Sunday, August 30, 2009

Vengeance In Glitter

I finished reading The World of the Yeshiva by William B. Helmreich today. Ner Yisrael friend, you are extremely awesome. It was a fantastic read. I highly recommend purchasing it for your personal collection of Judaic reading material.

There was one passage that really made me think. It had to do with the materialism that was, even then, rampant within our community. One of the reasons offered for an extremely lavish wedding- one that actually made sense to me- was as follows.


Several persons interviewed cited the effects of the Holocaust. One prominent leader in the yeshiva community cited the following example in support of this view:
    I was at a wedding of a man of modest means, a survivor of the death camps. The same was true of his wife. His daughter was getting married and he had to pay for the wedding. It was so lavish. When they were walking down the aisle I thought that the grandfather never would have thought that he would have a grandchild getting married like this. I thought that this fellow is saying: "I spit in Hitler's eye. Every bit of glitter means I'm getting back at them. He made me suffer and I'm showing him." There was vengeance in every bit of grandeur. I think the survivors have brought this over to some extent. Maybe it's not a nice thing to say but I grew up among Americans and we didn't have this.
Recent research on Holocaust survivors lends support to these statements. Many studies have cited the emphasis on material possessions and the feelings of insecurity responsible for it.

-page 317


I am the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors. While I do not think my grandfather would have insisted upon throwing me a lavish wedding, I definitely understand the concept. To me it makes a lot of sense. It never really occurred to me to look at my family as miracle kids, but in a way, we are. My grandparents could easily have died in Europe, which means my father would never have been born, which means my mother would not have married him, which means I would not exist. So it makes sense to me that someone who survived all that would take pride in everything they were able to possess, have or pass on to others.

On that note, I miss my grandfather. I find that my missing him is never confined to one day a year, his yahrtzeit. I miss him constantly. He loved me very, very much and he showed it to me all the time. I always wanted him to dance at my wedding. When I was a child I didn't appreciate the fact that he made me sing zemirot even when I didn't want to or didn't tolerate too much noise. I was a child and I was selfish and I didn't like that Grandpa didn't want me to play at full volume. With Grandma I could bake cookies or play hairdresser or dress-up. But Grandpa just wanted me to be quieter.

My image of my grandfather has him as someone always interacting with God. Whenever I went over to his house he was wrapped in a tallis, davening. I used to watch him pore over the Gemara, listening to Daf Yomi tapes. I saw him at shul, wearing his hat with a feather in it, and would run over to him. I would play with his cane, walker and wheelchair, even when I wasn't supposed to. I remember my grandfather before he fell, when he drove the big black boxy car with silver edging, in the days when we went to Jerusalem Pizza and he ordered for me and I was so excited because going out for lunch was such a big treat. I wonder sometimes what he would make of me if he were alive to see me today. Would he be happy with me? Would he be proud? I wish I had gotten the chance to know.

I love my grandfather. He may have passed away, but my love for him is always present tense, not past tense. I love him now. I want him back. I want him with me, and I wish he had lived to take vengeance through glitter. My grandfather always beamed down at me, so proud of me. I wish I had had the opportunity to appreciate that, to be more than a self-absorbed teenage girl who never got the chance to properly tell him how much I love him. I wish I had some inkling of what he would think of me if he were alive today. I'm named for his mother, you see, so I would want to make him proud. That Chana died in the Holocaust. She was a very strong person. I wanted to make him proud of me because I wanted to give something back to him, so he would have a little of her back.

This makes me sad to write. I always cry when I think about my grandfather. I really miss him.

Perhaps I'm the living embodiment of vengeance through glitter. The fact that I live, I breathe, that I'm even here and I'm a Jew- every step I take is a step for him, for her, for all of the ones who died. I don't often think of it that way. But part of coming from such a rich tradition means that the glorious and colorful history I descend from makes me who I am. I am the Chana who is living today; the other one was murdered in a concentration camp. I am her legacy. And in some inextricable way, I am her vengeance, because the fact that I live shows that they didn't succeed in eradicating all traces of the Jewish faith or people.

If this is truly the reason people have lavish weddings, no one has the right to say a word. My grandfather, my grandmother and all who survived that hell have the right to their vengeance through glitter. They have that right a thousand times over. If you decked the bride in a thousand diamonds, that would never be enough to give people who were trampled and scarred in such unalterable ways their pride back. So if they wish it, who could decline them? Let's walk through halls festooned with chains of emeralds and rubies if it makes them happy. Because what it comes down to is that I'm alive today and the Chana I'm named for died before she could ever watch my Grandpa become a man. He had no mother to stand at his wedding, to watch over him and cry happy tears. So if he were alive today, and I wish he was, and he would want the most lavish wedding in the world for me or any of his grandchildren, of course we'd make it for him. Who would refuse the man who left Romania only to learn he had no mother or sister to come home to?


Anonymous said...

This post gave me bittersweet tears...

Anonymous said...

Powerfully and beautifully written. The story made me cry as well.

dman said...

Based on something you posted in the last week or so, I put The World of the Yeshiva by William B. Helmreich on reserve at the public library. I am looking forward to reading it.

Anonymous said...

Chana,what a story! Loved it.

Anonymous said...

"I spit in Hitler's eye. Every bit of glitter means I'm getting back at them. He made me suffer and I'm showing him."

What exactly are we showing him through glitter?

Joel Rich

The Shipper said...

"What exactly are we showing him through glitter?"

That Jews can still rejoice and fully celebrate happy occasions, even to the most minute material detail.

Anonymous said...

“I thought that this fellow is saying: "I spit in Hitler's eye. Every bit of glitter means I'm getting back at them....Recent research on Holocaust survivors lends support to these statements.”

This seems like quite the stretch. Id like to see this research which supports the idea that survivors viewed material possessions as a form of vengeance against the hitler.

Tzvi Feifel said...

Beautiful Post.

Anonymous said...

I love that book. Reading it enabled me, for the first time, to think about who I was in the world and how my community worked (and didn't)