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Yom HaShoah (Poem)

In memory of my Zayde, Rabbi Valentine Stroli, may he rest in peace.

I keep seeing his face, over and over
Smiling, beatific
In his midnight black caftan,
With smooth, wide satin lapels
A luxury that only surviving Chasidim would recognize.

Combat gear.

I see him in my dreams,
Sitting there so serenely on Shabbat
King of the heavy, polished wood table
With an indestructible table protector
Three inches worth of plastic
Carefully placed above the ivory embroidered tablecloth.

“Yes Zayde,” I said

{Troubled, crying}

“Yes Zayde.”

Hands to eye, I wiped away the tears.
It wasn’t Shabbat anymore, but Sunday.

“I am listening.”

“Devarim Sheyotzim Min Halev Nichnasim El Halev.
Do you still know what that means?”

“Words that come from the heart, go straight into the heart.”

Feeling dumb, numb,
Confused and disorganized,
Aimless, constantly aimless.

“Yes, Zayde, I understand,” I said, wanting to make him happy.

He withdrew $500 as if out of thin air.
Pressed it into my hand.
Five bills in American currency.
Swaying in unison.
Neatly, crisply folded.

“I was an officer in the Romanian army.”

“It’s OK, Zayde,” I said, looking away.
“You don’t have to say it again.”

This was not to spare him, mind you.
It’s just that I couldn’t bear it.

“I worked for the government.”

“I know.”

“And they took us.”


I tried to be strong —

“I hid as many of our Jews as I could.”


I wanted to comfort him, but there was no comfort to be had.

He made no effort to wipe his tears away, and neither did I.

“I will pay your tuition if you stay here,” he said.

As I looked at his elderly, saintly face,
The weight of expectation broke me.

{There’s always a price to pay.}

He saw that I flinched and the game was over.

“Whatever you do, graduate,” he said.

“And wash ‘Negel Vaser’ in the morning.”

By Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. All opinions are the author’s own; this blog is posted in the author’s personal capacity. Available for reuse under Creative Commons 3.0 License. For more information, visit Public domain photo via Pixabay.

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