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Lifetakes: Galus Child

Faigy Schonfeld

I inhale, trying to escape the horror in my mind. It’s too dark, and within the prism of reality, there is no relief. It really happened

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

galus

Photo: Shutterstock

I've seen the Holocaust, its remnants. I’ve been to Majdanek, to Auschwitz; tasted the blood and ash and thickness of its air. 

I’ve walked the noisy streets of Krakow, skeletal, bare of what once was. I explored Budapest’s busy avenues, pulsing with humanity and emptiness of all that had been. 

And now I see The Children’s Forest. A rather unremarkable forest, somewhere in the thick of Poland. We hike through the woods, a bunch of happy, tired tourists, only to stop at a small fenced-in patch of grass, where, we are solemnly informed, eight hundred Jewish babies were beaten to death. Beaten. To Death. Eight hundred babies. 

In the gloom, we can barely make out the words inscribed on the lone monument, standing witness in this large, grievous land. Our tour guide reads, in Yiddish: 

Du ligen di tzibrochene kepelach fin acht hindert Yiddishe kinder. Here lie the shattered little heads of eight hundred Jewish children. 

There isn’t much to say. I cry more than I thought possible. Then we leave. 

A few weeks later, it is back to Brooklyn, back to life. The ghosts of the past I had encountered so closely flit about uneasily in the back of my mind. Slowly, as time passes, they flutter to a rest.

Photo: Shutterstock

Having just graduated high school, I find a job and get busy. Then I get engaged and married, and it is rare that I revisit the horror of that black forest. It is simply too much. 

But then my son is born and I can chase the memories no longer. 

Suddenly, I am a mother. I have a baby. A tiny miracle, floating crystal magic, so huge and precious I can barely breathe past the wonder of it. And just thinking of the babies of the Holocaust, of the mothers, makes my stomach curdle. 

I think of the cold, gloomy forest, of so many babies, each a mother’s child. Tiny things with peachy skin and rosebud lips, flailing little arms, screaming. Cries lost forever in the dense trees. Mothers, once cradling delicious little people, staring in wonder at rosy cheeks and shining eyes, left with… nothing. Only grief, huge and unfathomable. 

I inhale, trying to escape the horror in my mind. It’s too dark, and within the prism of reality, there is no relief. It really happened. Those mothers really were, they lived and breathed and sobbed, those babies were killed. We need Hashem to take us back home, I think feverishly, muttering love and fear into my baby’s curls. We need Mashiach. Redemption. 

I don’t want my child to be another galus baby. Another sweet little child with a yarmulke playing on the dusty streets of Brooklyn, called in for dinner, fed, bathed, and put to bed. 

A little boy wrapped in a tallis, given alef-beis letters dripping with honey to lick, and then left to grapple with a lifetime of distractions and hardship, every sweet word of Torah a struggle, every glimmer of light a fight in the prevailing darkness. 

I’m a galus girl. I daven as my mind flies, I bite back lashon hara, and sometimes, I don’t. I sigh as another tragedy is reported, I close my eyes for a moment, shed a tear for the fresh orphans, for the hurting woman, the ill father. And then I open my eyes and cut up a salad and go shopping.

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