Monday, August 21, 2017

Holding The World In Our Hands

This photo makes me think we are holding the world in our hands. It tells a long story of love and family.
Here we are. My second cousin Gabi and me here in Arcata skyping with  his mother Pili in Israel. I hadn't met Gabi before but he, his wife Tsilla and their son Sol drove up from southern California for Sol's sophomore year here at the university. We met on Sunday and had brunch together. This is who we are and how we are related. Gabi and I share the same great-grandmother, Grossmutter (in german) Minna. His grandfather and my grandmother were brother and sister. His father Micha and my mother were first cousins. In 1921 my grandmother left Germany and came to America. Her mother and brothers stayed. She never saw them again. The family perished in the Holocaust.

Many, many years later we were stunned to discover that Micha, one son of my grandmother's brother, had survived. On the day his family was being rounded up and taken away, Micha was not home. When he got home he was told by neighbors to run for his life, and so he did. He ended up in Israel, where he got married and started a family. No one in the family who had already come to America knew there was a survivor. In the late 1970s or early 80s, a distant family member (living in California) with the same last name as Micha made an announcement of his 80th birthday in an Israeli newspaper. The name launched the search for reaching out and reconnecting with family.  I wrote this poem about it more than 25 years ago.

when the letters stopped coming
they assumed he had perished
along with the rest of his family
their innocent flesh and bone
transformed to ash and smoke
that billowed out of the stacks
and settled on the earth, a devil-made dust

and, for fifty years it was so
until he, alone was found
alive in Israel
my mother's first cousin
only survivor of the ones
who stayed behind
who believed it could not happen

his American family
rejoiced in the discovery
rummaged through old boxes
laying hands on letters
not touched for a half century
and searched for the photograph to send
of him and his mother
taken in time
when their posing and smiling made sense

when he held the photo and gazed at her face
his tears alone were enough to keep Israel green
when he touched her writing on the back
the place where she rested her hands
wrote her hopeful, lilting lettering
this was a coveted and precious thing
one he would bring to his lips and kiss many times
and then, recite the words, her written words
as holy as any prayer 

And now, all these years later, Micha's son Gabi and I are standing in our backyard in Arcata, holding a smart-phone and Skyping with his mother Pili in Israel. We are all connected, aren't we? Not just technologically, but all the way down to our bones and cells. We humans, we are holding the world in our hands. I have wished all of my life that we would hold it like we are one family.

34 comments:

  1. This is stunning. The aching beauty of your reunion, the nightmare before, your poem. This line in particular: "The ones who stayed behind who believed it could not happen." And the image of that dear boy holding the photo with his mother in his hands. This is so powerful. It lifts me up. But it's echoes in this time frighten me too.

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    1. 37paddington-- I cannot adequately express the feeling when Gaby and I hugged. How far our family in time and distance had traveled for this moment. The tragedy of our history and the joy of our reunion. This is a scary time in our country.

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    1. Susannah-- Thank you so much for that.

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  3. Tragic story and yet also a good one. My family and my husband's have pretty much separated from connection other than immediate. Jobs, moving, health,religion, interests, so many things don't keep us together even when we all live in the same country. Nostalgia makes me wish it was otherwise but it's just how it is for many Americans, I think.

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    1. Rain-- We humans have made a huge mess of things. Unable to dismiss the superficial for the greater good of our shared humanity. And now there are politics that work to foster and strengthen the superficial in the dismissal of our true and essential oneness. We are a mess.

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  4. Wow, what a story, and beautifully told. It's so vital for people to hear stories like this, to be reminded of the appalling acts of hatred that have occurred in the past. And how terrific that your family was able to reconnect and rebuild. Yes, we ARE all connected!

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    1. Steve-- Thank you for your kind words. I am blown away by the direction and rhetoric occurring our country right now. We must be vigilant to remember and to take a stand. We ARE all connected, but the forces to separate us are mighty and strong.

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  5. I am deeply moved by your post, Robin. It's an incredible story. Your poem is heartachingly beautiful.

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    1. Tara-- Thank you so much for your kind words. I wrote that poem in 1992 when I was working in the Econ Dept. at UCSC. It's the only poem I've had published in a book somewhere.

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    2. And it's amazing that now Our daughter is who is s student in UCSC works at the KZSC Radio station as a d.j. and in web development. How our lives circles together.

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    3. tsilla-- Yes, we are connected in many ways. My twin brother still lives in Santa Cruz, and he wants you to contact him the next time you're in town. The family grows with love.

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  6. WOW, just WOW Robin....powerful

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  7. WoW! What an incredible story. Sadness, happiness and hope. It's never boring reading your blog. Continued happiness for all!

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    1. Dave-- Thank you for your kind words.

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  8. Amazing story robin with all emotions exposed. I couldn't stop the tears when he touched the photo and the writing on the back. How small the chance and yet it was there and families were reunited. I wonder how many other families that never were lucky enough to find comfort. Treasure your new found family.
    We will never forget.

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    1. Patti- My family was so blown away to find Micha alive all those years later, and now I have met his son and family. It was really moving for us all. Thank you for writing these words: We will never forget.

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  9. This is all quite remarkable. Thank you for sharing this with all of us. What touched me most deeply was the thought of family searching for photos of him and his mother so they could send the photos to him. that really touched me. Such a loving act.

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    1. Colette-- It was truly amazing that one little announcement in a newspaper of an 80th birthday changed our lives so much. I wish I could have seen that photo. Perhaps the next time Gabi goes to Israel to visit he will find the photo, scan it and share it with all of us.

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    2. Robin meeting you and Roger was very special. We feel connected already.

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    3. tsilla-- That's how felt as well. Connected already. Thank you for that.

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  10. I am just blown away by that story. It's so touching and inspiring.

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    1. Mark-- When I tell the story, I realize how touching it really is. Life is so interesting.

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  11. That is one heck of a story and so great one survived such a bad time in history.
    It's good you can talk such distances. it keeps people together

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    1. Bill-- When I write the story it still surprises me when I realize that this is my history. Connecting with the extended family like this is a truly beautiful experience.

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  12. Thank you for the splendid combination of photos, the astonishing family story and the deeply moving poem. Yes. As holy as any prayer.

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    1. am-- I feel so grateful that we got to meet Gabi, Tsilla, and Sol. To retrace our family history is the work of longing heart.

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  13. Amazingly bittersweet.
    I LOVE your poem Robin. Very moving.

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    1. Pat-- Thank you. Family history is such an interesting and compelling thing.

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  14. So amazing that a shoot of life survived all the charring horrors; this is so moving, and wonderful, Robin.

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    1. isabelita-- It is amazing, and then to meet and hug an extended family member from that shoot of life...

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  15. Oh, how amazing and wonderful! oxoxo

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    1. kathy-- It really is amazing and wonderful!

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