I dont get out much these days after the sun goes down. You know – little kids, exhaustion and the cost of babysitters… But once in a while the husband and I make the effort and pay the fare for a trip outside the world of kid bedtime.
This week we went to a holiday celebration hosted by hubby’s employers. It was a welcoming cozy event with full open bar and catering by food truck. Nice people, good conversation and homemade potluck desserts. All the makings of a good party.
So right after I started to feel the buzz of the Peach Tea Vodka (yum) an elderly man (a father of one of the party guests) asked if he could sit on the couch next to me. He had a thick accent and soft, quiet eyes. He was drinking orange juice and seemed quite content to be in the company of a younger generation of party goers.
I wondered what this man and I could possibly chat about, so sat I quietly for a moment sipping my drink. The man turned to me and said, “As you can tell from my accent I am originally from Germany, but moved to Israel, well, Palestine, during the war.”
Quite the introduction.
I actually smiled when he said this. Not because it’s a statement to be smiled at, but because I suddenly knew that his choosing to sit next to me was no accident. “Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world…”
So I asked him questions. And he willingly shared his experience with me. One that has defined him and haunted him for over 70 years. I learned that he was 10 years old during Kristallnacht. He was there. He saw his synagogue in flames. Prior to that night his school teachers supported the kids who beat up Jewish students. Following that night, he was no longer allowed in school.
Joseph, who was well into his 80’s, told me about the loss of his diabetic grandmother after she was refused insulin by the German pharmacies. His grandfather died soon after from a heart condition. His other grandparents and relatives were taken to camps and murdered.
But, somehow Joseph and his parents were granted permission to travel to Palestine, where, supposedly, a relative was waiting for them. He immigrated. He lived and worked there for 20 years. He witnessed the birth of Israel.
He married and moved to the US where he worked in hotel management for 35 years on the west and east coasts. Joseph was proud to tell me this. It made me wish I could have seen him as a younger man, representing his establishment with the deep pride of someone who has internalized his freedom.
Joseph paused in his story telling. He sipped his drink and set it down on the coffee table. It was then I told him that I teach 9th grade Hebrew school. And that I am currently working on a lesson plan to help my students not only understand the holocaust, but to feel a connection to the devastation of the individuals who were there. His eyes lit up. He thanked me. He said God would bless me for keeping the memory alive. I got chills from his words.
When we parted, he pat my shoulder and asked for my last name. I told him my married name was not the family’s original name. I told him it had been changed from Lebarski. Hearing this made him smile ear to ear, as if I had made his night.