Jeanette Friedman

Journalist


Madonna has a hit song that begins with the sound of a clock ticking—her voice chimes in: “Time goes by, so slowly, so slowly, slowly.” Maybe sometimes. But not right now—time is passing like a runway train for the sons and daughters of survivors who are watching their parents fade away.


Yes, the Holocaust survivors are getting sick and dying. Everyday, another connection is broken. Sadly and broken-heartedly, some survivors literally lose their minds before they go—a horrible thing for a child to watch. Others soldier on, determined to set an example for their children. Once again they will defy reality and survive. Watching them walk despite agonizing pain, seeing them carry on despite the odds, is a little scary. They set a standard of spiritual and philosophical living that some of their children may not have the courage to emulate. For watching our parents and their friends face the challenges of the elderly reminds us we’re next—and yet there is so much left to do to fulfill the vows our parents made to those left behind, and to keep the promises we made to our parents.


A conscientious 2G can spend everyday, all day, paying respects at funerals and making shiva calls. It is a wrenching experience, made more difficult by knowing the task of teaching the lessons of the lives of those who are passing—from the Judaism of their childhoods, to the terror of the Holocaust, to the lives they rebuilt and gave us—is far from done. In fact, in some places there is already erosion, a misinterpretation, a trivialization, and perhaps worst of all, the exploitation of the Holocaust in unsacred and even in evil ways. It is a desecration to the Six Million that the aging and often ailing survivors find hard to swallow, along with their prohibitively expensive medical care. Only now they are too weak to fight back. They just don’t have the energy. We have to help them and carry on for them.


Six Million, a number they’ve tried to realize in paper clips and pennies. Who were they? They wereour aunts and uncles, our grandparents, and yes, even sisters and brothers. I lost a half-brother inAuschwitz. His name was Chaim Lazer, and his mother’s name was Sarah Gelb, the furniture maker’s daughter. I mention them because no one else does. There is my uncle Chaim Lazer Friedman, too, who disappeared in the morass of murder, grandfather Naftalie, and cousins whose names I never knew. How shall we remember each soul?


David Gold, a Modern Orthodox 2G sitting shiva in Wesley Hills put forth an idea. His mother, who hailed from the Carpathian Mountains, died from ovarian cancer, surrounded by her children and grandchildren. He and I were fellow troublemakers at Brooklyn College 36 years ago, when the Jews began to assert themselves on campus and demanded and got courses on the Holocaust. Davy handed me the eulogy he’d given on Friday morning, and it brought tears to my eyes, for he had done something others had forgotten to do. When he spoke of his mother, he spoke the names she taught him to remember, the names of those he never met—his grandparents, his aunts, his uncles, his cousins. To those in the chapel, he recalled what had happened to them under the hands of the murderous Germans and their allies. He said, “Maybe we should remind all the 2Gs, when they have to give hespedim for their parents and family members, to remember those who didn’t have a funeral, and give them a place to have kaddish said for them. After all, our parents promised to remember them, and we said we would do the same. Wouldn’t it be something if everyone did it? We could actually say kaddish for some of the kedoshim and remember them by name.”

 
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