(Thursday, March 20)
A poem by Selma Meerbaum-Eisenger:
So. And that must be the end.
The rain is crying, as is the night,
and my lips cry for a kiss
and cry and cry–and laugh.
So this is how every fairy tale ends,
or else–it isn’t true:
someone alone out in the wind
and the night becomes his altar.
And deepest yearning becomes his priestess.
In a billowing dress of blue,
she kneels down there at his feet,
and she is so far…so far…
As far as my two eyes–
lost in the deepest forest,
blind and dead, they play with the wind,
and I–am tired and cold.
The paths are all so endlessly long,
just like all my days.
And all the trees are so afraid.
The bushes are soaked by rain.
I walk in union with the night
and am as lonely as she.
The rain is crying, as is the wind,
for me–or is it for her?
(March 7, 1941)
Our group visited Yad Vashem today, the Holocaust History Museum. The name means “a memorial and a name (a memory)” and comes from the book of Isaiah (56:5). The purpose is to preserve a record of the horrific event, honoring those who perished, as well as those who risked their lives to save the Jewish people. Yishay guided us through the museum, highlighting the importance of the museum for the younger Israeli generation. As we’ve heard several times now, the Holocaust is deeply seared into the Jewish national psyche, and therefore it is important to understand that if one is to understand Israelis. The building itself takes one on a journey from one side of a mountain to another, zigzagging through the details until the end when you enter a circular room full of photographs and names of those who died. Remembering a name and a story keeps someone’s life from just being a statistic.
The poem I began with was written by a Jewish teenage girl named Selma. The first cousin once removed of my first cousin once removed (by marriage), Selma wrote poetry for three years, beginning at age 15. In her notebook, translated as “Harvest of Blossoms,” she wrote about her life as a teenager in Czernowitz, Romania. Her earlier poems (from 1939) reflect a hopeful outlook on life. She had dreams and desires like any young girl. As the situation around her changed, her understanding of the world did, too. Hope turned to fear; trust turned to confusion. In 1942 she was taken to a labor camp in Michailowka, Ukraine where she would die months later from typhus. She was 18 when she died. Yet her words live on.
Selma passed her notebook to a friend before she was transferred to the labor camp. It would continue to travel to many places before finding itself with someone who wanted to publish her poems, first in its original German, then later into English. It was from this first publication in English that I read her words during a memorial service after exiting the museum. Her words live on.
It’s hard to shift gears after a visit like that, but that’s what we did. We boarded our us and headed to Bethlehem. Located in Area A (Palestinian Authority), our trip there required a new guide, a Palestinian one. We picked him up and he took us to the Church of the Nativity. Tradition holds that the church is on the spot of Jesus’ birth, and one can enter the cave and touch and see where baby Jesus was both born and laid afterwards. Naturally, it was a busy place, but our guide made sure we could cut to the front of the lines…which meant that we would later do our souvenir shopping in his shop. Tourism is an important part of life in Bethlehem. Any shopping regrets could be washed away by buying more items as we waited at the check point to get back into Israeli territory. Many did just that. Check out this lovely bag Bob bought for Jennifer…
There is so much more I could say about this day, but it’s hard to summarize so much of this in a blog. But I didn’t intend for this blog to say it all–that’s what conversations back home are for.