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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Haunted

Despite my pleas of innocence, they would not reconsider my sentence. It was scheduled to be carried out the following day and, as the finality of it all weighed upon me, as I began pondering the dread of what was to be, I somehow came across an opening in the fence, and was able to escape with others to a city in some amorphous land where I sensed that I was safe for the time, but still must continue to run...was still hounded by the fear of the being captured and sent back...to that place.

This Holocaust dream was one of only a few I've had a few in my life, and it was the first one I've had in Israel. My great-grandparents all left Russia and immigrated to the U.S. in the 19th century, and so our family was left...in tact. And, yet...

One of the more unusual experiences I've ever had was at an old train station in Germany some years back. I was backpacking across Europe with a close friend, and was truly having an incredible time, we were both fully experiencing the joy of being on our first European journey together, were living in the moment. Yet, while waiting for our train to depart...my mood began to gradually change...a subtle fear had taken hold. Perhaps something about the weathered steel, the harshness of that foreign, yet - in some ways - familiar, toungue announcing each arrival and departure. I knew rationally that I was safe, that nothing was going to happen, and yet I - not typically one for drama - was genuinely nervous, possessed a palpable fear I was unable to control. I wanted more than anything just to leave, to get out of...that place. The train couldn't have arrived sooner.

My friend, Sarah, had lost family members in the Holocaust, and the others who escaped had only barely done so, managing somewhow to flea the fire that would consume millions. But she grew up in a house, a family, that was consumed by the fear, the insecurity, the memory of what could have been, and, even after all of these years, the knowledge of what could happen still.

Sarah once dremt of a Rabbi she had known all of her life. He ran up to her in a fit of panic, and warned her, with the look of fearful urgency, a tragic recognition on his old, weathered, face, that it wasn't safe anymore, that she must be warned, that we must all be warned, that she must leave, that we must all leave at once, that we were once again in danger and must flea!

Her dream was something of a jolt - I was shaken by the unfamiliar. I had already known so much , I thought...had read so much, has seen so much - a camp, a cattle car, as well as those shoes, all of those shoes. I had even heard from survivors. And yet, hearing this from Sarah, younger than me, and yet haunted - the vividness of her vision reminding me of a fear that may exist to some degree in most of us...a fear somewhere beneath the surface that, though we were now so safe, we are still so small in numbers, still vulnerable, and the worst could conceivably, again, happen. We could once more be in danger, the political tides could turn. And, would we realize in time? Would we get out in time? Of course I don't really believe it will ever happen, and yet...I guess that somewhere inside of me, inside most of us...

I felt a sadness for my friend...for the feeling of safety she, even as a child, never knew. And, I wanted to tell her that everything would be okay....that she would be safe, that it was all just a dream. But, really, how could I? How could anyone say such a thing to her?

I've recently become friendly with an older nieghbor who lives upstairs from me - in my building on our quiet tree-lined street in the Rehavia section of Jerusalem. I occasionally go up to visit Anna, who always places a bowl of fruit in front of me before helping me with my Hebrew. Anna was a hidden child. Her family (like many Jewish families in Europe in the 30s), placed her with a gentile family to keep her safe until the end of the war.

Only her mother made it out alive. Her father, and 60 other members of her extended family, perished.

I imagine what her mother may have told Anna - the little girl - as she was left with that strange family. Did she promise her daughter that they would all one day be reunited? Did she tell her that her father and the rest of her family would all be okay? Did she assure her that life would once again be for her as it once was, and as it should always be for Jewish children everywhere? Did she tell her she would feel safe again? Did she tell her everything would be okay?

Did she assure her that the nightmares would be over forever?



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