You may not see what I see, because perhaps, you never met my grandmother. Genetics are a weird thing. Bits and pieces passed down through the gene pool end up popping into a new person and changing with them as they grow older. There were a couple of small photos my mother once had hanging on our metal oven wall with a magnet of her and me looking VERY much alike as children. Weirder than that was a picture my paternal grandmother hung on her wall *also happens to be my absolute favorite* of my great-grandfather centered between my uncle and father in a beautiful moment captured in black & white. Underneath, tucked into the frame was a color photo of my great-grandmother centered between my brother and myself. Seriously, my dad and I look like twins. HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE that I look JUST like my mom and JUST like my dad at different ages, when they themselves look nothing alike? Early on I learned about genetics since I was the only one in my immediate family with blue eyes. My maternal grandmother and paternal grandfather passed them down to me bit by bit. And then, there are moments when I look in the mirror and there is a glimmer of my mother looking back at me. Or I am washing the dishes and I see her hands soaping the pot. But most recently, I was reading a novel and there was something that hit me beyond words. There staring back at me was my grandmother’s hand. Though she had longer more elegant fingers, always clad in shiny rings that seemed to be slipping off (she was always cold) and her hands always smelled of Jergens or Shower to Shower powder, sure enough there was that moment.
Today is a day we honor the past and hope for our future. My grandmother was American and though I have no personal familial stories to tell of atrocities and triumph of my own (though my grandfather was an American paratrooper in WWII) , my Facebook feed is full of old black and white/sepia photos of grandparents and great-grandparents who suffered through the Holocaust. My friends, all adding their own personal stories, have helped me to connect to a reality I know nothing of, only learned about since I was very young. Looking at their pictures I try to find the resemblance either in my friend’s faces or their children’s faces. I search for the depth in their eyes and search for answers. What was going in their day-to-day lives? How did they manage to survive? What could they have possibly told their children? How did they get past these atrocities and rebuild their lives to produce some very large families and continue their G-d given heritage? I hope I never need to find out for myself.
Today, we honor their memory with a siren that blasts for 2 straight minutes while the whole country stands still. Cars stop on the side of the road, drivers get out of their cars and silently bow their heads. People in offices and stores, children in school, workers in the fields, everyone stands respectfully until the siren ends remembering the fallen. Throughout the country memorial candles are lit and programs and ceremonies are held. Holocaust Remembrance Day (or here in Israel it is known as יום הזיכרון לשואה ולגבורה Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes Remembrance Day) is a national memorial day.
We are a simple people wanting nothing more than to be just what we are. The Chosen People, which has nothing to do with race or ethnicity. “You alone have I singled out of all the families of the earth.” (Amos 3:2) Children of Israel (Exodus 6:6). A people of the land (Genesis 12:7). My memories of my grandmother are sweet with mostly no sorrow. What will we pass down to our children? What will they remember about us? These are the questions I thought about today. How about you? We continue to honor our past and always hope for a brighter, more tolerant tomorrow.