Star

DownloadLast night my eighth grader began reading The Diary of Anne Frank, and he paused to ask if I have ever read it.

I read it for the first time in fifth grade. Probably too young, but my grandparents and mother fled Prague in 1939; I knew this history already. "It's probably the first reason I started keeping a diary," I told him.

"I just got to the part where it says everyone who was Jewish was required to wear a yellow six-pointed star."

"Did you not know that?" I asked, as gently as I could. He shook his head no. "Do you remember that at Nonni and Papa's house, there was one of those stars, in a little frame?" He shook his head no again.

I think the star they had framed came from my sister's mother-in-law, who was a survivor of the camps. My mother framed it and displayed it proudly, a reminder both of who we are and of how far Jews in America have come.

We have not come nearly as far as she thought, or as I used to think. Or maybe the world around us has backslid.

Even here in the state where I live, a Hitler-praising Massachusetts GOP candidate pledge[d] to 'exile all Jews'. (She is nowhere near me, and she lost, though she won 38 percent of the vote.)

I knew that Anne Frank's diary is part of the 8th grade curriculum. But I didn't imagine that when my son was reading it, I would be having so many pastoral conversations about feelings of unsafety.

This month the University of Chicago released a survey about campus fears after 10/7. Datapoint: one in ten Americans is "more willing to tolerate violent attacks against Jews" than they were a year ago. 

My son is home sick from school today. I sit with him as he watches a thirteen-minute movie on the history of antisemitism made by the US Holocaust Museum. My soul ties itself in knots.

Nothing in that film is new or news to me. But it lands differently now than it would have a few years ago, too. We all know that Jews in Europe thought they were safe, until they weren't. 

And then I make challah, quietly singing to welcome the angels of Shabbat as I knead the dough. We cannot erase the realities of today's antisemitism, but we can hold fast to our Jewishness.

 


Afar

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Today on social media Bayit is featuring this small poem of mine, alongside art by R. Allie Fischman. When I wrote it, I was thinking about how so many of us out here have beloveds in Israel or in Gaza (or both) and are feeling-with-them from afar. It's something we have in common, those of us linked with one people and those of us linked with the other. (And some of us with both.) Our broken hearts connect us, and I refuse the idea that grief needs to take sides.

Israeli author Etgar Keret spoke about that recently. He said, "And when I see people watching the horrible tragedy that is happening here as if it were a Super Bowl of victimhood, in which you support one team and really don’t care about the other, empathy becomes very, very selective. You see only some pain. You don’t want to see other pain..."  (Read his interview here: I Feel A Human Deterioration.) 

Anyway, the poem and illustration are part of Our Collective Heartbreak, alongside many other powerful offerings of the heart, and you can find the whole collection by clicking through that link. For those who need the poem in plaintext, it appears below.

 

Afar

For Jews and Palestinians in Diaspora

 

We’re over here:

Too far to help, but not too far to feel.

We’re not living in a war zone

But we can’t sleep either

Because when someone harms you

We feel pain.

Holding you from afar –

Never really apart.

 

R. Rachel Barenblat