I write about the things that matter to me. All opinions are my own.

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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Blame Hitler


In "Hush" a young girl's friend is effectively murdered, and the ghost knocks at her window in her dreams until she pursues justice.

Today I started reading "Unchosen," by Hella Winston. Normally disdainful of books, I walked in the street fixated to the Kindle. And suddenly started to cry uncontrollably.  

(Like the writer Nora Ephron said, you have to put the pain on paper or it lives in your head forever.)

My entire nuclear family on my father's side, which I have never understood in proper sociological or historical context, could have been lifted, in a certain sense, from Chapter 1.

It talks about Yossi, a young Hasidic man who shaves his sidelocks and beard in a gesture of freedom.

Yossi's parents strictly forbade any contact with the outside world and he had barely any education. 

His grandparents were raised in New York City and had not known such stricture until the post-Holocaust immigrants arrived from Eastern Europe. They adopted it. 

Yossi is one of so many people who cannot live within the restrictions of their communities, and yet they cannot reject it and still be a loved part of the group.

It's not exactly my historical story, but close. My own father's parents both survived the camps - physically intact if not necessarily emotionally. He is a playful guy who loves American culture. And he married my mother because he loves her, in an act of rebellion against arranged marriages and the values represented by his Hasidic dad. 

Like Yossi's grandfather, my Zayde went from wearing American style suits to Eastern European garb. In a community where the rabbis blamed assimilation and Zionism for the concentration camps.

My father was always ambivalent about his act of independence. It was a slap in the face to his father. By being who he was, he had broken the rules - which left him forever marked and shamed, no matter whether anyone said it aloud or not. 

For her part, my beautiful, loving, sincere mother was always treated as inferior. I could not stomach this, and how my dad seemed to hypocritically shift between enforcing Old World rules and pursuing New World freedom.

Nobody chose to live this tragedy. It was all inflicted on us by the actions of one evil man, may he burn forever in Hell, and those who went along with him.

My aunt, on my mother's side, lives up in Monsey and is super-strictly religious. She became that way so her kids could marry. And she thinks she knows why I'm not religious. 

"Blame Hitler," she once said. "He really fucked your family up."

It's true. Hitler directly killed six million. And then he systematically destroyed many of those who survived. Because the families that remained looked for a way to explain the unexplainable and they tried to carry out an insane kind of logic on their kids.

Of course keeping out the outside world doesn't work. Just like we don't know why the Holocaust happened. Just like my mother and my father and their now-deceased parents before them (may they rest in peace), were all victimized.

Some people find it odd that I - rejecting most religious ritual personally - feel so passionately about defending the right of people to be religious. And to discover themselves in religious community.

But structured faith is essential to life, like water, for many. Even for those who are not traditionally religious, like me. 

May G-d have mercy on all our souls, and grant all the Yossies and Chanas a joyful escape from the purgatory of the streets they wander, sometimes literally. May we find solace in a place where everyone is cherished for simply being who they are.

* All opinions my own. Photo by me.