish mysticism, and became a loyal viewer of the religious Hidabroot TV station which features around-the-clock Torah lectures for secular Israelis.

Today, Miriam’s conversations with me are peppered with words of Torah and the phrases “Baruch Hashem!” and even “Yishtabach Shmo!”

She has also become significantly less prickly. One Shabbat last year, I promised Miriam I would bring her a piece of lemon cake, but I forgot. Miriam had been looking forward to the cake, and was disappointed that she had never received it, and in me as well. But her response was gentle. “Next time you promise something, Jenny, you should say ‘bli neder’” she advised me wisely.

Miriam still doesn’t keep Shabbat and other important mitzvoth, but when I talk to her I sometimes call her “Harabbanit.” And even though I smile when I say it, I’m only half joking…

Since that first Seder night together eight years ago, Miriam has joined us for every Passover Seder and Rosh Hashana.

And at this year’s Seder, Miriam said something I don’t think I will ever forget.

She asked Josh how many years the Jewish people have been making Passover Seders.

My husband stroked his beard, and said, “About 3300…”

And then Miriam said, “And isn’t it incredible…3300 years! We’ve been doing this for 3300 years, and we are still here doing this. After everything we have been through…we are still Jews, and we are still here today.”

The world of responsibility that each and every one of us carries on our shoulders. To be a solid link in this sacred chain.

That even a genocide cannot sever.

The world of responsibility carried by little Avi. And every Jewish child. And by you and me as well.

photo credit: Templar1307 via photopin cc

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7 comments

  1. rachel f.

    WOW!!!!!!chills!

  2. Never commented before, But am a faithful reader. Absolutely loved this. Beautiful!

  3. Ann Bar-Neder

    I have started a new tradition with our grandchildren on seder night… it goes something like this: “Just like we were slaves in the land of Egypt…and Hashem brought us out…. we were once slaves (avadeem) in Europe and opressed by the Nazis… Your great grandparents (that is to say my parents) were there, in Poland, and Germany and Hashem saved them from death so many times all throughout the terrible war. And then, I tell them a bit , a very little bit of my parents’ lives before the terrible war and a bit about the times during the war (I must emphasize that the grandchildren are still quite young). And, as we have been telling and retelling the story of the exodus and the acts of G-d in Egypt and the history of “am Yisrael” for the past 3300 years each and every Pessach, I too have begun to tell and retell the private stories of my parents to their great grandchildren whom they had never met. May the names of all the victims and survivors who are no longer with us here be remembered forever.

  4. gittel nadel alpert

    a bit eerie……I hear it though personally feel it’s just a year or two early for that on such slight shoulders.I’m a hard realist yet feel strongly children don’t get enough time to be children; they’re privy to every insanity. g.

  5. An outsider might wonder at how we talk to our children about things like the Holocaust. But this is a big part of our life. They understand and accept loss, death, etc. perhaps earlier than other children.

    • Rishe,
      While no doubt crucial to share our history, one should not underplay the traumatic impact that “loss, death etc…” has on our children. Studies show that children (and grandchildren) of Holocaust survivors have a rather difficult time accepting this reality and can exhibit trauma symptoms that deeply impact their personal/interpersonal functioning.

  6. Thanks for this inspiring post. I just read an article about family narratives and how important they are to a child’s emotional health, especially the ones that tell kids about how their parents and grandparents overcame hardship. This reminds me of that.
    Here is the link to the article:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/17/fashion/the-family-stories-that-bind-us-this-life.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

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