For those before me

When I go to conferences I like to make good use of my time. I usually choose to go to conferences and presentations that I believe will be interesting. I realize, though, that sometimes people have a gift for making even interesting subjects boring. But I don’t like to waste time and in most cases it’s not really appropriate to bring knitting and crocheting or collage materials. So once I am in the room and realize that I can listen with half an ear, I usually will begin writing. In the old days, calligraphing my children’s names used to keep me busy. Now that there are grandchildren, that can take up a good part of the session as I carefully draw each letter of each name. Some of the grandchildren have two names, some of them are pretty long, and one has three names.

But sometimes instead of just using up the time idly, will write something that actually has to do with the subject of the lecture or presentation– which is how I came to write the following.

But first, let me create the atmosphere. I am sitting in a cavernous room in a hotel in Jerusalem. It is dimly lit (“oh my, I can barely see what I am writing!”) and someone is speaking about Jewish Genealogy, a subject that interests me. However, somehow, that person has made it so uninteresting that I have begun thinking about why I am there. I am there to connect to people I never knew, but to whom somehow I feel an obligation. So I decide to write a letter to them, collectively, hoping that maybe at the Heavenly maildrop they will find each other and perhaps share it with each other. And so I began:

Your names were Yaakov, Yitzchak, Ze’ev, Reuven, Raizel, Ada…
Some of your names, we don’t even know.
We have only the barest facts of your existence- a yahrtzeit, a census record, a ship’s manifest, a name on a tombstone.
We never saw you laugh, heard you cry.
We never knew your smile, your touch.
We know you left a land of want and went to a land of plenty– for your sons and daughters and their children.
We know you worked hard, you helped your “landsmen,” you laughed at Yiddish jokes, and you gave everything “fur de kinder.”
Each year at your seder table you looked forward to celebrating in Jerusalem.
And your children, my grandparents, heard and understood.
And your grandchildren, my parents, heard, but did not understand.
And by the time I was born, it was left to my grandparents to say, but for me to understand.
Because what better tribute can I pay you than keeping the faith?
What better gift than fulfilling your dreams?
What better deed that ensuring the devotion of future generations to the land and faith you held dear?

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