Thursday, April 24, 2008

Remembering Our History

The last full generation of those who lived through the Holocaust is still with us, although decimated in number. They are people in their 80s and 90s. And the sad truth is that they are coming towards the end of their lives. They are our parents, grandparents and great grandparents. We have been taking for granted this very special group of people.

On the one hand, it's a sign of a returned normalcy that grandparents are looked at as just business as usual. On the other hand, by treating this generation as "business as usual," we are fast losing a vital connection to who we are, who we were and who we will become.

Perhaps we all remember our grandparents telling us stories about their growing up years. But perhaps we don't remember those stories very well any more. Go ahead, ask yourself right now if you can name your grandparents' parents. Can you name their brothers and sisters? Would you be able to spell the names of the towns they came from? If they emigrated to the US, do you know precisely when and how? Where were your grandparents during the war years? In the years before you were born?

How about the niggunim used by your grandparents for a yom tov or shabbos? How about your grandmother's recipes? How about an item owned by your grandparents that they have told you you will inherit--do you know its history? What were the minhagim in your grandparents' homes?

The time is now to remember that grandparents are a special gift from the Ribboneh Shel Olam, and not one we get to keep for ever. The time is now to make time and call every day, even if just to say hello. The time is now to make that visit that you keep putting off because life keeps getting in the way. The time is now to sit down with your grandparents and a recorder and get an oral history. The time is now to have your zeideh sing his niggunim for you into that recorder. The time is now to transcribe those recipes. The time is NOW.

It has been said that the saddest words in the English language are "It might have been." Don't find yourself saying those sad words when it is too late to do something about them.

A note: one of my favorite stories involves my great grandmother, as told to me by my mother, her grand daughter. That great grandmother was first married at 12. She and her friends used to gather in a wooded secluded area to jump rope--yes, jump rope. This is the 1800's we are talking about. And when all these "little girls" (what else would we call a 12 year old today?) would find them getting in the way, they would hang up their sheitlach and tichlach on the branches of a nearby tree so they could play. A world so different and yet with elements the same as the one I grew up in. Not an important fact of history, not earth shaking in its contents, but a story that puts a human face on a great grandmother I was not privileged to know.


Anonymous said...

"The time is NOW."

Chol Hamoed?

What about the roller coaster ??

SaraK said...

My grandmother was already interviewed by the Shoah foundation and we have the tape, but she and my mother are transcribing her whole life story so that we will have it on paper.

Anonymous said...

I can relate. My mom is kicking herself because she always thought she had time to get all the family history down in writing and then my Opa died suddenly last year and she never got all the information. She did a whole video set with my Oma and put them on DVDs for all of us.

Anonymous said...

Darn, I hate this conversation. I have always had a special love for the past and my personal history in particular and it scares me silly to see it slipping away. None of my grandparents were ever big talkers (I interviewed my grandfather once for a report about WWII. He never once mentioned that he happened to have been in the army at the time. Why? "It never came up.") but there is a feeling... a style... that you cannot get on tape. There's nothing you can do about it; time marches on. My kids will have no comprehension of a simpler, more wholesome world.

-BM on vacation

Anonymous said...

"How about the niggunim used by your grandparents for a yom tov or shabbos? How about your grandmother's recipes?"

I wonder how many sing their grandparent's niggunim nowadays. What do others here think ?

Many new tunes have come out since WWII (or are American before that) and some have captured substantial market share. And that is not only 'modern' tunes, but also newer frum ones, even Chassidic ones by Ben Zion Shenker and others. Compared to some of the new ones old tunes can seem bland to the younger generation (whether they are or not can be debated. Maybe in a simpler time they were adequate, but now, with so much competing external stimulation and noise, the youngsters want/need more 'jazzy' stuff.)

Re recipes - I think similar can be said, maybe to a lesser degree though. Hey, even Prof. K doesn't cook exactly as her grandmother did.....

Nevertheless I want to say that I am strongly in accord with the general thrust of the post. Just quibbling re some of the details.

ProfK said...

Re the music, Klezmer is very in right now, not just the "jazzier" music, and much of it is the melodies from way back when. Sure, not every niggun is from the great greats going back, but a whole lot are in our house. Ch'sal siddur Pesach is sung two ways in our house: my father's niggun, which was his father's niggun, and my father in law's niggun, which was his father's niggun. The Mah Nishtanah is a "modern" niggun from only about 30 years ago. We're not stuck forever in the past, but our children know what the melodies were and we sometimes alternate them to bring a bit of the past into the future.

Re the recipes, no, I don't cook like my great grandmother, except where I do. It's her charoses that comes to my table. And her gesundheits kuchen that the kids requested for a birthday cake. And her leczo, and tzveible mit eye, and vinita. And you bet it's her cholent. It's my mother's shnitzlach that better be there erev Pesach or the yom tov will be postponed until they get put on the stove. And yes, the kids have favorites that are mine alone and which I hope the grandchildren will also ask for, at least some of them.

Even if it would have survived, I wouldn't wear my grandmother's clothing--not the style today. But I proudly wear her engagement ring on my left hand. What I'm advocating is passing something along from generation to generation, not everything. And the only way to do that is to know what the previous generations said, did and sang.

It's called sentimentality, and it's a real shame that it's not more in vogue today.

Bas~Melech said...

We have some utensils, foods, and niggunim from back when. And some new ones. The old ones make me feel so connected. The newer ones will hopefully make someone feel connected to me someday.

Oh, and we also have a great-something-grandmother who played jumprope after she was married at 12. Apparently, marriage was one way of avoiding army conscription in those days (if you were lucky) so they married off promising boys extremely young; the parents basically continued taking care of them until they reached regular marriageable age. Maybe this was the beginning of "support" as we know it...