When I was a kid, there was a Jewish folk group that sang Yinglish music (i.e. Jewish-themed songs in English, with the ocassional Hebrew or Yiddish word thrown in for effect). The group's name was the Megama Duo (Moshe Yess, a violinist, was the more famous half), and one of their songs that resonates with me the most is a song called My Zayde. Zayde is the Yiddish word for Grandpa. The lyrics of My Zayde talk about how the Zayde in the family was the center of Yiddish life, and how, after his death, the family 'just stopped being Jewish like my Zayde was' and descended into secular Judaism. However, the very last line of the song signals a return to Judaism:
Many years have come and gone
and now my own children sit in front of me?
Who will be the Zayde of my children?
Who will be the Zayde if not me?
While the message might be talking directly to born-again Jews, this message has always spoken to me. G-d created everyone of us with free choice, and even though we all come from different backgrounds, we have to choose to become the Zayde for our own children. We not only need to make a concious decision to be religious ourselves but also to live a lifestyle that impresses on our children so that they live that way as well.
But sadly, there is one aspect of being a Zayde as embodied in the song, that none of us, no matter how Zaydesque we become, can ever achieve - being a survivor of the holocaust. In the song, the Zayde imparts his experiences at the hands of the Nazis, and how he was persecuted just for simply being a Jew.
While my grandparents were not survivors themselves, I always cherished and relished the moments that those survivors that I was fortunate enough to meet told me their stories. The partisans, the camp escapees and survivors, the hidden jews. Each one was spared from certain death and witnessed ultold destruction. How many had lost all that they had - not just posessions, not just parents and siblings, but spouses and children. While I loved and cherished my own Bubbies and Zaydes in their lifetime, these people, over time, became my Bubbies and Zaydes too. These are the people that I think about when I read the Av Harachimim prayer (which recalls the sacrifice of all those that perished simply for being Jewish) before Mussaf on every Saturday. These are the people whose faces dance before my eyes whenever I think about the holocaust.
Holocaust rememberance day, which was commerated this past Tuesday, presents an opportunity for each of us to reflect and remember. Even though the number of survivors still walking on this earth becomes fewer and fewer with each passing year, I can still reflect upon my memories and those that shared them with me, even if they have passed on. But what about my children? Who will be their Zaydes? Who will help them internalize what happened and put a human face on the holocaust?
Thankfully there are many organizations out there that have recorded the testimony of these survivors for the next generation. While it may not be as good as meeting the people that were there first hand, it will preserve Zaydes for many more years to come.
May the souls of the 6 Million Jews, and all those others who were persecuted by the Nazis simply because they were different, rest on a higher plateau in heaven, and may G-d avenge their blood.