(To Be Continued)Prof. Livia Bitton-Jackson
(To Be Continued)Prof. Livia Bitton-Jackson
Who are all these ladies with the gray hair and/or sheitels? We are all looking into each other’s faces for a glimmer of recognition. Thank goodness everyone has a nametag; it makes it so much easier to identify each person.
Who are we? We are the Central Yeshiva University High School class of 1959 and we are gathered at Yeshiva University for our 50th reunion. Not a one of us can believe 50 years have passed since that day we walked down the aisle at graduation. And to watch us hugging and laughing, no one else would believe it either. All of us feel like young women for a few hours and the cares and aches are forgotten for the moment.
There is something about the passing of so much time that makes things like physical appearance and life’s ups and downs seem unimportant. No one is judgmental. Everyone is genuinely interested in catching up. Where do you live now? Are you retired? Do you ever see so and so? Do you remember when ?
Esther L. and Deanne C. (all initials represent maiden names) were two of several women who brought along our Senior Yearbook and it was fun to look at each other and then at our pictures and the sayings of long ago. I counted about 16 girls out of a graduating class of 96 who made aliyah (the number may actually be higher) and we all applauded for them. About six of us are no longer alive and we paid tribute to them. A number of our classmates could not attend because of illness and we missed them.
After an hour and a half of catching up and enjoying the delicious spread provided by Yeshiva University, we were officially welcomed and then the program was turned over to us. Susan S. read a wonderful poem she had written for the 25th class reunion. I was living in Israel at the time and was not even aware that we had had a class reunion. Susan had updated the poem and I had to confess I had no idea she was so talented. Rebecca G. was next and she too brought back so many memories.
The next speaker was Linda G. who had traveled all the way from Los Angeles to attend (but of course a 50th reunion doesn’t happen every day). Judy C., a rebbetzin now, gave a dvar Torah and Elinor L. read a beautiful tribute to our deceased classmate Brenda Behrman, written by Brenda’s daughter. Deanne C. recounted how it was to be an out of towner that freshman year so long ago.
I spoke about my own impressions on coming to a “big school” from the small class in Bais Yaakov of Brighton Beach. I also spoke about our late classmate, the author Penina Spiegel, and brought everyone up to date on the accomplishments of another classmate, the pioneering medical researcher Ethelea Cohen. And I reminded my classmates of some of the songs from our Freshman Sing, which brought about lots of laughter.
Yeshiva University had a photographer on hand and we took a group photograph. I hope I’ll remember who’s who without the benefit of the nametags.
The hours passed quickly and soon it was time to say goodbye. None of us knows what the future has in store and whether we will get to meet once more. But for a few hours, the years melted away and we were schoolgirls once again.Naomi Klass Mauer
Esther – An Update (Part 1)
Many of you will no doubt recall the columns that were devoted to “Esther” who had first written of her heartache and her guilt-ridden conscience back in May of last year. Gradually we learned that Esther (the name she chose to veil her real identity) was just barely facing and surviving each day in her prolonged state of wretchedness brought on by events of years back…
Esther let us in on her feelings of devastation, enormous guilt and unending sorrow over the death of a fine young man whom she believed she had “killed” with her insolent rejection. In her own words… “Twenty-three years ago I murdered a wonderful young man and haven’t had a day of true peace ever since.” (Chronicles 5-16-08)
Were that not enough of a burden to bear, she then suffered a mother’s worst nightmare when her then-husband left her and absconded with their two young sons. “They were stolen from me,” Esther wrote of her harrowing ordeal. “When my children vanished, I died a million times over the years. As a mother, my heart bleeds and cries and is torn apart.”
We cried along with Esther and this column did what little it could to lift some of the poor woman’s melancholy and to offer her hope of “…being reunited with the children you carried under your heart and whom you were so cruelly dispossessed of.” Our response to her second letter (Chronicles 8-1-08) expressed the consolation that “G-d has instilled in the human heart of a parent a special bond to his/her child and in the heart of a child a special feeling for his/her parent – a kesher not easily broken.” (Chronicles 8-8-08)
Unbeknownst to Esther at the time, across the globe the column was being read by none other than one of her sons – who lost little precious time in contacting whom he had a hunch was his birth mother, whom he was separated from when he was but a toddler.
Following an emotional reunion of mother and long-lost son who, it turned out, resides in Israel with his wife and young daughter, Esther wrote to us again (Chronicles 10-31-08) – this time with her spirits somewhat uplifted. “You saved my life and brought me back not only a son but a full-fledged family! I am suddenly very aware that there is happiness and joy in the world and the tears of both keep mingling…”
Having returned from her trip abroad where she spent the Yamim Tovim with her son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter, Esther updated us: “You can imagine that over the holiday season we talked for hours on end, catching up on lost years – my son’s growing-up years in particular. At one point I asked him to let me meet his stepmother. (He calls her Ima… and me they called Ima’le!)
Happy ending, one might conclude, by any stretch of the imagination. But wait – there’s more. While her son continues to be a beacon of light to the mother he was fortunate to become newly acquainted with and for whom he displays the greatest respect and love, Esther has been experiencing a roller coaster of emotions.
“I’m really, really thinking about my son urging me to move to Israel,” Esther confided in an e-mail exchange. “I don’t have anything here…but I never thought of Israel because after all I had nothing there either. What would YOU do IF you were in my exact position?”
As she was mulling the pros and cons (were there any cons?), her tenderheartedness shone through – despite all the hardships she had suffered: “What do I do? If I go, I’ll be closer to a family I never had and I want very much to be close to. On the other hand, am I going to infringe on the adoptive mother? Will I be stepping into her territory ?”
And then – Esther’s dilemma suddenly became miniscule when the Mumbai tragedy struck. It was broadcast around the world and Esther was beside herself with grief. She cried along with Moishe’le: “I am devastated. I was watching the funerals in Israel…and watched how little Moishe is crying for his ‘Ima.’I’m still crying for the poor, wonderful souls that were torn away…”
True, Esther was one of many thousands of devastated souls, but with everything that she had been through, I worried about Esther’s fragile new beginning and dared to ask her if she still cried over “Aaron” – the man whom she had loved yet had spurned so many years ago. “NO. I do not cry any more,” she replied. “I still have a strong yearning (is that the word?) for that long ago time…and the wish that I had done things differently. But my newfound family gives me a lot of energy.” I sighed with relief; Baruch Hashem…
In the meanwhile, the subject of aliyah kept resurfacing. “I have been discussing it with my son and his wife. They call often and every conversation includes the discussion of why I should not stay and why I should come.”
Esther’s boss (“a very nice man and nice to me always…”), her employer for years now, has not only encouraged his devoted employee to “to think about it [moving to Israel] in a positive way” – he furthered her motivation by telling her that he’d give her three months pay to help her along in her new start. “I almost hugged him!” wrote Esther in another of our e-mail exchanges.
By mid-December, she finally had it down pat: She would go to Israel to be with her family for Pesach, would assess her surroundings and hopefully come away with a more definitive decision about moving there and about the where-to-settle issue.
Esther, I was discovering, was more than just softhearted. She was also considerate and very grounded in her thinking: “…Close enough to my son, I guess, but far enough not to be in their way…”
(To be continued)Rachel
At the outset, allow me to say how profoundly sorry I am that (part of) my response to your first letter caused you additional suffering. Your clarification in last week’s column of your earlier correspondence (Chronicles 5-16) sheds somewhat of a different light on the devastation that you’ve been made to endure for all of these long years.
Though we are taught to do teshuvah every day of our life here on earth, we are also admonished to serve Hashem with happiness and to believe that He is a merciful Father eager to forgive our wrongdoings. Having suffered so unbearably, for so long, you must surely believe that G-d has forgiven you for the foolishness of your youth and that your ocean of tears has by now more than wiped your slate clean.
Forgiving (yourself) does not have to mean forgetting. Though you never got to communicate to Aaron in this world how much you care for him, reciting a verse of Tehillim or giving tzedakah l’iluy nishmas is an act of tremendous chesed and of immeasurable benefit for his neshamah.
Getting back to your letter, who of us could possibly begin to fathom your pain? No reader could have been left untouched by your heartbreaking portrayal of how your children were taken from you.
You say your babies were too young to have retained any memory of you. Today, however, they are adults and should have, by now, been apprised of their true parentage for their own physical and spiritual wellness; physical – for genetic accuracy in case of medical urgencies, and spiritual – because a Jew in his/her lifetime is always referred to by mention of his/her mother’s given name, as for example, “Yitzchak ben Sarah” (exceptions: when called up to the Torah; in a kesubah). Moreover, one’s mother’s name is not ever interchangeable.
Such revelation, if not, heretofore, made known, becomes obligatory before the child is escorted to the chuppah. Yes, your sons could have been lied to with any number of fabrications to effectively cancel any motivation to find you.
Yet there is good reason for you to let emptiness and bitterness give way to hope and optimism – hope of being reunited with the children you carried under your heart and of whom you were so cruelly dispossessed. Presumably there were other people involved, if only as onlookers, and someone out there knows the truth – that the children you gave birth to were taken from you against your will under extenuating circumstances.
Even if your ex brainwashed everyone around him to believe that you were truly insane and incapacitated as a mother, there is still hope. For now that you have finally allowed your oppressive pain to seep out, your story is being read by countless people globally. Anyone recalling an incident similar to the one you have described will alert someone else and so on.
It is well documented that adopted children generally grow up with an innate curiosity about their roots. That craving is even more prevalent among our people and many have left no stone unturned in trying to unearth details of their birthmother. G-d has instilled in the human heart of a parent a special bond to his/her child and in the heart of a child a special feeling for his/her parent − a kesher not easily broken.
During the Spanish Inquisition, when Jews were tortured and burnt alive if discovered practicing their religion, there were those who succumbed to coercion and converted in order to avoid heinous persecution. One particular Jewish youngster joined a monastery and grew up to be a most vicious member of the clergy who sent many Jewish souls to the stake to be burnt alive.
An elderly Jew caught observing his religion was once brought before this rasha who, to his consternation, found himself literally unable to convict the old man. The words simply would not come out of his mouth. After repeated attempts to pronounce a death sentence came to naught, he took the Jewish man to a private room and questioned him about whether he had ever lost a child. When the Jew confirmed that he had, a description of a birthmark proved them to be father and son. The son was so shaken by this episode that he escaped shortly thereafter and did teshuvah.
The first step you must take is to stop castigating yourself. If you will succeed in freeing yourself of the guilt that has been eating at you, you will be able to stand a little straighter, believe in yourself a little more and subsequently realize that the torment you’ve undergone has cleansed you of the transgression you so readily confess to. (Even Gehennom, a “purifying” process, is limited to a year’s duration.)
You end your letter by expressing a sense of relief at having released a bit of your onerous load. Why not consider penning a manuscript of your story (a project that can reap benefits beyond expectations)? Besides serving as a catharsis for your overburdened heart, it would be a bestseller and possibly lead to a reunion with your children.
Ask any male or female who tragically never knew his/her mother, due to tragedy, what they wouldn’t give to be acquainted up close with the woman he or she shares an eternal bond with. (Keep in mind that your children’s father was able to maneuver their direction in life for only as long as they were minors under his care.)
Time not only heals . . . it also alters many things. It’s time, Esther, for you to recognize that you, too, have grown. You have become a better and wiser person who is deserving of the finer things that life has to offer.
If only we could abolish the ugliness of hatred in our hearts and learn to replace intolerance with compassion, benevolence and understanding, the sadness of Tisha B’Av would soon be replaced with a day of rejoicing. If only.Rachel
It is very thrilling for the youngsters to gather at a convention with others from around the world who share the same Zionist religious agenda. Please encourage your children to join Bnei Akiva, attend Camp Moshava and come spend a year in Israel on the Bnei Akiva Hachshara.Dov Gilor
Sigmund Rolat, grandson in hand, leads the march from the place of selection to the Umschlatz Platz, from where 30,000 Jews were sent to their deaths in Treblinka.
Anyone who would like a complete set of pictures from the Czestochowa trip may contact Shmuel Ben Eliezer at Bshir3@aol.comShmuel Ben Eliezer
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/following-zeh-yellow-brich-road-journeying-jewishly-bezalel-alumni-at-the-makor-gallery/2004/12/29/
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