A Small Piece of History
Yesterday, I attended the funeral of a friend's Dad. He was 90 and had only been seriously ill for the past year. He was mentally acute until two days before his passing.
Bill was an original bandmate, back when no one was old enough to drive, so we were all pretty cool with spending time around each other's parents.
Both of Bill's parents, teenagers at the time, were in the wrong places to be Jews in 1939. He was Polish, she was German. Ben was 18 when we was sent off to Bergen Belsen. Sarah was 17 when she went to
Treblinka. Not one of their extended family members, neighbors, or friends survived the Holocaust.
Since I've known all this for 44 years, it's just part of the backstory to me. Rabbi Moscovitz changed that for me yesterday.
The Rabbi spoke of how few Holocaust survivor funerals are left to happen, especially ones including Yiddish language and tradition. It grabbed me by the throat. Bill and his sisters grew up without grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. His parents had numerals tatooed on their flesh for their entire lives. There was never a moment when the horrors of the past weren't being rubbed in their noses, yet, they flourished. Their children attended "achievement" high schools and went to college. Everyone eventually owned their homes. The grandkids have PhD.'s. Not a shabby outcome for an immigrant butcher and his immigrant homemaker wife.
I was also struck by how this is as much an American story as it is a Jewish story. Histories from old worlds become completely played out. There's not much Yiddish about Bill; zero in his two adult children. I was witnessing the death of a culture. It wasn't sad, really; that's the way the world works. It was however, hugely poignant for me.
I looked at Sarah's name on the gravestone (she died in 1997). I thought of all the times we went to buy band gear. She was such a great old world haggler. At our young ages, we could never compete. So, we dragged her with us whenever we went to the Rock and Roll store for something big. She'd be the only Mom in there. Ben would be outside, engine idling, like a heist was going on. We'd show her what we wanted, how much we thought it should net for, then stand back with gigantic grins as she'd summon the salesman in her heavy Yiddish accent. Bill would be sooo mortified, he'd run out the door and around the block, in case other bands we know should come in and see his Mom beating the will to live outta the schmuck floor guy.
We'd laugh with her all the way home. Bill would be sullen and withdrawn from embarrassment. When 3 teenagers who go to the same 6-year all-male school see a 4th in distress, what do they do? They make fun of him. And, if they're really talented, they can get his own parents to join in the assault!
I'm glad I am, quite without ethical or scientific reason, still here to watch the changes that unfold over deacades.
Still, selling ketchup popsicles to ladies in white gloves.