Women in the Holocaust: In Memory of Gisèle Braka (1920-2013)

This in observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day late.

In 2013, I wrote this poem in Israel the morning I heard the news of Gisèle’s death. I was attending a conference on Women and the Holocaust in Israel, and my talk was about her heroic and unusual life as a Tunisian Jewish woman who joined the resistance during World War II, and experienced the war both in France and in Tunisia.

On This Day

On this day, women gathered to remember women, like you

Turning a flicker of hope, an act of kindness, a mother’s touch into a flame of eternal Memory

A humbling act indeed, for me, to name you

Hero

I shall not easily forget the twinkle in your eyes that told me you

Resisted

Persisted

Subsisted

Even after you had stopped using words, your actions spoke for you,

For your

Memory

On this day, women, young, old, and in-between, shared stories of

Survival

And even those who did not live, who do not live, who cannot live

Forever

Will always be among us now; their stories become ours as we

Resist

Persist

Subsist

Even after we stop using words, our actions will speak for us,

For our

Memory

In your

Memory

And so the flame remains eternal

On this day, you will be remembered

N.B.L., Nahariyah, Israel, March 5, 2013

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Did You Say Snow?

In honor of this snowy morning, when the state is in lockdown, and words such as “smowmageddon” and “Blizzard of 2015” are heard, I share some other words…

Ode to Snow

S-ilky, soft and silently serene
N-early Norwegian in nature and name
O-pens opportunities for other original ordeals
W-hen we walk with wonder in its wetness

S-ymbiotic sensations seize our senses
N-either numbed nor neglected, no!
O-ften only to be ostentatiously opened
W-ith windy whisks wherever we will go

S-ow, snow, see such splendid snow!
N-ow Nina knows a natural nirvana
O-h, organics of my origins, offerings I owe.
W-hen waking with wild and whimsical wishes

S-entences with snowy scenes sublimely shared

N-oticing neat nuances, never negative nonsense

O-f this other, often omitted and audacious ogre.
W-hy wail, rejoice! Winter welcomes, with wonder!

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A Prologue to Memoir

Working title: Tribal Matters: Diaries of The Viking Jewess

“So, are you going to stay Jewish?” the woman asks me as she had learned of my recent divorce. We stand in line at the local Starbucks and she says it just loudly enough for the man in front of us to hear. Holy crap, is it possible she thinks I divorced my identity? Holding a stainless steel coffee mug, with a Bluetooth blinking from his left ear as if he heard what I was thinking, the man turns and glances at me in a way that probably feels discreet to him, but the added attention makes me just feel more flustered. A wave of indignation mixed with frustration flush through me. I am in my late forties, and I have been Jewish since, at the age of twenty-three, I immersed in a mikvah[1] just a few weeks before I married my Jewish boyfriend in an Orthodox ceremony. Somehow, the timing and formulation of this woman’s question made a seemingly mundane instance in the Sunday morning line at the coffee shop feel like I was hurled into the epicenter of the sudden impact of all the moments –the good, the bad and the beautiful – of my Jewish life thus far, and that it was up to me to justify it all. And she wasn’t even my own conscience. Or God. She was an acquaintance whom I knew from various synagogue events and run-ins at the kosher market. Before I respond, with as much patience and compassion as I can muster, I take a deep breath. I swallow. Be kind. Don’t cry. “Sure,” I begin, “it’s not like that’s a switch you can just turn off.” I think I even manage an optimistic smile, but it was probably a smile that I couldn’t help lace with a slight air of surprise, hoping maybe my interlocutor would notice; my eyebrows raised just so. She smiled back at me the way you might see a person labor to beam sympathetically at a handicapped participant at the Special Olympics who bravely battles through an event only to win the consolation prize. As if she were thinking, “Poor soul, after everything she’s been through.”

But the truth is, the journey had been extraordinary so far, and was only just beginning.

Journey

[1] A mikvah is a Jewish ritual bath or pool consisting of part rainwater and part tap water, used for immersion in conversions, for monthly use by women after menstruation, before the Sabbath and holidays by some orthodox men, and by some to immerse new household kitchen utensils, in order to render them “kosher” and fit for use in a Jewish home. The main idea is ritual and spiritual purification.