Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A mile in their moccasins

I'm not much of a weeper. I never have been, actually. I cried a lot as a child but it didn't get me anywhere so I gave it up. As a teenager I hardened my heart and decided to be a cynic. I worked that scenario for a number of years. It was ill-fitting, me as a cynic. I tried so hard, but it rang false and was exhausting.

I was well into year three of psychotherapy before I wept during a session. My therapist seemed quite relieved when I finally cried. Maybe I was, too. I can't remember.

Since menopause, I cry even less often, but oh man I've been weeping like a professional the last couple of days. Grieving is heinous work. The small part of my mind that's rational is wondering why the hell I'm so moved to think of my relatives from that time and place, people I never met, who lived in a world I honestly can not imagine. Is it healing? I hope so.

I read about Kremenets today. Oh my. There were 14,000 Jews in the town. Only 14 survived the Holocaust. It's inconceivable. Kremenets was close enough to my family's tiny hamlet of Vzysgorodek that the memories of both places are contained in one Yizkor book.

So, all that. And I wonder that I'm grieving? Good lord.

My ancestors were country people. Even though Vzysgorodek was within a few kilometers of Kremenets, in those days, 10 or 15 kilometers was a long ways away. You can't even really call Vzysgorodek a village, more like a hamlet. It was tiny.

At the Holocaust Museum library, I was shown a business directory from 1920. The Melikiers were bakers, dairy people and also skori, leather workers. They made clothing but also decorative boxes and other artsy stuff. The Melikiers got their hands dirty, they surely did. They were not sophisticated city people. Country people are earthy; there is no other choice. I've always imagined these ancestors as learned and erudite -- also judgmental. But I might be wrong about that.

Maybe my ancestors were more into the rhythm of Judaism than every last little rule and law. Maybe they didn't care so much. Maybe when they observed Shabbat, for instance, they just relaxed and had fun. I'm sure they said the prayers but maybe not with the orthodox fervor I imagine.

I met plenty of people at Temple Micah who knew all the prayers and songs in Hebrew, but had no clue what they were singing. I found and still find that so weird. They were praying but didn't care what they were saying? What?

I don't know every word of every prayer. They're beautiful texts, but that's not the part of Judaism I love. It's the rhythm of the faith that resonates. I really get, at a deep level, the point of starting a holiday at sunset - for instance. Pray for awhile, but then feast, drink red wine, enjoy, talk, argue, sing songs. Time enough to get serious and pray the following morning. I am way into the liturgy of feasting, drinking red wine and singing after sunset. Oh yeah. It weaves the energy of the people celebrating into a festive, happy web. A feast smoothes the way for spiritual observance.

The holidays, the rhythms, of my tribe are a part of my DNA. Even when I was far away from Judaism, I knew when the High Holy Days had arrived. I could feel it. I grok the strong arm and outstretched hand of God at Passover, I get the journey through the desert. The plagues and having to have the shit scared out of you to break free of the old enslavements? Oh yeah. The High Holy days - taking a week to reflect and complete the work of the year just passed - feels right in my blood, in my bones.

Perhaps we have common ground in the feasting, the joie de vivre, the intensity of the holidays. Maybe the rhythms of the seasons and the gatherings to observe the turning wheel of the year is something they felt in their bones and blood, too.

Am I imagining Fiddler on the Roof? I have no idea.

I'm trying to relate to these people who lived in a place and at a moment in history I cannot imagine. It boggles the mind, even my mind, with my famous imagination. But I have to try. Don't ask me why, but I must try. I'm trying!



Pam said...

Oh my Reya - the film clip looks just like the village of Kremenits illustration.
Difficult in these situations to temper trying very hard with surrender.
Those tears are telling you something. I guess they in themselves are a surrender.
Like you, I deliberately cried little as I grew up, but it does catch up with you!
Things are revealed to us spiritually I'm sure around and after 60 years of age that we weren't ready for earlier...maybe we were angry before, when in later years, the anger turns to a sort of poignancy about how things could go so terribly wrong, or a sadness and despair at unfairness rather than the anger of our youth. Anger eats at us.
In my life, I've thought ...'that's the way it was, and now for the healing..."
Maybe the tears are an emptying, to be a more ready vessel for what is to come.
I wish you, love, insight, and blessings, from those around you today and no doubt those who have gone before!
All the best in this journey Reya and know that it is a privilege to witness this homage to ancestors, should you be willing to share more here.

Rebecca Clayton said...

I hope that becoming an ancestor means you're beyond being judgemental. I used to imagine my ancestors looking at me and thinking "Lazy girl--you don't know how easy you have it."
These days, what I get is, "You poor thing--you don't even have chickens. Imagine having to go to the store to buy someone else's milk and eggs. So sad."

A lot of what I get from my ancestors is around farming, cooking, eating, and making things. Maybe that's what happens for you in the kitchen?

Reya Mellicker said...

I saw the similarity, too, Pam.

My sense is that some people take their judgments with them, others leave them behind. Who knows why?

I never thought of the ancestors in the kitchen though - duh! - my ancestor altar is in the north window of the kitchen, just above the table. Very cool! Thanks.

Reya Mellicker said...

I love that your ancestors worry about you having to deal with store-bought chicken. Ha!!

Reya Mellicker said...

Yes Pam - this is definitely part of being 60, becoming the forest.