This is me, Russell Kaback, and my grandfather, Steve Magier, circa 1980.  Notice my velour tracksuit, in fashion at the time. It’s hard to believe that I was born only about 30 years after my great-grandparents were murdered at Auschwitz.

This photo was taken somewhere in Montreal, where I grew up. My grandfather lived most of his life in Montreal, and died there in 2013, but he wasn’t born there. He was born in a city by the name of Bendzin, in Poland. The name rhymes with “engine”. But they also call it “Bendeen”.

From my earliest days I can remember being puzzled and haunted by strange words like “concentration camp”, and “world war two”, words that I must have heard in conversation around my grandparents’ house. I didn’t know what they meant, but I know I’ve always had a strange of vision of what world war two was, and it involved the side of a brick building, and a balcony or fire escape, and a tumultuous and colorful sky full of roiled clouds and airplanes, and a mysterious bend in the road. And I never quite knew what concentrating had to do with any of it.

It was only after my grandmother, Elsa, passed away in 2001 that my grandfather and I became closer, as I was into my 20s. Whenever we got together for family events I was always at his side, listening to his wisdom and his life stories. In 2009 I went with him to Poland for the International March of the Living, an annual memorial march at Auschwitz. After that I became determined that somehow I would tell his story, in my own way, after he was gone.

 

LESSON 1

Think about someone in your family who is important to you.  It could be a grandparent, aunt or uncle, someone living or someone who has passed away.  Someone you know personally or someone you have heard stories about.

What do they look like?  How do they dress?

How do they spend their time or earn their livings?

What are their customs, hobbies, habits or traditions?

Where were they born and where do or did they live?

What is special about them to you?  In what ways have they influenced you?  What qualities do you have in common with them?

Free write for 5 minutes with these questions in mind.  Describe this person and your relationship to them.  Share what you wrote if you like.

 

 

OF EDEN DREAM

Mordechai Zalcman
his grandfather
was a traveler
and a gatherer
and a widower

he made his modest
living roaming the forest
foraging for
medicinal herbs

always reciting the traditional words
in appreciation
and listening to the whistling birds
wishing never to disturb G-d’s creation

as it was meant to be

though through the centuries
his ancestry
had many enemies
great potentates of states
and nations of people
who in times of trouble
sometimes became hateful

he was grateful
each fateful day to rise
and to be able to
open his eyes
and realize
that he had once again been allowed to become alive

and carry on and on and on

and in the early dawn
he put his garment with the fringes on
believing that everything hinges on
the commandments
wrapped in the ritual
spiritual
and habitual
which you all
know for him were instinctual
so that they
so that they guarded
so that they guarded his heart
they guarded his heart like armor

he wasn’t a farmer
he only had his buggy and his horse
but he knew his neighbors
and they were
his source of dairy
and eggs
carried
in a straw-lined crate
milk in tin kegs
he lifts with his back straight
and his bent legs

swinging through the gate
bringing his simple freight
over muddy lanes
when late winter rains
make the snow go
quickening to trickling waters

of his two daughters
the elder
named Zelda
had gone to the city years before

she worked as a servant
fell in love with a soldier
and waited for him through the war

and because of the goods
this man of the woods
brought through the door
on the basement floor
they were able to open a small store
and she performed every chore
her sons numbered four

when spring comes
on the Passover date
she takes the eggs from the crate
some she boils for the Seder plate
some she breaks and shapes into crepes
she bakes unleavened cakes
and sings like heaven
until the baby wakes
unfazed and without a flaw
as he lays his head on that bed of straw

sleep, my child
and of Eden dream

drift along in
G-d’s immortal stream

flowing ever-
lasting from above

fill your precious
soul up with its love

may you grow to
be a righteous one

may you walk with
grace under the sun

sowing seeds of
wisdom on your way

casting them a-
bout you every day