Monthly Archives: May 2016

Where Was Freud When She Needed Him??

Some people don’t remember their dreams. Mine are so vivid that they have become at times their own reality, creating some very embarrassing moments.

When Larry and I first moved to Clifton Park in 1976, we didn’t know anyone. At the urging of Larry’s mom, a lifetime member of Hadassah, I joined the fairly new but very active Clifton Park chapter. The very first meeting I attended, I sat with a group of women who were also newcomers to the community. We became friends, and several of us became pregnant the same year. We attended Lamaze classes together, went to each other’s son’s bris, and attended La Leche League meetings together. Yes, 1978 was a bumper year for Clifton Park Hadassah babies.

When my son Adam was around eighteen months old, that core of Hadassah mothers, along with a few other friends, formed a playgroup for our children. Each week, we would take turns dropping off our child with the designated mother at ten o’clock in the morning. Seven of us would go off on our merry way, free from toddler responsibilities for two blissful hours. The assigned mother would organize activities for the day’s playgroup. During the winter months, the children played with toys, participated in an arts and crafts project, or enjoyed a story time. In the summer, the children went outside and played on the swing sets or in sandboxes. The mom-in-charge fed the children lunch—usually peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fruit juice and cookies. By twelve noon, the playgroup mom was more than ready to hand the visiting children back to their own mothers.

The group went well, and the children, for the most part, played well together. Yes, there were the expected outbursts and tantrums and fights.But this arrangement worked well for both the children and the mothers.

The eight of us became good friends, so I was saddened to hear that Fern, her husband Steve, and their son Marshall were moving to Chicago. I shared the news with my friend Diane during a phone call on a non-playgroup day.

Diane immediately questioned my information. “Are you sure?” she said. “I spoke to Fern yesterday, and she didn’t mention a thing about a move.”

“No,” I insisted. “Steve got a promotion with his company. Fern feels bad about leaving all her friends here, but she said this is an excellent opportunity for Steve. They are moving in two months.”

Diane was still doubtful. “Look, I have three-way calling on my phone. Let me get hold of Fern right now and the three of us can talk.”

I agreed and heard a few clicks and buzzes as Diane set up the conference call. We soon heard Fern’s hello.

“Hi Fern!” said Diane. “Marilyn was telling me that you are moving to Chicago!”

“I’m not moving to Chicago,” Fern immediately responded. “Where did you hear that, Marilyn?”

“We talked yesterday, I responded. “You told me all about Steve’s promotion and his transfer.”

“What promotion?” Fern said. “As far as I know, we are staying put in Clifton Park.”

It was just at that moment that the circumstances of my “conversation” with Fern fell into place. Horrified, I realized that this entire episode had taken place in a dream I had experienced the night before. Every moment of that dream came rushing back to me.

“Oh my G-d!”I exclaimed. “I am so very sorry! This whole conversation took place in my sleep!”

I was totally embarrassed. I stuttered my way through apologies to both Fern and Diane. They understood—as much as they could understand that this crazy lady couldn’t distinguish dreams from reality. And what if Fern thought it was ‘wishful thinking’?

All of the mothers in that playgroup remained friends through our children’s nursery school years that followed. Three years later, some of us mothers, who all delivered younger siblings in 1981, formed another playgroup with the same positive results.

Many of us joined the same synagogue. Even after some moved out of the area, we continued to stay in touch. We attended each other’s children’s bar and bat mitzvahs, rejoiced in their successes in high school and college, comforted each other during the sad times, and shared each other’s joy in our former toddlers’ marriages and the births of each other’s grandchildren. Obviously, Fern and her family didn’t move to Chicago. She and Steve still live in the same house that housed our sons’ playgroup over thirty-five years ago. She is currently president of Sisterhood and is stepping up to the plate to become the next president of Congregation Beth Shalom.

I still clearly remember the “conversation” I had with Fern. After that incident, I was a little more careful after waking up from a vivid dream. I have checked myself several times over the years, realizing that I was about to pull another “Fern Moment.” But I also remember our playgroup and the friendships that grew from those once-a-week get-togethers.

Never Forget

How does one comprehend the unfathomable? How does one grasp how six million Jewish lives were snuffed out by a world gone mad? For me, it was through the lives of Anne and Elie and Sophie and Pavel and many others. Thanks to brilliant writers, I have experienced the Holocaust through literature.

Neither of my parents spoke of lost relatives as their families had emigrated from Russia by the early 1900s. My first in-depth exposure to the Shoah came from reading The Diary of a Young Girl.  I was thirteen years old, the same age as Anne Frank when she started her journal. While I was worrying about acne and first crushes while living in a small, upstate town, Anne was worried about having enough food and not being caught by the Nazis while hiding in an Amsterdam attic. Her words were prominently displayed on a poster on my bedroom wall throughout high school and college: “I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.” Her journal, found after she perished in Bergen-Belsen concentration camps, remains one of my most beloved books

As a  first year high school English teacher, I was assigned to teach Police State in Literature. It was a challenging course, made even more difficult for me as I was replacing a well-loved teacher who purportedly made Brave New World  fun.

Instead, the students faced a young, idealist Jewish teacher who had been told to include in the curriculum. Night, Elie Wiesel’s memoir of his life in the Nazi concentration camps The following June, two of my students handed me their yearbook to sign. They had drawn swastikas on my picture. Refusing to sign them, I sadly realized Wiesel’s shattering tale had not impacted them as it had me.

Anne and Elie showed me the Holocaust through teenage eyes. Sophie’s Choice forced me to see it through the eyes as a grieving parent. William Styron’s novel depicted the story of a young mother who was forced by  a camp doctor to make a heart-wrenching decision as she entered Auschwitz: She must choose which of her two children would die immediately in the gas chamber and which one would be allowed to live, albeit as a prisoner. Hoping her blue-eyed, blond-haired son had a better chance at survival, she sacrificed her daughter.  I read the book when I myself was a mother of two young children. Reading about the grief and guilt that haunted Sophie for the rest of her short, tragic  life broke my heart. Shortly after finishing the book, I woke up in the middle of the night screaming, “Don’t take Julie! Don’t take my daughter!”

Reviews of the subsequent movie were outstanding, and Meryl Streep won an academy award for her performance as Sophie. I myself have never seen the film. It was hard enough to read the book.

In 1994, a  collection of art and poetry provided a  way for me to revisit the Holocaust through the art and poetry by Jewish children who lived—and perished— in Theresienstadt concentration camp. A line in a poem by Pavel Friedman (1921-1944) provided the book’s name. “For seven weeks I’ve lived here/Penned up inside this ghetto/But I have found my people here./The dandelions call to me/And the white chestnut candles in the court,/Only I never saw another butterfly.

The butterfly became my symbol of the Holocaust.Even today,  each time I see a butterfly, I am reminded me of that young man standing behind a barbed wire fence wishing for freedom. In honor of Paval and the six million, I wear a chain on my neck with two gold charms: a Jewish star and a butterfly.

In recent years, literature helped me explore the Holocaust from the perspective of those on the other side of those camp fences: people who eked out their lives in war-torn Europe during Hitler’s reign  Kristin Hannah’s novel The Nightingale followed the story of two sisters in Nazi-occupied France. The older sister Vianne desperately struggled to do whatever she could to keep herself, her daughter, and her friends—including a Jewish woman and her child—alive. The younger sister Isabelle risked her life to work for the Resistance. The description of  physical and emotional deprivation experienced by those living through the four years of Nazi oppression gave me appreciation for the brutal,often deadly, conditions that were a fact of life for everyone—Jews and non-Jews— under Nazi rule.

Through a novel written by the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, I came to understand how experiences encountered in death camps often haunted not only the survivors but also their children. The Speed of Light, a novel by Schenectady native Elizabeth Rosner, tells the story of two adult children whose lives were shaped by their father’s time in Auschwitz. While Paula tried to bring her father joy through her globe-trotting career as an opera singer. Julian a scientist, lived as secluded, highly structured recluse. ‘My father …carried his sadness with him, under his skin, Julien states.”It was mine now.” How the siblings moved past their father’s demons and redeem themselves was a fascinating read.

I am grateful that despite all that has already been written about the Holocaust, the topic still generates literature that gives us new ways of examining one the darkest periods in civilization. “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it,” wrote George Santayana.  I will never fully understand the horrors endured by so many. But at least through the extensive amount of quality of literature available, I can at least hope we can learn ways to assure “Never again.”