Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The sirens of memory.

I am sitting next to my roommate in the Holocaust Research Institute in Haifa. It's just a 10 minute walk away from my apartment; but in this library, in this underground cave of history, in this computer and book-lined room of documentation, I am so far away from the comforts of my sunny room. Once ashamed of the Holocaust, dumbfounded and then obsessed, I now sit here totally mindful of the fact that it's 2015 and the Kristalnacht is viewed as a day in history. These dust-covered history books about the events of Hitler's rein mock my ignorance of my people's pain. I try to picture it. I imagine myself back in Berkinhau on my Poland trip two years ago. I knock my forehead against the table attempting to shove the memories into focus. I reread my journal from my Poland trip. Reading about the thick smells of the cattle car. The story of Jean, the lone surviver of her family and grandmother of my friend. Praying the afternoon Mincha services in the Warsaw cemetery. The sewer covers with small stars of David, marking the underground escape path from the ghetto. I squint trying to decipher my hurried handwriting recording my chilling excitement inspired by heroic stories. The pages totally fangirling on Yanish Korchak and his righteousness and on his unconditional love he gave to all these children that he saved. I turn a few pages and my eyes drown in sorrow.
I am proud of my connection to the Holocaust. I am 100% certain that I personally won’t forget. Nevertheless, Holocaust Remembrance Day is feeling like a solitary event reminder that toggles the refresher in my digital memory. How can it become just a notification on our screens? A blink of recognition before going back to our routine. Is it just a day my Facebook wall takes some time off from Coachella photos?
I turn a few pages in my orange and teal notebook. How did we allow this to happen? How did we willingly walk into the ghettos? Vicky Berglas’s answer is quoted in my pen. “It felt like independence to the Jews.” We were so desperate for independence that the illusion of autonomy in the ghetto trapped us into acquiescing.
Yom HaShoa is the anchor to our chain. It’s the siren that brings us back to the ship, united and fully aware of our vulnerable indestructibility. It’s the number counting, storytelling, generational tie to our painful survival. It’s the snowy walk through Treblinka and the flag of Israel wrapping around our shoulders. It’s Joe’s story that I share, remembering his eyes fighting the grief of being the only survivor of his town. It’s the grandchildren wearing IDF uniforms. It’s our nation crying together. It’s our nation fighting to stop Iran from continuing Hitler’s plans. It’s our same necessity to be independent. It’s my blue eyes and light colored hair screaming that I am a Jew. I am the Jew that wants to go back in time to whisper to my people to fight and scream at the silent endorsements of the world. Why does remembering feel so passive?
When the Holocaust ended, when we lost a third of our people, when we were liberated from the the death camps and shoved back into reality, we started building. We initiated that drive for autonomy of our people that welcomed us into the ghettos and chose to build our home. Our reaction to death is life. We summoned the lines of might to steer us into our self-determination. Now here we stand 70 years later, still figuring out how to balance our sails. We stand here 70 years later, counting 23,320 fallen soldiers and civilian victims of terrorism. Our answer to the Holocaust is far from a Happy Ever After. It’s the all too familiar pains in our chests, the short breaths of despair in our national survival. It’s the 116 soldiers that were killed this year. It’s Hadar Goldin z”b, and his fiancĂ© trying to figure out how puzzle pieces could dissolve from existence. It’s Sean Carmeli z”b and Max Steinberg z”b, and their understanding that serving Israel isn’t dependent on place of birth. It’s the 2,000+ orphans. Its Eyal z”b, Naftali z”b, and Gilad z”b.
I sit here next to Chen. She’s organizing the books shelves and recording the numbers. In the background plays a documentary about the tattoo numbers from concentration camps. If only we had an Israel to run to back then. If only we were secure on our own terms. The siren sounds and I stand, thinking about Hannah Marks and Joe Getz. I sit down and thank G-d that I live in Israel. Six days later, I stand at the Yom Hazikaron ceremony in Haifa. I think back to all that has transpired since last year’s ceremony in Ofakim. Before the kidnapping. Before the war. Before my second year of National Service. Before deciding on studying Law at Bar Ilan. Before understanding that my path here in Israel has some loose bricks that will cause me to trip. This siren brings on damper eyes than expected. I sit down and thank G-d that I am Israeli.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The tree is blooming.

The thistles scratch at the threads in my hiking pants as I lead my 10th graders across the Lavi Forest. A map in my hand. A song in my throat. I am their tour guide, and more often than not, their life guide. They start a new cheer, screaming that the ban on wearing leggings on hikes forces them to wear pants that resemble ones of terrorists. My neck finds itself contorted backwards in appall and a few minutes later, I’m joining in on the “moralim.”

A voice beckons my attention. Another student obsessed with my ascent, my story, my insanity in coming here. He’s sure that I’m drunk off of some funky kool-aid. In his mind, America= perfection. And to leave such a paradise to come to this *#$@!, is a shame. I ask him what he wants out of life. I inquire about his dreams and his family. I interrogate him on this truth that he clutches in between his iPhone and bag of Doritos. And when he tells me that he’s leaving this place as soon as he finished the army at age 21, I tell him that his 3 years of service is just the starting line. He laughs and ask me to marry him so he can get a green card. I respond in my Israeli teenage slang, “sweety, your living in a movie.” …..So fine, why should I stay here?

The colors of spring glitter around me. I can feel a spiritual awakening within my bones as the sun adds a few more freckles to my beaming skin. I breathe in the air of change and re-center myself. The beauty around me is simply distracting. A worm coming to say hello. A tree welcoming me for a nap. A bird singing a love song. I remind my students, and myself that our hiking is a fulfillment of a commandment. We are marking our territory, fulfilling the need to retreive the gold in every four steps. I tell them that a gift only transitions into the recipient's property when you start to utilize it’s potential. I shriek out my commands for hydration and they roll their eyes, unaccustomed to the taste of unsugared liquid.

We meet a carob tree and I introduce them to my friend. I recite my appreciation for Hashem’s fruit and take a bite of sweetness. I ask them to open up the fruit to inspect the seeds. All exactly the same size. I quiz them on my friend’s abilities and attributes. In the Talmud, theres a dude who plants a carob tree. Everyone laughs at him for planting a tree that will only bloom in 70 years, way after he passes away. Why plant for something that you won’t even reap from? A student shouts, “Duh, it’s for his kids.” Investing for future generations. That’s why I’m standing here with you instead of in California. I’m planting Jewish trees. What are you planting for future generations?

There are several trees in this country that make me stop walking. The tangy red of Erythrina trees continuously disturb my strut. Their flowers cluster together like the feathers on a Las Vegas costume. The stocky petals command my attention at every meeting. I guess we are mightier as a bunch. And against a dark bark, we blaze in a fiery contrast. My students start chanting “Talya, the queen!” I guess thats my hint to move on. On my next explanation, I call upon my students to be my teachers. The more they involve themselves with connecting to this land, the more logical is my story. I am here because I am a Jew and Jews live in a Jewish country. If we didn’t have a Jewish country, we would just be praying for and working towards starting a Jewish country. So now we have what to start with. The seeds are already blooming.

“Nu, how much longer?” I promise them another 20 minutes…. because 20 minutes is always the perfect answer. And at the seder table last week, we all finish the 4 hour hike through our history with the exact same answer. “Next year in Jerusalem.” The thorny purple flowers and the blazing red trees, that’s our answer. We defend and make our identity present, standing high with whoever will join us, harvesting our potential until we can fully broadcast our freedom.