There once was a little old lady from Minsk…or was it Pinsk…or Krakow or Lodz or Timisoara…and I took her picture.
But wait a minute…let me back up and tell you the story. Once upon a time I travelled a lot…and all of my travel was to visit the Jews of Eastern Europe…what so many of you called the “remnants of the Holocaust.” I was very blessed in that I had the opportunity to travel with either the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) or with the Jewish Federations of North America (then called UJA or the United Jewish Communities depending on just how far back we are going here). The other night when I was sitting at a very, very boring speaker I was trying to count just how many of these places I actually visited. (OK, I smiled at the speaker and looked focused and engaged, honest.) I came up with something like twenty to twenty five visits… seven of those were just one four day trip to Romania with my husband and Zvi Feine of the JDC where we stopped to meet with the “Jewish Community Leadership Board” in each and every shtetlach from Timisoara up to Bucharest.
And everywhere I went, I took pictures of the beautiful people that I met. Now some of you are too young to remember the days of something called “film”. It was this stuff that was in your camera (another foreign concept to many of you) and when you filled up a “roll” of this stuff, you took it to a magical place where the round roll was turned into pictures on paper, and they were almost always in duplicate. Then you took these pictures home and, if you were as well organized as I was, you tossed them into a drawer. And if you travelled as much as I did and you took as many pictures as I did and you got duplicate copies as I did and you ended up with lots and lots of drawers of lots and lots of pictures! Get the picture?
All of this was just fine, unless one day you are asked to write an article about your years of work with the JDC and the Jewish Federations of North America. And of course since we all know that the facts of our stories from these visits are really best represented by the faces of the people we have met, you need a picture.
And that is where my trouble began. I opened the first drawer and there were pictures, lots of pictures, all with no names, dates, and worse of all NO PLACES. I went to the second drawer. Same thing. And the third drawer…again…no identifying information. And everyone looked the same!! Grey hair ever so neatly combed, lovely small smile, sparkling eyes. I panicked….how was I going to tell my story without a picture??? And I couldn’t possibly write the first word of my article until I had overcome this miserable feeling of panic.
So, I did what I often do in times of crises? Yelled at myself, cried, threw things. And then went for a long walk. And since the weather was a perfect sunny 60 degrees, within one block I had my epiphany: it absolutely did not matter that I could not tell one face from the other…that I had no idea which lovely woman was from which shtetl, because the point of the story was not that one specific woman, but the fact that she existed at all and that we, the organized world Jewish community, had made her life in this, the 21st Century not only possible, but filled with joy.
And so I went back to my computer and began to type away, telling the story of the amazing Jewish communities of Romania, Hungary, Poland, what was once Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, the Former Soviet Union. I wrote about how each town has (no matter how teeny tiny that town might be) a cultural center, education programs, Gans, Chesed Avrahams (the JDC version of Jewish Family Service), young leadership programs. All of the things that make up a Jewish community, even the politics and the grown ups telling the young folks “you can’t do that -- we tried it and it didn’t work” Honest, I heard it for myself from the Young Adult Division of the Warsaw Jewish Community!!!. And while I am on that topic, a Young Adult Division of the Warsaw Jewish Community?? Who would have believed that would ever, ever, ever be possible back a mere twenty years ago?
And I scanned a picture into the article. It was a picture of a woman, grey hair ever so neatly combed, lovely small smile, sparkling eyes, and I typed “The Beginning” and hit send.