What Message Are You Giving Your Children and Grandchildren About Living Life

Life and Death

And Survival

Among Jews these words resonate, as through history Jews and Jewish families have had to face the threat of losing loved ones to hate and survival from crimes of hate just because of religion and practice of religion.

On February 22, 2022, Merrick Garland, Attorney General, Department of Justice, briefed the press on the Ahmaud Arbery federal hate crimes verdict. Ahmaud Arbery was chased down while jogging and killed by the defendants, three men, in Glynn County, Georgia, previously convicted of murder in a Georgia state court.  Attorney General Garland was asked about  Arbery’s mother’s comments regarding the Justice Department’s initial plea deal offered to the defendants, which the family ultimately rejected.

Merrick Garland said, “I cannot imagine the pain a mother feels, to have her son run down and gunned down while taking a jog down a public street. My heart goes out to her and her family.”

Much was made in the press and on the news and the announcement repeated shown on television because he appeared to become emotional when he said those words.  Yet, the responses and discussion in the press and by television commentators did not resonate with this child of Holocaust survivors. What did resonate, and was unsaid, is that we Jews, especially children of Holocaust survivors, emotionally understand that pain as hate has killed many a son of a Jewish mother. 

According to Wikipedia, “Garland was raised in Conservative Judaism, the family name having been changed from Garfinkel several generations prior. His grandparents left the Pale of Settlement within the Russian Empire in the early twentieth century, fleeing antisemitic pogroms and seeking a better life for their children in the United States.”  See, also,

“The Jewish Supreme Court Justice Who Wasn’t?” by Josh Nathan-Kazis, The Forward, April 1, 2019.  https://forward.com/news/336091/can-merrick-garland-fair-minded-mensch-of-a-judge-win-spot-on-the-supreme/

According to History.com:

“Pogrom is a Russian word which, when directly translated, means “to wreak havoc.” Pogroms typically describe violence by Russian authorities against Jewish people, particularly officially-mandated slaughter, though the word has been extended to the massacres of other groups as well. A result of widespread and longterm anti-Semitism, Jewish people became the scapegoat for the misfortunes of others, or were blamed for violent or political acts.”

Life and Death

And Survival

According to the Forward article above, when seeking the United States Supreme Court seat for which he was rejected, “[r]ecounting his Jewish family’s battle with persecution, Garland made an emotional pitch for the job he has coveted for decades. . . .Garland said his father, who ran a business out of the family home’s basement, impressed upon him the “importance of hard work and fairness,” and his mother’s volunteer work taught him the importance of community service. . . .

[President] Obama, [who nominated him for the Supreme Court] called Garland “someone who brings to his work a spirit of decency, modesty, integrity, evenhandedness, and excellence.” Obama emphasized . . . .“His life experience…informs his view that life is more than an intellectual exercise,” Obama said. “Throughout his jurisprudence runs a common thread: A dedication to protecting the rights of every American.”

It makes sense that Merrick Garland understands Ahmaud Arbery’s mother’s pain and was emotional during the press conference.

With antisemitism now rampant in the United States, our daughters and I discussed Merrick Garland, his speech, his emotionalism, and his commitment to justice for all in America, our home. Our discussion led us to the life lessons we three learned from my mother, a Holocaust survivor, and how I and our daughters have continued to pass her messages on life and living and survival, to their children.

In previous blog posts I have shared much about my mother.  See blog post November 26, 2020, “Our Holocaust Family History, Part II. My Mother, Holocaust Survivor.” 

I have also shared her life lessons.  Here are excerpts from my January 5, 2018 post, “New Year’s Resolutions Focusing on Feelings That Span A Lifetime Will Bring Us Joy.”

“I have written about my Mother, GG (great grandmother), a Holocaust survivor, who every night asked me three questions and led me to thought provoking challenges and a lifetime of change and development. . . . My mother faced death every day of her teenage years, and I thought her questions dealt with that darkness.  I did not then realize that her questions were to keep me in the light, the light of life.

Her first question was, did I help someone that day, because if people did not help her during the Holocaust, she would not have survived.  Knowing that I was going to be asked that question each night, as a child, I made sure to help someone each day and to remember it to repeat it to her quickly.  She did not let me off the hook that easily. She would inquire if the act truly helped the person and how.  According to my mother’s teaching, the act of helping was not meaningful unless it served the needs of those I thought I was trying to help, not my need to please my mother and get off the hook with her.  She has led me to a place of truly understanding the meaning of helping, of true kindness and assistance to others. I devoted my professional career to public service as a judge, dedicated to protecting the rights of everyone who appeared before me.

My Mother’s second question was, was I happy that day, because a Hitler and the Nazis could come and I might never have a tomorrow.  We would not only go over the experience that I said made me happy, but also why.  We went over the meaning of happiness, and how having a family was a true source of happiness.  She shared her memories of her childhood and her large family, and their murders too.  Yes, some were nightmarish.  One was how happy she was in one of the five concentration camps in which she was imprisoned to be there when her sister was dying of typhus, that she was there to hold her sister in her arms as her sister died, so her sister could have that comfort of being in loving arms as she died in that hellish place, both of them starving and covered with vermin. My mother survived typhus in that unfathomable place and time, I know not how other than her spirit gave her the strength to come through. The power of positive feelings can sustain life and span a lifetime, my Mother taught me by example.

. . . .Happiness has a deeper meaning for me thanks to my Mother.  Finding happiness can be in the small joys of life that one can find every day.  We should not wait for happiness to descend upon us, we have to search for the happiness and make our own happiness each day.  I am especially grateful for each small occurrence of happiness in daily life. I owe my own thankfulness to the teachings of my Mother. . . .

My Mother’s third question was did I use every minute and do my best ever minute of every day as a Hitler and the Nazis could come tomorrow and I would not have another day in my life.  According to my mother, without warning, I could have everything taken from me, all my family, all my friends, all my possessions, and all I would have was my brain and what was in it. She instilled in me that I had to not only appreciate each day of life, but live each day as if it were my last day alive, do my best and use every moment as if there were no tomorrow. . . . Her teachings have led me to a lifetime of learning something new each day and using what new things I have learned in my daily life.

Each of my answers to the three questions was met with what then felt like smothering hugs and kisses from my Mother, which I now appreciate as the affirmation that the love of a Mother for a child is unconditional and unending.  I now understand how precious a living child was for a Holocaust survivor, that one could look to the possibilities of a better future life, having survived a horrific past.  I tell my grandchildren that I love them to infinity and beyond, and I think of my mother.

Because of these and other childhood experiences and being the child of Holocaust survivors, yes, I became an overachiever, learning everything I could, embracing change as well as growth and development.  I also became a survivor. . . .What felt like a burden when I was a child, is now the recognized gift my Mother gave me, the privilege of appreciating life and living life to its fullest every day.  Today still, at the end of each day, I review how grateful I am for having lived the day, having been happy at some point in that day, having had all the experiences and love in that day, and that it is therefore okay if it is my last day on this earth.

As my Mother taught me, we must concentrate on the journey of life, as the destination will always be death.”

Life and Death

And Survival

We parents and grandparents do not realize the influence we have on generations whether it be for their survival, as in the case of Jews, or for their happiness. The way our children and grandchildren live their lives is influenced by the messages we pass along intentionally, unintentionally, and by being role models on how we live our life.

The impetus for this discussion between our daughters and me, and our review of my mother’s teachings to us was the Merrick Garland press conference. The impetus was, as always it seems with my life, the Holocaust. A day just not go by without my thinking of the messages of survival of the Holocaust because I am lucky to be alive.  I am lucky to be able to see my children grown and my grandchildren grow up.

Hopefully my children and my grandchildren will not have to think of fleeing the United States because of the current climate of hate for Jews.

But the real message of this post is what message are you giving to your children and grandchildren about life and living life and is it the message that you want to be your legacy?

Joy,

Mema

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