Regarding the book, The Little Things, Before God and After God, I am taking a different slant now. Less attention on some of the family stories, and more on my relationships and what I learn from what is going on in my life.
More like this:
I grew up feeling apart from most everything. Clearly separated from religion, and separated from the Jewishness of the home I grew up in. My parents spoke Yiddish. It never occurred to me to speak it. I did understand the family Yiddish my parents spoke at home, but I cast it aside. I didn’t know that I would grow up to love this language and long for it.
I was born and lived in Longmeadow, Massachusetts. I would not have been able to say that the country I lived in spoke English, and English had to be better than Yiddish, for the world was the street I lived on, Colton Place, Longmeadow, Massachusetts. The number of my house was 123. My phone number was 21203. There were no prefixes then.
Furthermore, although I was known to be Jewish and had a Jewish last name, I didn’t know what Jewish was but knew it wasn’t first class – and I was not, by myself, always seen as Jewish. Early on, it was clear that it was preferable not to be Jewish.
My mother’s mother, Bubbe Devorah, visited us when I was about one year old. My mother told me many times with a laugh: “Whenever you came into the room, and Bubbe Devorah would see you, you, a little blondie, she would say: ‘What is that little shikse doing here?’”
My mother did everything to keep my hair blond. Rinsed my hair with fresh lemon juice. Later as my hair became brown, she used vinegar to make my brown hair shine. How often did she do this? When would she have had time? Maybe it was one time for lemon rinse and one time for vinegar rinse. Her intent certainly became indelibly marked. Mommy, now I am gray. Your hair was never as gray as mine.
Okay, I never thought of myself as Jewish. I always felt like an imposter no matter what. I wasn’t Jewish. I wasn’t Gentile. I was neither. I wasn’t anything. I was nothing. I was not fish nor fowl. I didn’t know the meaning of what I was or the meaning of what I wasn’t.
But now I see how tied to Jewishness I am. Yiddishkeit. Now, how I love it. How I crave it. Where is it?
I was in grammar school when World War II began. Yet, later, when the holocaust thing came out, I had no sense of Jewish partisanship, but I related to suffering. It was more a human thing than a Jewish thing. Perhaps I was aware of Oneness even back then long before I had ever heard the word Oneness.
I don’t know what an eleven year old makes of brutality or how close an eleven year old can let it come in, I mean how close or how far I could as a child let it come in, for I was at a distance from everything.
I was probably in my forties or fifties when I saw a documentary on the holocaust that showed medical experiments under the guise of scientific studies. Of course, nothing but suffering would ever come out of these fashionable studies. Even so, how seriously they were taken. The white sheets immaculate. Everything sanitary. Every detail and pretense meticulous.
In this documentary, there is an eleven-year old girl lying on top of a beautiful coverlet with her legs out in front of her. There she is, a princess reclining on a lovely bed, wearing a lovely white nightgown as if she is waiting for her prince to come. She smiles at the camera as if she is happy to have her picture taken, happy to be the subject of an experiment, and her legs examined tenderly.
There is a nurse around who seems to treat her well, only this eleven-year old happens to be the subject of an experiment to see how many times her two legs can be broken and still heal. Legs, of course, seen as incidental to the child whose hips they grew from. In fact the legs are not hers. They belong to the state. In the documentary, there is no indication of pain. Even pain is sanitized.
What a great experiment! What value to medicine! What science! What benefit to mankind! What glorious scientific study!
See my Jewish wit. I think it’s Jewish wit to say the opposite of what you mean. I can’t break myself of the habit.
That girl’s face won’t go away. In the year the documentary was filmed, we were both the same age. Her life at eleven, my life at eleven. She is close to reality. I live in stories. I want to talk to that girl who is eleven in that documentary. I want to be her friend, only I don’t know what to say to her. What would I say?
“What is your name, little girl? Do you like to read? Where are your mother and father? Am I the only one in all the world who remembers you? Do you live in me? Do I live in you? How is it that I am talking to you? Little girl, did the war end in time so your prince could come and dance with you?”