July 11, 2010

Twenty Five Years

The words below are the opening to a post I didn't like. So I am going to start again. You can find the beginning below the block quotes.
Twenty-five years ago a sixteen year-old boy left his home in  Los Angeles and flew to Israel. It was the beginning of a trip that would change his life, an adventure that would provide a life time of stories and experiences that impact him to this day.

I know all these things intimately and instinctively because I am or I was that boy. This blog is peppered with posts about that trip. Some are posts about things that happened during that trip and others are tales/thoughts that came because of things that happened as a result of it.

As a father I think of my parent's faith in myself and the program I was on and am somewhat amazed by it, but very grateful. The gift they gave me is impossible to describe and I only hope that I can pass on something as valuable to my children.

I often talk about my children being a large part of why I write this blog and that hasn't changed. So kidlings take a look at the next part and know that I am thinking about you as I write it.
It sounds silly, but sometimes people need a reason to live their life and not just dream it away or so it seems to me. I have many reasons for living not the least of which is that I find the experiences those pleasurable and those painful to be far more satisfying than dreaming. I suppose it might sound kind of funny coming from a dreamer such as myself, but it is true.

My great-great grandfather was married twice. He was born and raised in a village in Lithuania that doesn't exist anymore. We can thank the Nazis for that. They took care to destroy all who were there or so I am told.

My great-grandfather came to America around 1900 or so. He came for the same reason that so many other immigrants did, a better life. All five of his children were born here in the U.S. and it is because of his choice that I am privileged to have been born here too.

He was one of many children, my great-grandfather.  A number of his siblings were born after he left Lithuania and several chose as he did to leave to start new lives elsewhere in places like South Africa, Israel and the U.K.

My children have heard this story a few times, but I don't think that they really appreciate how incredible some of this was. They are growing up in a world in which distance is insignificant- long distance telephone calls are made without regard for cost or hope that this time we'll have a clear connection.

Facebook, email, webcams and the like all make it simple to stay in touch. That is their reality, but when my great grandfather left the old country it was a different world. The idea that you could reach out and touch someone didn't exist. Letters can and were exchanged but it wasn't always so easy to see that they were sent and received. If someone moved it could be challenging to find a forwarding address.

And so when I left for Israel in 1985 I set out to meet family members that we didn't know very well. My great grandfather's little brother had never been to the U.S. He spoke six languages, but English wasn't one of them. My aunt knew the same three words that he did.

I remember meeting them at the bus station and communicating via a mix of Hebrew, Yiddish, and gestures but we made it work. It was a big deal for the family, my going to Israel. We had lost touch with the relatives there. It had been about twenty years since there had been face-to-face contact and close to a decade since there had been any communication via letter.

It would be nice to say that upon my return to the states that communication continued and that we never lost touch, but that wouldn't be true. We sent a few letters back and forth, but things fell apart again and we lost touch.

Fast forward another twenty some years. My parents go to Israel and they connect with the family. This time it is different. Email addresses are exchanged and the family uses Facebook to connect. Social media to the rescue, who knew.

This past week my uncle's youngest son and wife came to the U.S. It was their first trip to the U.S. and we had an awful lot of fun together. But something else happened while they came that sticks out, that I am processing.

They brought pictures with them- old pictures. We got a chance to see my uncle as a boy, as a soldier, father and grandfather etc. It was the whole progression of life. It was very cool and I really appreciated having the opportunity to "meet" aunts, uncles and cousins that I had never heard of.

Now it may be that my great grandfather knew about all of the siblings and their children. Remember that his father got remarried and had more kids. Remember that communication was challenging. But looking at some of these photos with my cousins I found myself asking questions that I couldn't answer.

My great-grandpa has been gone for decades- there aren't old letters that we can read or refer to and all of his children are gone. But that is not what bothers me. What bothers me was seeing photos of family that was murdered. Pictures of relatives slaughtered by the Nazis decades before I was born.

Hard not to look at them and wonder who they would have become or what they would have done with their lives.

But it also helps to explain why I enjoyed taking pictures with my cousin and why I smiled so broadly as my kids talked to their Israeli relatives. Because it was one more way for us to tell Hitler and his ilk to go fuck themselves. We're here, they are gone, period end of story.

And more importantly a branch of the tree has been restored. Life is good.

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