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.