Category Archives: My Jewish Mom

11 My Jewish mom? Her crippley kid

Only recently did all the pieces come together so that now I can say that mom was Jewish with Jewish parents and grandparents. She dissed Hitler and the Nazis all the time, but with a venom that the usual non-Jewish reductio ad Hitlerum crowd simply does not possess for lack of personal consequences.

Both mom and dad were protective of me, though I think for wildly different reasons. For dad, I think it was because he wanted me to follow in his footsteps on the one hand and didn’t want me to repeat his mistakes on the other. Diversely, mom understood that I would have been in the Nazi camps three times over:

  • I’m her son, and therefore Jewish: off to the camps.
  • I have an awful hereditary lack of an enzyme whose horrific consequences ending in death for about a third of patients (without medicines only developed in the 1970s) would have had me put down in the camps for that reason alone. No hereditary illness people allowed to live. Combine that with being Jewish and…
  • I was born a bit crippley, having a sideways curvature of the spine that I try to hide. Frumpy shirts help. But it’s still enough to get mocked by the more cruel among us if I don’t bother putting in the required effort. I also have a somewhat twisted left-leg, which I also, to my detriment, try to hide. I once ended up on crutches for months not that many years ago, having developed a rather severe radial fracture in the left Tibia because of trying to walk “normal” instead of the way the leg and foot necessitated. Sometimes people ask me about a particular limp, which is more or less pronounced or able to be hidden depending on the day. This crippleyness was already enough to be thrown into the ovens under Hitler, but combine that with the hereditary thing and then the Jewishness as well, and I would top all the lists for the next one to be put down.

I’ve written of this before, that is, the tension between correcting problems that can be corrected and not letting people find out those problems lest the more eugenic minded use me as an example of what to do in view of a “solution” to their own fears.

I’m guessing I had exactly what the little Forrest Gump character had as a kid, that is, special red orthopedic boots with rearranged insides. See the GIF above and this picture of me below. Those are my boots with me on the left. That wasn’t my jacket, which was borrowed just for the picture. Even then I was trying to look “normal” with both feet out straight, which took work to accomplish. It’s my left leg, trailing, that’s messed up:

just me mom brother shoes

Dad was taking the picture. I remember that morning well – some 56 years later as I write this. But what about all the bars and such like Forrest Gump, you ask?

One day my mom brought home something special for me, but didn’t tell me what it was. When I wasn’t looking, she simply put a really large paper bag with a big box in it next to the bedroom of my brother and me. For some reason, perhaps from the loving but too solicitous tone of voice she used in telling me to go ahead and look in the package, I was apprehensive, which developed into a sinking feeling that all was not well. I asked permission to sit down near the top of the steps next to the bedroom door. I received an affirmative answer, but had failed in the ulterior motive of my quest to have her peek around the corner and up the stairs to give me even more reassurance. I left some space in front of me to take the package out of the bag and spread out its mysterious contents. But I was now so apprehensive that I just sat there for a minute, unsure of what to do. “You don’t have to open it,” she offered. Then, after a minute: “Did you open it yet?” “Not yet,” said I. She then added again that I didn’t have to open it and that she could just bring it back to where she got it, especially if I didn’t like it. My heart sank all the more as I took everything out of the package.

There were some very special shoes, boots really, which fit right over my ankles, and were reddish brown. I put them on. They fit perfectly, although they felt strange when walking in them. They had multi-level “saddles”, if you will, meant to realign my rather malformed heels. I remembered having been measured for them. At this stage, I didn’t even know how to tie the laces, so young was I. That knowledge would come along quickly enough. But I didn’t know quite what to do with the metal bars which went along the sides of the legs. I guess they were meant to twist my feet and legs around since one foot wanted to be perpendicular to the other.

I remember the whole scene in the orthopedic surgeon’s office quite a while before this, with him warning against the protestations of my mother that if I didn’t wear them, I would have real difficulty walking when I grew older. “He’s going to walk like a duck,” he said, imitating the waddling of a duck with some sarcasm, “you know, all pigeon toed,” he said, placing his feet wildly perpendicular one to to other. “No!” said my mom, all alarmed, but finally gave in to ordering the shoes.
The bars went back in and stayed in the box and I never saw them again. Some forty years later, when an orthopedic surgeon was discussing with me an upcoming surgery on the more twisted leg after it had been totally shattered in an accident, I asked if he could just kind of twist it about so that it would heal a bit straighter. “No,” he said, “the muscles and tendons that you still have wouldn’t know what to do. You would be worse off. Just rejoice in the way God made you.” He was right, of course. A few years later the spiral fracture mentioned above occurred what with the muscles and tendons working way too hard to have the leg walk straight when it actually couldn’t possibly do so. If I have to walk any great distance, my limping becomes exaggerated, even for days at a time, so much so that one of the Vatican Gendarmes, in seeing me walk below the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City, imitated my limping with great lurching steps I couldn’t possibly accomplish. Always good for a laugh, these guys.“You won’t have to wear them forever, just for a while, that’s all,” said my mom in a gentle voice from downstairs, not in view. She couldn’t bear seeing the expression on my face as I realized that I was a cripple of sorts and hadn’t even known about it. Little kids don’t notice such things. I placed the bars along my leg but couldn’t figure out the round bits and how they wrapped under the boots. Clanga-d-bang metallic sounds were abundant. “I don’t know how to put the bars on,” I said. “Just leave the bars in the box… You don’t have to put those on… Just try out the boots,” she said with gentle encouragement. And so, I was able to kick off the bars even before I put them on.

To the point: All this made me think that my mom and I did the wrong thing back in the early 1960s when I was just a tiny little kid, leaving the bars in the box as we did. She just couldn’t bring herself to let it be known that I needed a bit of extra help. She had had an extremely tough life, having some physical difficulties herself, and was scared to death by the Holocaust, and knew that I was her little Jewish boy and a bit of a cripple, and so indicated for the camps many times over.

Mind you, by the time I was trying on those boots and getting confused by the bars, those death camps were closed for some eighteen years and were in places far, far away. Not long enough a time, of course, and never far enough away. She did the right thing for me even when everyone else said it was the wrong thing. Thanks, mom, for loving me.

By the way and just to say, Nazis abound, also back in the day. The German immigrants who built the Cathedral in Saint Cloud, MN, used the buttressing architecture to point to the artistic designs they made with the brickwork highlighting the Swastikas they made on the Cathedral itself, all over the place. After I had made complaints about it, meetings were had, the result of which is that they wanted to keep the Swastikas so as to protect their heritage. It’s never in the distant past. It’s never far away enough. They say they’ve been removed a few years ago. Some? All? “They say” “pre-Nazi”. Pfft. The immigrants came about 150 years ago. So, 1870s. The German Nationalist party (Nazis for short) was long in existence. They were ramping up. The Nazi Swastika reverses the flow of nature, going against everything.

Thanks, mom, for loving me.

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10 My Jewish mom? Yes. Now I know.

jesus mary solidarity prison

Having turned off all public everything on my Ancestry a while back – and I haven’t had a subscription for years – I started in on mom’s family tree. Not easy without a subscription. However, it seems that some relatives have done quite a bit of work which also touched on mom. That opened up a couple more generations back. I noted a “look-up” page on Ancestry that I hadn’t noticed before. There were filter options, meaning that if you unchecked all databases except one, for instance, only some “hits” would come up. That’s useful when dealing with many hundreds or thousands of entries on a too-broad search. I was surprised to see a filter restricting results for Jews. Great! That’ll make things easy.

So, I started entering mom’s parents and grandparents’ names on both sides of her family tree that I already know. Mom is sooooo veeerryy Jewish. This confirms all my hypotheses which I always thought were really strong, but which others dismissed and even attacked, but which could only make sense, only be possible if mom was Jewish.

And now the reality of it all comes crashing home to heart and soul. There are statements, profound and far reaching, about suffering, which came from the depths of mom’s heart and soul which now make sense. But more on this in the future. I’m overwhelmed. I’m guessing that some of the names in the Holocaust Memorial databases for victims and survivors are related to me, even closely.

fulton sheen time

The Venerable Catholic Archbishop Fulton J Sheen once recounted about the liberation of a particular Nazi Extermination Camp, a story I listened to on a recording back in the 1980s. He said, if I remember correctly, that any prisoners still alive were killed quickly moments before the liberation, except for just a few who successfully hid in the mayhem. The Archbishop said that a soldier noticed a young Jewess, alive, and now liberated, but sitting atop a veritable mountain of corpses. He asked her what she was doing up there. Her response was a question, which brings me to tears:

“How can I live when all my people are dying?”

In the future, it will be a matter of ascertaining which relatives who had not come to America were where at the time of the extermination camps, if possible (probably not). That’s too much for me right now. I’m overwhelmed.

What I would like readers to do is to take the words of that young woman and put them into the mouth of Jesus…

“How can I live when all my people are dying?”

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09 My Jewish mom? Nazi death camps…

auschwitz train rails

Not that it necessarily means anything whatsoever, at all, about my mom being Jewish or not, I was looking up family tree names on both sides of my mom’s side of the family. The last names (totally unimportant for the Jews back in the day), are often Askenazik ultra-Yiddish-ized versions of generic names of whatever language. For this exercise, just out of interest, I put in the “family” names in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum widget thing for the detention and worker and transit and extermination camps, which include the occasional refugee list, transit list, police list, etc.

There were, of course, many instances for the names appearing, some rarely, some in the tens, hundreds, thousands. Not that they are relatives. I was just looking up last names. Some of the first names are rather interesting, for instance, Abram, Abraham, Isaac, Estera, Aron, Aaron, Izrael,  Dawid, Nathan, Chaya, Eljasz.  I only spent some minutes… Oh my…

Names of extermination camps, etc., came up immediately, such as:

  • Dachau (I’ve been there…)
  • Sachsenhausen
  • Stutthof
  • Neuengamme
  • Lublin
  • Floßenbürg
  • Natzweiler-Struthof
  • Teis-Dâmboviţa
  • Bergen-Belsen
  • Jasenovac
  • Auschwitz-Birkenau

There are police station lists which are mentioned, deportation lists, refugee lists such as to far away Tashkent, along with Ghettos, especially with great, great frequency, Łódź… On and on… The lists in Łódź also refer to train deportation to camps such as Chełmno and Auschwitz-Birkenau, where not much in the records would be kept of the killings upon arrival. Indeed, so many were already corpses, or, even if not dead, would just fall out of the train cars and be immediately bulldozed with the rest of the corpses to mass graves. Who’s interested in taking names at that point?

Anyway, this has little to do with anything, this looking up of names. It’s all just coincidental, possibly. I’ll keep on digging, as it were, so to speak. Uggh. Regardless of whether mom is Jewish, this was, for me, an exercise that is emotionally overwhelming.

I cry for the Jews. For humanity.

I need to stop for a while, before even starting. I didn’t verify anything. But the darkness is too much all at once. I think a person can die just for noticing too much evil all at once.

Jesus does not permit us to feel the weight of our sin all at once, what His wounds really mean, for we would instantly be crushed to death by the weight of it all.

Maybe one day I’ll be able to go back to all of this…

Anyway, someone offered an olive branch to me recently. Thanks for that.

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08 My Jewish mom? Emigration timings

ship 1870

There are a zillion reasons for emigration, including the ease of travel both physically and legally. Sometimes there are economic or health considerations. Sometimes it has to do with family or business. But when there are mass movements of certain populations, one might ask other questions. Ancestry maps out striking events with timelines of populations and various shifting regions. Of all the regions indicated for me, none of them are so striking as to have a timeline created for them, except for Poland and environs.

Let’s take a look at the 25 year snapshots, and see how movements had a sudden start and a sudden stop. Note that the Nationalist Workers Party, or Nazis for short, was already viciously, rabidly anti-Jewish by 1875, and that Germany’s borders stretched into much of Poland back in the day. Note that pretty much everyone in my lineages are gone to the USA by the the time the extermination camps of Hitler were in full swing:

DNA 1800
Above, Czechia and Poland. We continue below:

DNA 1825
So, some families moved around above, as below, but notice some diminishing numbers already by 1850.

DNA 1850

And then, by the last quarter of the 19th century (1875-1900), things are getting really very tense as the German Nationalist Party (Nazis for short) grew in prominence and influence: emigration has been made much easier, and the great exodus begins:

DNA 1875
I notice the North East USA, and Chicago, yes, but also Detroit. Lot’s of my lineage have shown up in Detroit and the North East. Let’s continue with the great exodus::

DNA 1900
By the end of the first quarter, pretty much all emigration has come to an end. Lets move on to 1925-1950, when all comes to a dead stop:

DNA 1925

The Nazi party is maneuvering into greater influence and is, in fact legalized. In another handful of years they would take control and crush and torture and murder. Sure, there are many who emigrated from Poland at this time who were not Jews for any and all no reasons, and not just from Poland, but from the U.K. and France and Germany…. But it’s the Jews who saw what was happening against them and ran as they could.

My mom’s forebears fit into this emigration timing. It’s not any kind of indication that she was Jewish, but it still says something in the background. For instance, but it another way: no Jews to speak of were immigrating into Poland from elsewhere. There is more to come. I’m going to look up some names.

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07 My Jewish mom? DNA?

DNA

AncestryDNA offers this disclaimer:

“Your DNA doesn’t change, but the science we use to analyze it does. Your results may change over time as the science improves.”

When I originally signed up for Ancestry some years ago, this was my DNA locator map with the customers that had submitted their DNA up to then:

ancestry dna gdb

Compare to the new map below. Note the Scandinavian-Nordic Regions and the Near and Middle Eastern regions above have disappeared, with other regions being somewhat redistricted and sub-divided, shrunk or enlarged in the more recent re-region-ing, with a massive southern Russia region. Re-region-ing is as constant as updates to the databases.

DNA revision

  • I can see the removal of the Scandinavian-Nordic regions, as those came in at less than 1%.
  • I gotta wonder about the removal of all that which is Middle-Eastern, as that clocked in between 4% to even 8%.

If you want to know what 8% means, see this incredible article: Ancestral DNA Percentages – How Much of Them is in You? by Roberta Estes. Hint: 8% is a lot.

I think what’s happening here is an across the board walkaway by Ancestry in its claims for autosomal testing, which is what they chose to do from the beginning. But as more is discovered about DNA testing, Autosomal isn’t great.

She a massive disclaimer here: Drawbacks section of the Wikipedia article on Genealogical DNA Test. That includes disclaimers of Ancestry autosomal testing. Apparently, the autosomal testing is good maybe only for present day 1st and perhaps second cousins. Period. If you’re any times removed, well, who knows. Direct lines may be good a few back… As time goes on… So, instead of the autosomal, there’s testing on just the Y or just the X, with those indicating even vastly different things, at least historically, if not today. For Ancestry to call themselves Ancestry seems a bit of a misnomer. It’s more like the original FaceBook, just connecting you with your actual classmates in College. That’s changed. Anywho, I haven’t done the Y-only or X-only tests. Any ideas on the best companies to do those with?

I once conjectured that I must have had a bit of Iranian Jewish in me. Conjectures, conjectures! Good for entertainment. But, if so, that 4% to 8% mentioned above would most likely be the enclave of Iranian Jews in the Caucasian Mountains, now in the Southern Russia region, that is, just north of Georgia and Azerbaijan, the southern most part of “Russia” mapped out most recently for my DNA profile by Ancestry.

Ancestry makes a big deal of groupings of indicators of DNA, but people move around. It can’t be used much for land disputes as it all becomes a game of what came first, the chicken or the egg. Having said that, some generalities of the status quo might be noticed. Thus, generally, people from remote tundras of Irkutsk will be different from those in the back mountains of Peru. At least until new-agers arrived relatively recently…

Cultural phenomena are even more difficult to trace out, things like religion. That’s not to be found in DNA. But religion can bring about behaviors regarding “mixed marriages,” for the Jews not to intermarry, for Islam to do so on purpose. Yet, for the Askenazi, the men seemed to take lots of Gentile women for brides. Let the arguments and controversies begin! I jest. But the debate really is intense.

Ancestry has ventured into this debate. I’m guessing they’re regretting it. That’s really unwise for autosomal testing, which they do. The legitimacy of religion by way of any kind of DNA testing has been raging in Israel for very many years now. I asked a rather ultra famous Rabbi about it a few years back and he outright dismissed DNA as having any relevance whatsoever. He spoke of the incisiveness of the controversy. This would, of course, involve lots of Jews, one way or the other, who died in large numbers in the Holocaust, who may be Askenazi or not, who may be part of the vast majority of Jews as far as DNA is concerned…. or not. Are those who are remote from Askenazi to be junked – thrown into the ovens all over again – because of various types of testing which at any rate does not, cannot point to religion? So, I don’t want to go anywhere near it. If you want to go near that hornets nest, Judy Siegel-Itzkovich published this article at the National Library of Medicine for the National Institutes of Health: Gene tests show that two fifths of Ashkenazi Jews are descended from four women. Those four women, just to say, lived merely 1000 years ago, when world Jewry was already world-wide. But that starts to become irrelevant to the discussion. For a broad overview – Yikes! – the Wikipedia article on Genetic Studies on Jews is stunning. Then, if you really want to mix things up and begin to see where this could start to become controversial, see the article on Jewish Ethnic Division (incorporating a discussion on DNA). Also stunning. That will introduce you to bibliography that will keep you busy for multiple lifetimes, as it were. And don’t forget the “ten lost tribes” of the dispersion. And don’t forget huge movements of populations in the Levant back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. There’s the descendants of Abraham, those of Isaac and those of his half-brother Ishmael. For that matter, Noah was the father of Shem (=Shemites=Semites), from whom eventually – nine generations later – comes Abraham. Sorry.

What’s the relevance of DNA? Well, DNA can bring you face to face with relatives, with Ancestry pointing out people – today – as having almost identical DNA. That at least indicates a family connection… today. I’ll go along with that.

Negatively, I can say that I don’t have much of anything African or Native American or Polynesian in me. There seems to be plenty from the Baltics, Germany, Eastern Europe, Russia (Southern Russia!), and then a smidge of something British (though I still carry my dad’s old English name coming from the border of Scotland and England), and a smidge of something French. But putting names on countries is also fraught with difficulty. There are wildly changing borders. Germany is… is… what exactly? Back in the day Germany spread into half of Poland. What of Prussia, smashing the boarders in the other direction? And so on. Something to investigate to say the least. It helps to know history and the history of wars and historical mapping and geography and historical demographics. Daunting.

But right now, let’s see about any real time family relationships going on with other participants of Ancestry right now, meaning any indications of almost identical DNA. Of all the regions of my profile, Ancestry “Very Likely Connections” today from only three areas at the moment (considering only present customers).

Here’s Lesser Poland with Lublin in the North and Krakow to the Southwest:

DNA lesser poland

And then there’s this almost entirely overlapping detail of another smaller “region”. This is Maolpolska and Swietokrzyskie, with Krakow in the middle to the West:

DNA Malopolska - Swietokryzyskie

Just above both of those DNA “regions”, this time in central Poland, we have the “region” of Mazovia and Łódź, with Warsaw-Mazovia in the middle and Łódź to the South and West:

DNA Mazovia - Łódź

“Very Likely Connections” means something not really further away than first or second cousins. That would be interesting to follow up on, discovering who and where they are. But that’s way in the future. It is interesting, however, that of all participants, the only ones to show up for a connection right now are from central and southern Poland.

Just as the Askenazim can’t claim to be the be-all and end-all of Jewish religion – so that it would be absurd to say that mom was Jewish or not just based on generalized DNA of Askenazim, this opens some doors to uncover more about mom. So, I’ll keep up the investigation.

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06 My Jewish Mom? Useless to know it?

synagogue of capernaum star of david

A preemptive comment came into the combox:

“Although it is interesting to research our family roots, as Christians that is not where our identity lies.”

Part one: Condescension. Let’s paraphrase:

“Awww! That’s so cute! You’re researching your family tree!”

Part two: Condemnation. Let’s paraphrase:

“You’ve betrayed your true identity as a Christian and as a priest. What you’re doing is not of Jesus, but of the betrayer.”

In response – to this self-proclaimed Christian – a few points:

  • As Abraham with Lazarus recommended for the those of us here on earth, I’m going to look to Moses and the Prophets to point out Jewish Jesus.
  • As Jesus said, salvation is of the Jews.
  • As Saint Paul says:

“They [the Jews] are Israelites; theirs the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; theirs the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, is the Messiah. God who is over all be blessed forever. Amen.” (Romans 9:4-5)

There is a chosen people. There is still a chosen people. There is no public revelation given to anyone else. The Scriptures, “old” and “new”, are all of the Jews. There is no such thing as Islamic revelation, Native American revelation, whatever… No!

  • While it is true that the Jewish Messiah, the Suffering Servant, the Priest of priests, is without lineage according to the order of Melchizedek, that refers to belonging not to Aaron’s priesthood, but rather to Himself, He who offers Himself. He is still always the Son of David, with genealogies spread throughout the Gospels.
  • Moreover, the chosen people are still the chosen people inasmuch as they are part of the Israel of God, however much they have a veil, as Saint Paul calls it, covering over the fulfillment of revelation in Jewish Jesus.

Saint Paul also says that, in the age to come, there will be neither Jew nor Gentile. Great! But as to the accusation that I am betraying my heavenly identity by investigating my earthly identity, I say this:

  • One’s salvation can absolutely hinge on whether or not one is a racist. We may not all be saved – as we do have free will and some of us misuse it – but we are all of us certainly redeemed by Jesus on the cross. I’m sure that Jesus is not impressed by someone who, with all racism, smacks down someone just because of their race. We belong to the human race, all of us, white, black, brown, yellow, whatever. Now take this point with the next:
  • I’m personally sick and tired of racist bigots who attack the Jews for being Jews. I’ve even gotten a death threat recently. “I want to kill Jews,” he said to me, knowing I’m Jewish. “You son of a B****!” he shrieked and shrieked. If I stand up for being Jewish it’s because I accept what Jesus did for all of us on the cross; it’s because I accept my identity as a Christian and as a Catholic priest.

The video I made of the children’s names at the children’s memorial in Yad vaShem – Jerusalem:

It makes me want to pray:

If I do up some family research, it’s so as to stand up for those who are smashed down in death by the millions. And that’s a good thing to do.

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05 My Jewish mom? The Jewish School

hebrew school new haven 1950s

I’m in discovery mode about my mom. I write about discoveries on this blog, which is kind of what blogs are all about. And I think with my keyboard, which lends itself to the statement that I have no unpublished thoughts. One might think this to be quaint, but this series in particular is really getting on the nerves of some. I have an idea of where this might be going, and I have some motives beyond anything about family trees. If you’re brave enough to accompany me, I’m happy to have you come along.

I was speaking with yet another someone else who grew up with mom the other day. That person doesn’t remember all that much (mom having been born very close to a century ago), except to say that mom was actually quite fluent in Polish and Yiddish, and that she attended a school where all the kids were Jewish, well, except for a “few Italian kids.” Yes, well, one might call to mind that there are plenty of Italian Jews! Back in the day, such schools would be private schools. You would have to be Jewish to get into the Jewish school. Jewish schools were for Jewish kids.

The picture above is from the 1950s, just after the horrors would be known by all, and some twenty years after mom was in a Jewish school, which would have been during the most intensely anti-Jewish times, when the camps were starting and the last of those who would escape in any numbers did, with all their stories. Below is a picture of a modern Jewish school. Get the idea?

jewish school

Sending a non-Jewish kid to a Jewish school in those days? Didn’t much happen, not then, not even now.

So, a pattern keeps building up about my mom.

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04 My Jewish mom? Yiddish and Polish

yiddish

When I was a little-little kid, my mom would now and again use some rather incisive vocabulary if I should do up something really naughty like messing around in construction sites. I was such a brat. I didn’t know what the words she used meant, other than that I was in trouble. Remembering that vocabulary later in life, I looked up the words I could remember. The internet can be very useful… Yiddish!

I asked her about it. She said that she in fact knew how to speak the various languages back in the day, but by the time I asked her about it, at some seventy years, she remembered only a little. That was a couple of years before she died.

Speaking such languages at home, she said, was the order of the day when she was a kid, but only at home…. never, ever outside the home… No! No one can know what we speak! Ever! “The idiom of the frightened and hopeful humanity,” says Isaac Bashevis Singer in his Nobel Lecture of 1978. “Frightened and hopeful.” Yep.

More indications that mom was Jewish. “Just coincidences,” say the doubters, casting doubt. But after a while, there are so many coincidences that you have to start to wonder. Also, the circumstances of the facts are important.

For instance, in the first post of this series I spoke of white, blue striped stoneware, which in itself, is neither here nor there. It means nothing. Pretty much everyone in the world has white, blue striped stoneware if they think it’s nice. Agreed. All so very common. However, it was her reaction to conversations about it that was interesting. This instigated a conversation that moved to Israel. And then she took me over to look at a portrait of her mom. She would want to tell me something, but refrained ever so wistfully.

And with the languages? Sure, lots of people know both languages and are not Jewish. Yep. But it’s not the languages so much as what she said about their usage. Secrecy was the order of the day. This wasn’t about encouraging kids simply to learn the language of the their new country – English here in these USA – which was common to that generation. Talk to any Italians of that generation and you’ll hear about it loud and clear. Instead, this not speaking specifically Yiddish was about secrecy, about not being found out.

Motivation is paramount in detective work. The quest continues. Progress is being made.

We’re dealing with fear. What’s it’s like for another generation – me – to discover the fear, and go beyond, to the other side? Quite the journey…

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03 My Jewish mom? “They’re coming!”

tank tiger 1 german nazi

I am acquainted with someone who did not grow up with my mom, and who did not have the same world-view, not being anywhere near the same age as my mom, what with my mom being quite a bit older, but with my mom having quite a bit of influence on this other person.

My mom, throughout her life, would often mention the Nazis, and Hitler, with real venom. This was no mere reductio ad Hitlerum just to get the upper hand in some conversation, but issued from almost visible, almost tangible hurt. This was evident.

Anyway, to this day this other person carries a fear of present day neo-Nazis as much as anyone who has escaped from a Nazi concentration camp and who lives in a neo-Nazi neighborhood, you know, as if Krystallnacht was going on right now… Hide!…

kristallnacht

In hearing a car on the street, that person will want to take cover, saying that it is surely a Nazi tank that person hears. That person grew up when it could be related to that person also by my mom – who was quite a bit older – the atrocities of the concentration camps.

Don’t underestimate PTSD. For instance, a girl just committed suicide down in Florida, a survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings in Parkland, Florida, where 17 died (now 18) and many others injured. Currents run deep. People can live as a present reality that which took place even in the distant past. For those who are not cowards to see present day reality for what it is it may be worth the effort to point out that there are still neo-Nazis today, and they are just as horrific and violent as any Nazi in the past. For instance, see:

JBS: Yaron Svoray & Simon Wiesenthal

Anyway, just to say, I’m quite certain that the only way this other person carries such PTSD is by friendship with my own mom.

This doesn’t necessarily say anything about the Jewishness of my mom. But, a pattern is developing.

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02 My Jewish mom? “I Am David”

A couple years back I wrote the following post, now slightly revised:

I read I Am David it seems decades ago. I think my mom, a voracious reader, slipped it to me one day under the title North to Freedom. I didn’t know it’s now a movie starring Ben Tibber, Jim Caviezel and Joan Plowright. It’s about a boy who escapes a concentration camp and makes his way to freedom in Denmark. The book follows his adventures of his travels throughout Europe.

My mom wanted to call me David, my middle name now as my dad won out with George for a first name. Mom came up with yet another Jewish name, a nickname, which I had until well into the seminary: “Jordan.” She was going to get me a Jewish name one way or the other! David means “beloved” in Hebrew: I Am Beloved. Yikes!

A reader mentioned I Am David in an email this morning. The memories flood back. How many times the words “I am David” came to mind and were repeated by me throughout my life whenever the going got tough. This would be my defiant and proud battle song: “I AM DAVID!” An example:

Some of my ordination cards, all hand made, asked for prayers from Saint David, as had the litany of saints in the Ordination Rite, for which someone roundly condemned me, criticizing both King David and the Hebrew Scriptures and even the work I had put into making the cards. That made me sad, but at the same time I entrenched all the more in my ever more lively secret now ardent in my heart: “I AM DAVID!”

Saying such a thing now, well, it makes me instantly and sheepishly turn to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, for he is the Son of David and Jesus is very much beloved. He knows what it is to have a secret, the Father’s love, which he reveals to us in himself. Whatever the flurry and fury on the outside, we dwell with him and he with us. And if I should say to him, “I AM DAVID!” he says in response…

Anyway, none of this means that mom was Jewish. I know. But that’s like the only book that mom ever gave to me, ever. Just another hint. I’ve been looking up her side of the family in various databases that have much to do with “I Am David.” But those matters are for future posts.

If you’ve never read North to Freedom or now I Am David, it’s well worth the read. It’s very short for a novel. It gives some insight to how things were like back in the day. This was a very gentle introduction to the fact of the concentration camps. It’s a story of hope, of success in escape, of life. Thanks, mom.

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01 My Jewish mom? Stoneware!

 

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Mom has a very mysterious personal history. I know only very little. As far as I know, she was officially Catholic before I was born. Everything points to her being born and raised Jewish. And even as I conjecture that to be the case, recent condemnations of her from someone are ringing in my ears. That person has enlisted the help of others through the years and right throughout the country to attack my understanding that she is Jewish.

I’d like to present a rather nostalgic series on mom, highlighting this or that indication of her Jewishness. I’m told that I will fail before I even begin, that nothing can be proven, that it is all futile, that I am foolish, that it doesn’t make any difference anyway (for one), that this needs to involve eugenics (for another), that this must mean that mom is… (and this is where violent condemnations come into play for yet another).

This is a quest, of course, for my own family identity, something I cherish. I invite you to come along for the ride in the detective work.

Let’s start with that which is mundane, white stoneware with two blue stripes. That was mom. There were a number of occasions through the years that she ever so nostalgically, reflectively, thoughtfully mentioned to me that this style was her favorite style of stoneware, going out of her way to – out of the blue – bring my attention to this or that artistic piece, as if she wanted to say more, and using these as a conversation starter. It had to be roughly white. Heavy. Solid. With two blue stripes, two mind you. It didn’t go without notice. I remember occasions when she did this, in the living room / dining room / office of the house I grew up in after we moved from when I was one year old until I was twelve years old. The same stoneware followed in a move outside of town, and then again with another move into a suburb just before both mom and dad died.

When I was older and knew something of the world, I mentioned to her that the double blue stripe on white on rough and heavy stoneware reminded me of the Israeli flag. That immediately put her into a gentle, quiet, reflective mode and, though agreeing, she didn’t expand on this, being ever so subtly evasive. I knew there was more to the story. Once she almost told me something, taking me from the stoneware in one room over to a hand painted portrait of her mom in another room. But then she fumbled for words, looking wistfully at the portrait in its antiqued frame. Yes, thought I, there’s more to this story.

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