Notes of Irritation


Unless someone asks me to do otherwise, I think that this will be my last pre-written post. I am happy to share more about my trip to Poland and more from my journal if someone has the desire to read it. After this, I will start posting more political entries again. This is two different journal entries that are somewhat connected. They are not– at all– meant to give off a holier-than-thou attitude. They are simply meant to convey the way I was feeling at the time. I hope these entries paint a picture of the peculiarity I was experiencing rather than illustrate any sort of criticism or hostility toward my friends.

1. On the bus, just outside of Majdanek.

Human nature is a funny thing. We walk through Majdanek- silence. No one is faking their emotion. The camp evokes feeling beyond literary expression. Silence. Silence. Silence. Silence. Silence. From staff and camper alike. We get to the end. We do a tekes (ceremony).  Silence. Emotion chokes back any words. We pray Mincha (the afternoon service). Silence. We get on the bus, and within a few seconds, kids are laughing and chatting, yelling and joking, eating Kit-Kat bars and Oreos. No one is talking about it. No one is processing it. No one is crying, or silent, or dumbfounded. This is bizarre.

2. Outside a mass grave of eight-hundred children.

I wish I could smell the bodies.

No, I’m not sadistic or evil. I just wish that there was something there besides a blue fence surrounding bushes and leaves. It’s so hard to connect. I imagine the kids and I imagine the Nazis. But there’s not something there to help me connect. And now I’m on a bus full of kids. And they’re all screwing around.

I wish they could smell the bodies.

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6 thoughts on “Notes of Irritation

  1. Ami, I miss our discussions- I miss picking your brain. Glad you gave me the link here so I can keep up with some your thoughts, although some of the conversations we like to have you probably won’t want to post up here, so we still have to talk.

    I know I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. I like the screwing around, and I think we can embrace it. We have to realize that our disconnect is a good thing. By visiting Israel like we did we were part of never again. I’m glad there is a generation of youth right now to whom the idea of a massacre like this is so foreign that all they can do is stand in silence for a while and then start joking around again, like kids should. May our kids and grandkids not be able to comprehend its horror, either.

    Keep up the good work.

  2. I, myself, went on a trip, much like yours, several years ago. I found it interesting how everybody reacts differently to grief and sorrow. For a while, it bothered me too. I couldn’t understand how so many of my friends could be in mourning one moment, and be joking around the next. After putting much thought into this, however, I came to realize something that changed the way I looked at these sudden shifts of mood. I realized that if, G-d forbid, I had to witness the Jewish people come so close to annihilation, I would pray not only for myself, but also for the future generations of Jews. I certainly wouldn’t pray for the future generations to live somber mournful lives, but instead I would pray for generations filled with jubilance, joy, and (for the sake of alliteration) joie de vivre. This made me realize that by joking around and laughing on the bus, we were more likely than not fulfilling the dying wishes of the victims for whom we just mourned. Not only that, but we were also defying the horrible perpetrators of the atrocities. By enjoying ourselves and laughing with one another we are, in a way, fulfilling the 614th mitzvah, and are refusing to grant Hitler a posthumous victory.

  3. Ben- I appreciate that opinion, but I disagree with it. The utopian society that you’re describing isn’t as perfect as you make it sound. One of the reasons that the Holocaust happened, and that Hitler and the Nazis were able to carry out such atrocious acts with relative ease is because the people– Jews and non-Jews alike– couldn’t understand what was going on. They were a generation to whom– to use your own words– “the idea of a massacre like this (was) so foreign that all they can do is stand in silence.” I think that creating another generation like that is dangerous and we have to do everything we can do reverse it (if it’s happening). Contrary to popular belief, ignorance is not bliss. It’s precarious and threatening.

    Meryl- I think that you’re right, and everyone reacts differently. I also think that your motives behind laughing and enjoying yourself are completely different than Ben’s.

    I also think, however, that there is something uncanny and off about leaving Auschwitz or Majdanek and immediately blasting music, eating chocolate, making drug references, and just being loud. I think that it’s obviously a very age-appropriate thing to do, but if– as you indicated– visiting these sites is a way of mourning the victims, like a funeral or memorial service, then you should act the same way you would act after a funeral or at a shiva house. All that being said, I think that’s it’s unhealthy to tell someone else how to act. Maybe the one ground rule to be to respect the way that people around you are reacting.

    • Ami,

      I would argue that the attitude I am describing, while dangerous in the past, should now be embraced because of one miraculous turn of events– the foundation of the state of Israel. Now that the Jewish people have their state, it is no longer necessary to mourn and pray for never again, because the state of Israel is our assurance of never again. Isn’t this a core part of the political zionism you always talk about?

      And as far as mine and Meryl’s motives being entirely different, I neglected to write it, but I agree with her idea of defiance 100%. For me, one of the best moments of our trip was in Yad Vashem. It wasn’t praying mincha and it wasn’t the tekes. It was eating ice cream and pastries and drinking soda together afterwards in the museum store. Yad Vashem exists because of Hitler, so isn’t it fitting that in the face of the man who tried to starve us, we eat for pleasure?

      I wasn’t there with you in Poland, but I’ve heard that some of the groups ate lunch at Auschwitz as a sort of act of defiance. I would’ve been right there with them.

      • Ben,

        I agree with you — but only up to a point.

        You suggest that the existence, autonomy and strength of State of Israel provides us with an assurance that a Shoah will never happen again. But that’s not quite the case. Israel’s existence gives us a that gift of security only for today — and I’m afraid it’s not at all assured. I would also suggest that perhaps one of the things that will help to keep us safe and protected from another Shoah will be our ability to remember, mourn and feel intense and arresting sorrow.

        But at the the core of being a Jew is the delicate balancing act between darkness and light, mourning and celebration, gritty reality and visions of the ideal. And ultimately, we are responsible for embracing the present moment and living it fully.

        So Ami, in the end I agree with Ben — though striving for a sense of balance. I think the poet Mary Oliver put it best:

        I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
        I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
        into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
        how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
        which is what I have been doing all day.
        Tell me, what else should I have done?
        Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
        Tell me, what is it you plan to do
        with your one wild and precious life?

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