Even her detractors might agree:
Two of Hedy Epstein’s characteristics—
Pertinacity and indomitability
I’ll add a third and fourth
Tenderness and compassion
As when I called her from Ramallah
To explain why I was unable the day before
To pick up her and friends at Ben-Gurion Airport
After their long flight from Saint Louis
The IDF had detained me and friends for hours
Granting me the most infinitesimal taste
Of what Palestinians routinely undergo
Hedy took this in …
Then the tremulous softness in her voice as she asked
“Did … they … torture … you?”
45 phone calls on 8.15
82 guests at birthday party
1948 arrival in USA
5 attempts to reach people in Gaza
20+ years working fair housing
1982 wake-up call
2 parents with tenderest love
1 conscientious speech on a rickety chair in Cairo
1 massage received on a boat
Countless planetary comrades
90 years remembering, struggling, raising voice, extending hand
The following is a short chapter from Hedy Epstein’s memoir-in-progress, Remembering Is Not Enough. Dianne Lee and I are both privileged to be assisting Hedy on this project.
In those first years of the Nazi regime, it was hard for me to grasp the import of politics writ large. However, I would soon come face to face with discrimination on a regular basis. Whereas I once enjoyed walking to the post office to pick up our mail, it soon became a repetitive nightmare. Mr. Link, the father of one of my classmates, was the postmaster and he came regularly dressed to work in a Nazi uniform. He began to refuse me the use of the office stepladder, which made it very difficult to reach the slot where the mail was. To make me work even harder, he pushed the mail as far back in the compartment as possible. One day he even chased me out of the building with his dog. I ran to the nearby home of a Jewish family, where I slowly regained my composure.
I complained about all this to my parents, “I’m not tall enough, it’s hard to get to, and he’s putting it all the way in the back.” My father said, “You have to figure out a way to deal with this.” He wasn’t going to relieve me of that responsibility.
My solution: Each time I went, I brought a little footstool.
At the time, I thought my father should make life easy for me, which he wasn’t doing, and I resented it. Instead, he saw that I had this obstacle, and I would have to find a way to address it. He wasn’t going to tell me how to do it. And he was’t going to accompany me, either.
Later, when I was separated from my parents, I finally understood what he had been trying to teach me then, and I had to agree with him, because it was many of these everyday struggles that later helped me to survive.
One day last fall Dianne told me on the phone
“I think Hedy is dying of pancreatic cancer”
I didn’t believe it
But in any case
All there was to do that day
Was to sip the Steak and Shake vanilla milkshake with her
Massage her feet
Argue with her over whether or not
To get involved in the South African free speech case
And notice her beaming at me
With such love
Like I’m a treasured, incomparable son
A Yiddish proverb goes
We need the pillows”
No, live more slowly, mindfully
Love Hedy in the present
Let go of the rest