It was nine days, but it felt like a lifetime. So much happened in Minsk and Poland. The person I was before I left Seattle is not the same person that sat in the van climbing the hills to Jerusalem last Monday morning. Raisa, Gzrgorz, Jan, Eugenyik, Jania, Marcian, Aleksander, Petra, Rabbi Schudrich, Jonathan, Aleksander, Magda, Treblinka, Majdanek, Auschwitz, Bug River, Stare Lipki, Wengow, Stoczek, Bagatelle, Krakow, Warsaw – so many people, so many places, so much to absorb.
In Poland I was haunted by the railroad tracks. When I saw tracks—whether in the cities or in the countryside – I felt a moment of dread. When we got on a modern train to travel from Warsaw to Krakow, I felt guilty traveling on such a nice train, in comfort and with no fear.
Here in Israel, I have again seen and traveled on railroad tracks. Thursday I traveled from Jerusalem to Yaffo – by train. My daughter, Elisheva invited me to attend a conference on “Israel and American Jews: Renegotiating the Relationship.” She was chairing one of the sessions and I was thrilled to attend.
To take the train in Israel is to travel slowly, contemplatively. No traffic jams, no horns blasting, no accidents, just the squeak of the wheels on the tracks and the rumble beneath your feet. I thought of the trains in Poland and how I felt seeing them and riding on them. Here winding our way down the hills of Jerusalem onto the flat farmlands that morph into industrial and then residential areas, I felt joy and even serenity.
Then Friday morning, I took an early (6 AM) walk down the path that was the old rail track, built in 1892. It connected Jerusalem and Yaffo – the exact path I traveled on Thursday. In 2013 it was turned into a walking and cycling trail with wonderful old pictures of what it looked like then. The sounds of birds signing and roosters’ cock-a-doodle-doo (there were so many of them!) filled the rosemary scented air. Marveling at what Jerusalem and Israel have become since this track was completed 124 years ago, I walk the path in wonder.
If only – if only there had been a State of Israel in 1939. The Israel Defense Force would not have been silent in the face of a Hitler. Israel may not fulfill all of Herzl’s Zionist dreams, but it is still a dream come true.
Sam and Esther are buried here. Keeping with the Jewish tradition of placing rocks on a grave, I placed two rocks on each of their graves – one from Treblinka and one from Stoczek – the place of the old Jewish cemetery. I brought a bit of Poland to them. If they could speak, they may say – “no, don’t do that – we never want to see any part of Poland again.” But after our journey through their lives and meeting the Stys family, I hope they would be happy to know we stood in the barns and in the forest pit and that together with Stys family – and cried there.
Though Sam and Esther are here in Israel only in death, two of their granddaughters live here and together with the other 8 grandchildren, and a brand new (born July 1) great-grandson, in America, they live on.
[Top picture – from Wikipedia article on Jerusalem’s historic First Station.]