Last night, David, my son, came over and asked me if I had the pictures he had taken while visiting Poland with his school last year. I didn’t think twice about it. I downloaded the pictures from my computer to his flash drive and got back to what I was doing…

Earlier today, while on Facebook, I saw that he had changed his cover page to one of the pictures he had taken on that trip. If you read Hebrew, you will see three words, translated, it says, “Proud to be a Jew”.


What isn’t clear, unless you know the background, is that David saw the stone from some distance away and using his camera, zoomed in and took the picture.

What isn’t clear, is that the picture rests on ashes…human ashes. It was taken in the Maidanek concentration camp, which has a “Mountain of Ashes.”

My first reaction to being told that we were approaching this was to believe it was symbolic…that quickly turned to horror when I realized it was exactly as it was named – a mountain of ashes, Jewish ashes, all that remains of the bodies of thousands of Jews murdered and cremated there.

My final reaction remains – who builds a mountain of ashes, who turns it into a “tourist” site?

I wish they had buried the ashes, given them at least that small amount of respect – a fraction of what they are due. I still wish Poland would wake up one day, ask themselves what they were thinking…and bury it all…leave the huge, empty concrete pit and building where the ashes are and simply put up a sign…”Here there was once a mountain of Jewish ashes…the ashes have been buried. If only the hatred that caused it and the agony that resulted from it, could be buried as well.”

Last week, we commemorated Holocaust Remembrance Day. Two nights ago, we remembered the fallen soldiers and terror victims in Israel – 23,320 of them since the re-creation of the State of Israel. Today, we celebrated Israel’s independence day…and somewhere in the midst of all of this, my son quietly went and posted, “Proud to be a Jew” on his Facebook page.

In six months…God help me…six months, my youngest son will enter the army of the State of Israel…like his brothers, he will likely go into a combat unit. He is tall and handsome with the same amazing blue eyes that we once thought were a genetic impossibility when Elie was just a toddler.

I wasn’t smart enough to be afraid, to be worried, to be emotional six months before Elie went into the army…that only started six weeks before. I learned as quickly as I could, what it was to be a soldier’s mother. You’d think it would get easier…by all that is right and just in this world, it should get easier…and yet it doesn’t.

I know that there is nothing to buy yet, nothing to think about or do, really. Technically, because David went in as part of the Hesder program, he is already a soldier. He can get discounts on trains and at the movies, even at the zoo we visited over the Passover holiday. He was even given dog tags which he was smart enough to place out of my view – too much, way too much for me now.

I saw the picture of the stone and the ashes a short time ago…somehow the picture, David, the days we have commemorated and celebrated all come together. It is what we are all about – as simple and perfect as that. We are proud of who we are and even proud of the long road we have traveled to get back to here, where we have been and dreamed of being for more than 3,000 years.


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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 since 2007. She lives in Maale Adumim with her husband and children, a dog, too many birds, and a desire to write.