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Saturday, June 25, 2022

Haute Kosher: To life, l’chaim

Haute Kosher returns for another term of articles on Jewish life and identity. This week, Naomi Reiter (she/her) presents her poem about celebrating Jewish culture despite a looming backdrop of antisemitism.

In the rabbi’s garden, bensching to mark the end of a meal. But aware you’re in a garden, and other people can hear. You’re chanting in Hebrew, and a swastika was found graffitied on a door in the neighbourhood last week. 

Yad Vashem. You experience fear, people on the street shouting for your destruction. Shouting that 6 million wasn’t enough. Tiki torches, and push the Jews into the sea. You check the database, over 1000 dead bearing your last name. Yitzak, Moishe, Mordechai, Arieh, Chanah, Miriam, Rivkah, Naomi. Those names again and again and again. 

Hatikvah. The sign of Bergen Belsen covered in stones. That’s how we remember. The Jewish people still live. But at what cost? Never Again, but only for us, regardless of what it does to others. “You give an inch and they will take 6 million”. “They want to do it to us again; they are terrorists, so we must defend ourselves” all these and more said on a loop. But rockets against missiles? Stones against teargas? At what point do we admit we’re the powerful party here. But Am Yisrael Chai, and that is all. 

Hide your Magen David. A rabbi is stabbed; a Jew on a bus told he’ll have his throat slit for Palestine; convoys of cars call for Jewish women to be raped. Hide your Magen David, don’t let them find you. But you can’t hide, they always find us. But don’t hide, we must mark ourselves and be proud that we are alive. We cannot sit idly and wait for them to put stars on us. 

It’s not safe to be a Jew. Don’t reveal your dad’s name, don’t carelessly talk about your weekly Shabbat dinners or that fun joke someone told at the Jewish society meet up. And yet, the frum are still here. They are alive; they have their yeshivas and kosher bakeries and synagogues, but Jewish schools get regular bomb threats and have maximum security. But the frum are still here, so all must be well, right?

Dear Kitty. The girl in the red coat still haunts my memories. A gift of chocolate coins and a children’s book about the Holocaust every Chanukah from my grandma. My grandma who wasn’t there, because her family got out in time. As she was being born in Brooklyn, New York, Jewish children who would’ve been her playmates in Poland were being killed with poison gas.

And one girl, only a few years older than my grandpa, with a face so similar to my own; with the same first name as my mother. Dear Kitty, she wrote in her diary, as I at 14 read and wept for this girl who was so like me. Who was bored at Shabbat dinners and had a wild imagination, and who died – alone, cold and sick in evil claws as our world burned. 

I am a similar age to Margot now. Thinking of my future beyond my home and what career I want. I watched her recently, a movie of that story every Jew has engraved into them as surely as they do the blessings over bread and wine. I cried like I never had, I knew how it ended; and yet when those words flashed upon my tiny phone screen: Anne Frank – dead – March 1945 – aged 15. Margot Frank – dead – February 1945 – aged 19. A river fell. 

To everyone else, this is an overtold tale: can’t those Jews shut up already? But to me, every face is not an annoyance; it could’ve been me. My brother; my sister; my dad; my mum; my grandparents; all the rabbis and synagogue leaders I’ve ever encountered; my friend who hates Hamantaschen; my friend who cooks kneidelach every Shabbat and stinks up her house; my friend who kvetches about everything including Judaism; it could’ve been one of my young cousins. It could’ve been everyone I have ever known, and so much more.

Shabbat shalom. Friday night dinner; the best chicken soup in the world and voices chattering forever. But what if someone blows up the shul? Impossible as we all had to pass a steady stream of security to get in. So much laughter; so much fear. And yet, we are alive. 6 million are dead and we are alive. What right have I to complain? I have to live a thousand lives – discover elements and cure cancer, I must or what right have I to be alive when they are not?

To life, l’chaim, we must continue on. The Jewish people live. And so we must be alive. To succeed and fail, to feel joy and despair, we must be alive. We must not live in fear; we must live so vibrantly that if we are taken again, we will have left our mark, so that even after our death, we will live.

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