Hold It All

Category: Khurbn

Yiddish Writers

H. Leivick

I have often felt that instead of writing my autobiography I would like to write the biography of my poems. I mean, tell the life story of some of my poems…

 

Sholem Aleichem

If you’re looking to buy something, I’m afraid I’m all out of stock, unless I can interest you in some fine hunger pains, a week’s supply of heartache, or a head full of scrambled brains.

Oh, my dear Lord, I thought: they say you’re a long-suffering God, a good God, a great God; they say You’re merciful and fair; perhaps you can explain to me, then, why is it that some folk have everything and others have nothing twice over? Why does one Jew get to eat butter rolls while another gets to eat dirt?

… unless, that is, the Almighty looks down on us and says, “Guess what, children! I’ve decided to send you my Messiah!” I don’t even care if he does it just to spite us, as long as He’s quick about it, that old God of ours! Read the rest of this entry »

Remembering Shammai

Shabes morning
I fix a period for reading
My three “rabbis” recently deceased—

Harold Bloom, whose extended family on both sides perished in Europe
Every boy but one in George Steiner’s lycée lived after the war
Eliezer ben Shlomo Wiesel survived Auschwitz without his parents and sister—

I am this day
To say little
Do much

To be available to others
Near and far
With, somehow, a cheerful face

A Youth

Hedy Wachenheimer, late teens

 

The Daily Mail
by Hedy Epstein

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Morning and Night

After finishing Hilberg’s trilogy this morning, have spent the evening with the poets: Eluard, Cardenal, Heifetz-Tussman, Glatshteyn, and Brecht.

 

The Imperative To Remember

 

Anyone who does not actively, constantly engage in remembering and in making others remember is an accomplice of the enemy. Conversely, whoever opposes the enemy must take the side of his victims and communicate their tales, tales of solitude and despair, tales of silence and defiance.
–Elie Wiesel, Against Silence, v.2 [1977]

 

… it is still possible by patient reconstruction of the factual record to know the truth about what happened in Gaza. Out of respect for the memory of those who perished during Operation Cast Lead, this truth must be preserved and protected from its assassins.
–Norman Finkelstein, Gaza: An Inquest into Its Martyrdom [2018] Read the rest of this entry »

The Chasm between Them and Us

Kadya Molodovsky, A Jewish Refugee in New York: Rivke Zilberg’s Journal
Translated by Anita Norich

The accomplished Yiddish writer Molodovsky wrote this novel in serialized form in 1940-41, knowing obviously what was happening at the time to her friends and family in Europe. But it was impossible for her to imagine the eventual enactment of a “Final Solution.” We readers in 2019 know what was to happen in the years following Rivke’s arrival and year of adjustments in the U.S. This makes the author’s portrayal of American superficiality even more piercing and jarring. Yet this theme of clueless nonchalance also interrogates also our present: Besides the consistently awful headlines each day, what unimaginable catastrophe is looming around the corner?

_____________

The women talked a lot about themselves and didn’t give me the slightest opportunity to tell them how I came to be a refugee. 2

When he dances [like Benny Goodman] all I can think about is that my mother was killed by a bomb, and I don’t know what’s happening with my brothers, although I’m sure they’re not dancing now. I have no idea what’s become of my father either. I’d go to the ends of the earth to avoid Marvin’s dancing, but where can I go? 8

I thought they were getting ready for a Purim ball, but they explained that they were planning an event for war victims. I couldn’t believe how happy they were. They joked and talked and ate [cake]. No matter what’s going on, there’s always cake. If they’re having a card party—cake; a birthday—cake; collection for those suffering in the war—more cake. 12

And on top of everything else, I was upset with Red. When he came, I told him about my father’s letter. “You’re here, not there,” he answered. I could see in his face that he wasn’t the least bit concerned. Red saw that it upset me, and so he added, “What can you do?” I don’t know if Americans are heartless or they just pretend to be. I have no idea. They’re probably pretending. 50

“What are relatives nowadays. Once upon a time an aunt was an aunt, I brought everyone of my nieces and nephews to America. So now they make an appearance only if they need something.” 53

I’ve learned at least one thing in America. Whether things are good or bad, the first thing you have to do is smile. 65 Read the rest of this entry »

“Born Only Yesterday, and Already She Speaks Like a Perfect Mensch”

12.14.17

Dear Dianne,

I think this is the 4th time I’m reading Meshugah. It was originally serialized in the Yiddish Daily Forward. Because I’m reading it with you, and because Hedy is on our minds, in our hearts, I am paying more attention to the voices, the dialogue this time around. I marked the following passages, see what you think. Imagine twenty-five-year-old Hedy amidst such characters in NYC in 1949!

MA= Max Aberdam
AG = Aaron Greidinger
IS – Irka Shmelkes
M = Miriam
P = Priva

“Don’t be frightened, I haven’t come back from the Great Beyond to strangle you!” MA

“I’m alive, I’m alive.” AG
“You call this living?” MA

“My friend, I may have lost everything, but a bit of sense I still have. Though I’m in debt over my head, I owe nothing to the Almighty: as long as He keeps sending us Hitlers and Stalins, He is their God, not mine.” MA

“Where have you been all during the war?” AG
“Where have I not been? In Bialystok, in Vilna, Kovno, Shanghai, later in San Francisco. I experienced the full range of Jewish woes.” MA

“In all America you cannot get a decent cup of coffee. Hey, waiter! I ordered coffee, not dishwater!” MA

“In New York I found I was home again—they are all here, our people from Lodz and Warsaw.” MA

“I live on pills and faith—but not in God but in my own crazy luck.” MA

“Most of my clients are women, refugees from Poland who haven’t learned to count in dollars. They were driven half-mad in the ghettos and concentration camps.” MA

“The world is turning meshugah. It had to happen.” MA Read the rest of this entry »

“If the Messiah Comes, He’ll Come to This Cafeteria in Miami”

Isaac Bashevis Singer, Shadows on the Hudson
Translated by Joseph Sherman

Like Meshugah, this is another novel translated from the Yiddish and published after Singer’s death. In Shadows I was gripped by the various characters with all their quarrels and struggles over what constitutes Jewish identity in the decades after the European catastrophe and the founding of the State of Israel…

“Well, now I can hate him with a whole heart.”

“What do those holy souls think when they look down from heaven and see Jews consumed by their businesses, as though there were nothing else, as if the greatest devastation in Jewish history had never taken place?”

“He was someone who could blacken the sun.”

“A Jew without God is a gentile, even if he speaks Hebrew.”

“Scum floats to the top.”

“You won’t believe it, but the only shred of Jewishness left here resolves around the cemetery.”
“May he be the last of his line.”

“What binds them together? Not a God, not a country, not even a language. Among ourselves we speak a little ungrammatical Yiddish, but our children can’t even do that. Many of them are Communists. My own son won’t hear a word against Stalin—for him, Stalin’s murderers are sacrosanct.”

“May you never know what I’ve suffered.”

“I’m certain that if Tolstoy had lived longer, he would have turned to Judaism—that is to the prayer shawl and phylacteries and fringed ritual undergarments and the dietary laws. There is not, and cannot be, any other kind of Jewishness.” Read the rest of this entry »

Minutes & Plans & Moons

I first came to the work of Charles Reznikoff in 2008 when I read his terse “poems” in Holocaust. He had read thousands of pages of war crimes trials transcripts to produce condensed, jarring, essential “scenes of disaster,” like something out of Goya. I returned to him in 2010, and read several volumes by and about him. Reading this Objectivist poet that summer prepared me for a breakthrough in writing the following spring.

I recommend By the Well of Living & Seeing: New & Selected Poems 1918-1973 for anyone who might be interested in exploring the vision and sensibility of this Jewish American poet. To whet your reading appetite, I offer for your consideration the following poems…

If you ask me about the plans that I made last night
Of steel and granite—
I think the sun must have melted them,
Or this gentle wind blown them away.

The Old Man
The fish has too many bones
And the watermelon too many seeds.

Beggar Woman
When I was four years old my mother led me to the park.
The spring sunshine was not too warm. The street was almost empty.
The witch in my fairy-book came walking along.
She stopped to fish some mouldy grapes out of the gutter. Read the rest of this entry »

Sara Roy speaks to Germans

Your sense of guilt, if that is the correct word, should not derive from criticizing Israel. It should reside in remaining silent in the face of injustice as so many of your forebears did before, during and after the Holocaust. —On Equating BDS With Anti-Semitism: a Letter to the Members of the German Government