The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.
Every year for the past 12 that we've lived in metro-New York, we have skipped the Shabbat service at our synagogue that commemorates Kristallnacht. We haven't wanted the downer that we figured it would be. Gross, I know.
It's not that I resolutely avoid thinking about the Holocaust; I took a graduate-level history course on it at Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies when we lived in Chicago and thought about little else for a solid semester...not to mention that it's often on the back-burner of my consciousness in daily life. It has been my luxury not to have it be on the front-burner; while my first cousins' mother was a survivor and my childhood friend's father, too, my parents' parents and grandparents all had left Russia by 1917.
This is a photo of my grandmother and great-grandmother of blessed memory on my dad's (z"l) side. I am not sure when it was taken, or for what occasion. What if they had not made it to Washington, D.C. as immigrants? My dad and I would never have been born. Fortunately, they did, and we were.
The father and grandfather of our friend and fellow congregant, Rick Landman, were arrested on Kristallnacht and taken to Dachau. Rick has written a book that Pat has read, and which she says is great. Understandably, he probably thinks about what happened in Germany nearly continuously.
Glad We Went to Shul
We heard Rick speak last night and I needed to learn the story of the Torah he dedicated to a shul in Germany; he mentioned that right before coming to services, he received e-mail that the architect of the German synagogue's new building will be Daniel Libeskind. Rick tells much more about Kristallnacht, his family's experience and highlights some of our synagogue's past Kristallnacht programs here.
In the car on the way home, Pat said, "You really get a different picture of Rick from reading his book. [Rick is always just joking around with us before and after services and that's about the only picture I've had of him historically.] He's got a history of being an amazing organizer."
"Well, he really seems to be driven for his extended family's deaths to be avenged by his good work," I said, "And I guess there's definitely that bright side to being the child of Holocaust survivors -- that lifelong drive to leave an affirmative legacy." Of course, I want to leave a legacy, too, but I think there's an added impetus in the case of some children of survivors.
The Service Was Profound, Exquisite
Rabbi Kleinbaum spoke of the murder, earlier this week, of Marcelo Lucero: "We wonder how the Nazis could have done what they did and then right here in New York, teenagers went looking to hurt a 'dirty Mexican,' and killed an Ecuadorean just this week....I've asked one of our congregants, Francisco Ordonez, from Ecuador himself, to read a poem he wrote to us."
Francisco stood on the bimah (pulpit) and recited it. He kindly agreed to give me a copy afterward, and that I could blog about it. Here it is:
"Long Island, Potatoes, Suburbia"
Long Island - a land of potato farms
I am Ecuadorean from the land of the potatoes.
It feels just natural that we belong her in a mystical link to this island.
My brother's house is here.
The beach house of Taita Stan,
Thanksgiving, Pesaj, the school of the child.
Fire Island, Central Islip, Great Neck, Smithtown and Babylon
The trains full of people and
Less frequent than the number one
You welcome the potatoes and Suburbia Levittown.
I am Ecuadorean, I am the new one among the newest inhabitants
Koreans, Italians, Eastern Europeans, Irish, Germans.
Brother Marcelo Lucero, your home was here you worked here
[Musical notes] Start spreading the news [more musical notes]
some of the highest leaders of
also have blood on their hands
Trade his life for votes
We are from the Andes, the land is our mother
In Long Island we feel like happy potatoes in the Pachamama love
Pachamama is land, Long Island is our pachamama too.
"to beat up some Mexicans"
Look at him he is mexican,
Insult me I am latino
Beat me, I am Mexican.
Stab me I am illegal
Kill me, kill me I am nothing
This time, It was him, tomorrow
Esuchame, Hear Our Voice.
Est ist in November, ein Bahnhof in einer kalte Naacht
Es un dia de Noviember, en la estacion del tren una noche fria.
It is November, It is a train station, and it is a cold night
Now, What do I say to the children? -- Francisco Ordonez
On the back of the poem, Francisco included notes on how potatoes originated in the Andes; on how Levittown was built on 4,000 acres of potato fields; on the goddess revered by the indigenous people of the Andes, Pachamama (Mother Universe); "Shema Koleinu," the prayer on Yom Kippur, where we beg God for pity and compassion; and on how Kristallnacht, which happened on November 10th, was, "...the beginning of the systematic eradication of a people who could trace their ancestry in Germany to Ancient Rome and served as a prelude to the Holocaust that was to follow." What an extraordinary voice and soul!
And then we also heard other, striking, beautiful art from the mouths of a guest quartet, who sang selections of the Shabbat liturgy, using tunes by German-Jewish composers, Eduard Birnbaum, Emanuel Kirschner and Louis Lewandowski.
The quartet featured Lisa Arbisser, Kyle Bielfield, Donna Breitzer and Vladimir Lapin. All of the singers seemed to be in their early-to-mid-20s. I watched the tender face of the soprano, Lisa, as the rabbi and cantor said poignant things about the anniversary of Kristallnacht, and watched her bow out of the corner of my eye during the Aleinu prayer, and thought, For all of their masterful singing, perhaps only one of them is at all observantly Jewish....Maybe some of the others bowed, too, and I just failed to see them.
I spoke with a couple of them afterwards, "Thank you for such a beautiful experience. All of you seem to have German last names. Are all of you from German backgrounds?"
"I'm Russian-Jewish," said Vladimir, who was taller than I, with nearly black hair. My throat caught, as I thought of the irony of a Russian-Jewish immigrant, singing German-Jewish compositions; the truism was that historically, a number of German-Jews looked down on Eastern-European Jews as the peasant-class of Jews -- I'm from that peasant class, too. There we were, two, tall Russian-Jews with German-appearing last names, meeting at the world's largest synagogue for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and our friends and family. I don't know if he was gay or not, but I loved his deep singing voice and the dignity it conferred on every note he sang.
And then Kyle said something about being the great-grandchild of someone, who had somehow been affiliated with the Kaiser in Germany -- I didn't hear the exact role. Wow, another beautiful irony. I'm pretty sure this video might be of Kyle nearly a decade ago, where he's singing spiritual music in English. Today, he looks like a surfer, who can sing. Pat thought he was cute like Rob Lowe, and I thought he was cute like Rob Lowe with a surfer's or sail-boat sailor's haircut.
It makes sense that he would still be singing spiritual music of any sort, and it's poignant to me that he was able, and willing, to learn how to sing it all in Hebrew, if he's not Jewish. Kyle wore a small, silver Chai at the base of his throat, which moved me, too. It sat right on top of where the beautiful music was coming from. "Chai" is the Hebrew word for "Life."