I had visitors today – and in the back of my mind was another who wasn’t here. In my last years in the States, I had a job I loved – it was fun mostly because my boss was someone who seemed so balanced, able to handle stress as it came. He married a most amazing woman..the daughter of a former boss who in less than a year, found a permanent place in my heart.
So, I managed an office for a doctor who by all that’s normal in this world, should have been overwhelmed by his patients and their problems – but he never was. Somehow, each day it seemed we came into the office and left as relatively normal people.
I won’t write down the stories of the patients – I have guarded their names through the years, though I’ve occasionally shared pieces of what I experienced over that time. Working in a psychiatrists office is an experience, let me tell you.
So the Dr. and his wife came to visit with two of their three daughters. At one point, the Dr (no, I don’t call him doctor, but he’s the only person I ever met with his specific first name and her’s is not very common as well, so if I were to write their names, well, it’s not my right…so, with apologies – Dr. and Mrs. H.. at one point the Dr. asked me if I was famous because of the blog…that was kind of funny because no, I’m not – but it’s fun when occasionally someone recognizes me or says something like “oh, YOU’RE a soldier’s mother?”
The more important question he asked was if I was happy here – there are no words to describe how much I love it. I can only hope it comes out in each word I write.
Elie and Davidi were here. It was nice to catch up – we’ve seen them only once in the 20 years since we moved to Israel. Two daughters will be studying in Israel – we offered to adopt them – Aliza will be so grateful to have some girls in the house for a change (not that she doesn’t love Yaakov and Chaim, of course).
After some shmoozing, I took them for a trip around Maale Adumim, showing off the lake that by all that is normal, no one would build in the desert. I looked at it through their eyes, or imagined what they were seeing and for the first time realized how tiny it is…it’s more of a puddle than a lake. For one thing, I’m usually driving and rarely go down that side of the road; for another, if I’m down there, it’s usually in the evening and getting dark.
Perhaps in another world, they would call it, begrudgingly, a pond – but here, it is a lake. How pretentious it is, I thought to myself, that we call it a lake and yet…it is, you see, that very thing. It represents a dream – see, look at us. We Israelis can even build a lake in a desert!
I showed them the new music conservatory – yes, that too is pretentious, and the library…and the statue of two peace doves – the water fountain was being fixed…I didn’t even get a chance to show them the museum…what an amazing city I live in!
I talked and talked – and kept thinking I wanted to hear about them and I should have asked more.
I didn’t get a chance to tell them that in a few weeks, Davidi is going to Poland. Actually, the Dr. said he reads the blog, so I guess they know that. There was a story that I shared with them – I think I’ve shared it before here, but I’ll write it again now.
Years ago, I worked for an amazing man, kind, sweet, so intelligent. He is the Dr.s father-in-law but I worked for him…he was a Dr. too, so I’ll call him Dr. G. – I worked for Dr. G. for a bit over a year…mabye even close to two, I don’t remember. Dr. G. is the one who suggested I work for his son-in-law after I had to give up the job with him. It was a brutal commute by car to the train to the bus to another bus or a walk across town only to do it again in reverse to get home…almost 2 hours door to door. I loved the job, but the cost of daycare and commuting overwhelmed me.
During the time I worked for him, Dr. G. took a trip to Poland. On the one hand, it was to join the March of the Living; on the other, it was to return to Poland after having left it after the war ended. We talked about Poland a bit before, a bit after the trip. He was so sad when he returned. I didn’t know then, as I know now, that going there changes you, fills you with such despair.
In one conversation, Dr. G. described what it was like to live in Poland before the war, before the Holocaust. I listened and with the arrogance of ignorance, told him I didn’t understand. The Jews of Poland, explained Dr. G., would lower their heads as they walked past non-Jews; if they were on the sidewalk, they would step in the gutter to allow the Poles to pass.
Why? I thought…and asked. I would and do step into the street to allow the elderly, the handicapped, someone with a baby carriage, etc. to pass…but to do this on the basis of religion? Never, not me.
Why, I asked, Dr. G. and he looked at me for a moment. I don’t remember his exact words. I wish I did. What I do remember was the pause before he spoke. That silence said so much. The essence of his answer was that to live in Poland as a Jew meant yielding, meant stepping in the street, bowing one’s head.
“I’d be dead,” I blurted out with an honesty I now regret. I who had never known the kind of hatred this man I so respected had lived through had no right to speak, no right to assume that in his situation I would have done differently.
“I don’t know how to do that, how to act that way,” I tried to explain.
That memory has lived with me all these years…I have raised my children to not know how…more, to believe that there is no reason in this world why they should ever bow to another. They are proud Jews, proud Israelis. My children have grown up in a country that they own – their land, their government. They rule – we rule. It is our responsibility to ensure that we rule justly -and we do.
Last week, a Palestinian fired five rockets at Ashkelon in the middle of the night. Today, Israel targeted him as he rode a motorcycle in Gaza…Israeli justice, delivered swiftly.
In a few weeks, Davidi goes to Poland. I have to tell him this story, of a time when proud Jews were forced to bow…in order to survive so that he could live in a land where we do not.
I have to tell him thathe lives in a country where we raise our children to stand tall…and somehow, I have to teach him to understand that those who once lived such a life did so because there was no Israel to rescue them, no place where they could go.
We picked out a camera for Davidi to take with him…the unspoken message is that this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Once, you go there to see what there once was, to pay respect to those who live no longer. Once, you go there to try to understand how we once lived and perhaps most of all, to come home to Israel and celebrate how we live now. Once and perhaps only once and then you leave it behind you. Poland is not the future for young Jews.
In many ways, the best part of the trip to Poland is not what you see, and the heartache you are forced to endure. The best part is coming home to the sunshine of Israel. From one of the lowest points in our history to one of the highest points…that is where Davidi will go…and I did with as with Shmulik, I hope to get up at the crack of dawn and meet him at the Western Wall to welcome him home.
I long for that day…because I know that this journey through history will be so hard…like Elie and Shmulik, Davidi was never taught to bow, to bend.
On the bright side, for now, it was so wonderful to sit with these friends of ours…I loved seeing them, their beautiful daughters and I hope that we will maintain the connection (and that I’ll be better at answering emails!).
I loved showing them Maale Adumim and even the lake that is so small…because like much of what I learned from Dr. G, the lake, like Israel itself is a monument to determination.
And one more thing…if Dr. G sees this – I send my love. You taught me much and you hold a special place in my heart – always.
Visit A Soldier’s Mother.Paula Stern
About the Author: Paula R. Stern is CEO of WritePoint Ltd., a leading technical writing company in Israel. Her personal blog, A Soldier's Mother, has been running for more than 5 years. She lives in Maale Adumim with her husband and children, a dog, too many birds, and a desire to write.The author's opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Jewish Press.
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