These and Those

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

Poland Jewish Heritage Trip Day 1 Blog from Jonathan Chamberlin

Posted on January 11, 2022 by Jonathan Chamberlin


This blog was written by Jonathan Chamberlin, a current student in the year program at Pardes. Jonathan chose to attend the Poland trip in part to explore his relationship to the Shoah as a Jew by choice.

Sunday – Tikocyn

As we walk on the path, I am looking for rocks. I left the one I brought on the bus. But the ground is too hard, and my fingers are covered by gloves, unable to dig. And the others are still moving and I don’t want to be last; I already feel like I’m last.

So I keep walking.

I know what’s at the end of this trail. So busy looking at the ground for loose rocks I don’t see the green fences until I’m nearly upon them.

Walls of brick go up to where none were there before, like I knew they would; like they always do. I wish the walls were of wood, I want to burn them down.

I want to see what’s in front of me, but I can’t. I hear names and ages of family members not mine but supposed to be mine. Seventeen, eleven, four. The numbers connect.

A hole appears in the wall but is quickly filled.

I hear the voice of open, vulnerable raw emotion and in it I hear her tears. I want to share them, but the sadness I’m summoning is false, forced.

Is there a kernel of truth there?

I take dirt from the ground where I sat and appreciated the divine gift of breath for the first time. I walk away from the others, to the furthest fences, incomplete. Broken borders.

I squat and hold the Etz Chaim around my neck, while I sprinkle Israel over and around a stone. Who put the stone here? Who is the stone for?

“May their memory be for a blessing,” I say silently, but I don’t know who they are and it’s not my memory anyways. I just want it to be my memory. And I feel shame.

I walk back to the monuments and try to wipe away the snow covering an inscription, to no avail. I remove my glove and but my fingers make little more progress and numb almost immediately.

The others are back, having had a real connection and I feel resentful and then ashamed of that resentment.

We form a semi-circle and I’m asked to go back in my mind.

Sunshine at the Gardens. A giant willow immaculately arranged blooms of yellow, pink, blue and lavender. Watching Koi in the pond as I jump from one stone to another.

I remember the photo of my parents, holding hands, him in black and her in white. The family is there, looking up at them from the edge of the stone circle.

But then they have torn apart. and suddenly I see them arriving again. Him on foot and her in a truck, carrying a baby girl – Sarah Eden. They are brought to the stone circle where they were joined in Union and on the edge is a pit. The family is there, unrecognizable. Motionless in the pit.

The shots ring out. The birds scatter, shaking the branches of the willow tree. The Koi dart from the water’s surface.

And I am crying, the tear streaks cold against my face in the frigid air.

I want to run, but I am rooted for this one moment. I’m unable to escape any more than they could.

This is what I wanted, wasn’t it?

I choke out the Schechiyanu; being here now is a gift that not everyone received. I walk back in silence.

“I’ll get through,” I say when asked if I’m ok. I force myself back into the present, taking attendance on the bus, and talking about my very non-Jewish ancestry, pretending the one I just loved wasn’t mine too.

The walls are up again, but I pick up a pencil and begin to chip away. The kernel is there, I know that now.

I wonder how I ever doubted it.