These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

[PCJE] We Return

Posted on January 19, 2015 by Samantha Vinokor

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Samantha VinokorUnder the night sky, lit only by stars, we return.
None of us have been here before, to this town trapped in time, and yet our presence
here is a return.
We come as a memory of what once was, confronting the sky, the trees, and the
houses with each footstep.
On a footpath in the backyard between two houses, in sight of kitchen and bedroom
windows, a stone slab rises.
Treading through the overgrown grass, hearts beating as dogs bark in the darkness,
we approach.

This isn’t a field or a forest.
It’s not isolated, but rather central in this place.
Does that mean people are confronted by it daily, or has it become routine?
Can a mass grave in the backyard ever become routine?
Silhouettes against the night, our voices raised in prayer pierce the shroud of
Ancient words in a biblical tongue, a mournful song of the soul.
Oh God, full of mercy. El Maleh Rachamim…
Shoulder to shoulder around the grave where bodies were dragged from the town
square, we sing, voices choked with tears for strangers who are our family.
The stars watch us, and so do the eyes inside the houses that have been witnesses
through the generations.
What are they thinking?
Did these same stars twinkle that night?
Did the former residents of these houses watch as the bodies were buried?
Do they understand why we’re here?
We leave, the song softly continuing as we turn away, fading as we step back to our
own time.
A formerly unknown secret lies behind these houses.
Remembered only by us, the broken earth, and the stars.

Pardes trips to Poland are run in partnership with Heritage Seminars. The Claims Conference has provided trip scholarships for qualifying Pardes participants, as well as subsidies for program components directed at Jewish educators.cc_logo_copy_OP