PART 1. A Wednesday in January
A lot of my first few weeks have been days full of meetings. These meetings have been informative and helpful, gleaning a lot of the big picture about JDC, its people, and how this large organization functions. I happened to have zero meetings in the office on a Wednesday and decided to take advantage and venture out. It turned into a day that was very much connected to the content I had been reading about in my curriculum of books and articles about Ralph’s life and some of JDC’s work post World War II.
I’ll admit that I didn’t write this in one sitting and the reflection kept growing so I’ve split it into two pretty reflective blog posts of some of my thoughts the past few weeks. But these are themes I seem to be continually thinking about.
I had heard great things, with many folks saying to go to the Tenement Museum. So I went. It’s a unique museum in that you can only book specific tours at certain times. If you’ve never been and happen to be in New York and can make it work, I highly suggest it – plus if you like pickles I hear there are great ones nearby. I chose a newer tour – though I would definitely go back and want to try a more traditional one as well. This tour walked through an actual apartment recreated to represent families from the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s. The family we learned about in the 50’s happened to be a Jewish family, where the parents had come over after the Holocaust and being in DP (displaced person) camps. The 60’s focused on a Puerto Rican family, and the 70’s on an Asian family. It talked through various experiences each had in what was going on in their own lives, assimilation, and the greater world and society at that time.
One theme that stood out is how immigrants wanted to create new lives for their children, and in doing so made strides in assimilation. To really follow these stories builds perspective and context to what our Jewish community looks like today (in what has changed) and to some extent how anyone connects with their roots.
When you approach looking at the end WWII, DP camps and these themes from the social work or people-centered viewpoint, you recognize not only how devastating and hard a time this was, but also that while many people had a similar experience, each person had their own individual experience. People had to figure out how to deal with the trauma on their own, learn or become resilient, and figure out how to survive. They needed to find meaning in life, build and create life. Often the importance behind creating and making a next generation was truly meaningful and significant because it meant they had survived and they wanted to make sure to thrive. My thoughts go back and forth between lumping together thousands or millions of people and the impact as a group and then again recognizing for each individual there is a different story.
I’m focusing much more on the post Holocaust and Jewish experience here because that is the context in which I am learning and also my own perspective. The tour I took focused on other immigrant stories and I’m sure there are many other ways to reflect recognizing similarities and differences. It’s my blog so you’ll have to roll with my train of thought! ;)
I’ll make one more connection here, since it’s important, and I know from first experiencing Ted Comet and his story during the interview for this fellowship, it’s had impact on my train of thinking. I had the honor to sit in Ted’s apartment for a second time in the last few weeks. Ted is really an amazing human. He is the honorary Executive Vice President for JDC, and has done tons of work with JDC and additionally was a founder of the Israel Day Parade in NYC. He also happens to have created something really special in his apartment. I’ll explain.
Ted’s wife Shoshana, was also an extraordinary person in her own right, Ted keeps her memory alive through giving a short tour in his home of the beautiful tapestries she created, he also has art from around the world. There is so much I could share about Ted and his wife’s story, but the connection I want to make and what stuck out to me, is that his wife did research and showcased how survivors of the Holocaust should really be called victors. Many went on to be defined by so much more than their “survivorship”. These were doctors, lawyers, artists, business people, they created families, and really truly were victors. Each “survivor” or “victor” was an individual who contributed in their own way to our society – it’s the forever reminder of also what was lost during the Holocaust, people should be defined not by what is was they survived but what they go on to create. However, what they go on to create has been influenced usually by whatever it was they experienced. Did they need that tragedy to find the motivation/inspiration/drive to make change in the world?
I think it’s important to remember. It’s a hard concept to try to grapple with. Out of tragedy can happiness prevail? In DP camps many Jewish people got married because they had nothing else, and no family. Was it love? Was it out of desperation? Was it convenience, or to create life? Does it matter? Shared experiences create bonds that are sometimes unexplained. People coming together from unfortunate incidents, in life we have to recognize the good and the bad. But it’s not always easy to embrace both.
Heavy questions. Always thinking...