A Familiar Story: Reflecting on Tree of Life Synagogue

Categories: IdentityReligion

My grandma tells the best stories. There was Flimbo who lived in my ear. There was the mouse who lived in the tree. There was the raccoon who accidentally played piano.

Then, when I was old enough to understand she started telling our stories. Of her parents hiding in hay bales and boarding a ship. Of her parents escaping with their lives, and thereby ours. It was a departure from the nonsensical characters she created but it was why, even then, I loved them. I loved these stories because they made sense of the world.

Even if then, making sense of the world meant explaining why my parents insisted we waste a perfectly good morning in those boring Sunday school classes.

And they helped me make sense of things in 5th grade. We read Number the Stars and no one in my class knew what a Torah was. I was angry. I knew their books and their holidays- why didn’t mine matter enough? Fortunately, I had the best teacher and she made time for me to bring my kid Torah to class and do a presentation (even though I probably spent most of it talking about latkes).

Those stories helped me make sense of why I wanted to wear my Jewish star necklace to school the day the Holocaust survivor came to speak. I never wore it, quite honestly I paid little mind to it, but that day it felt incredibly important. I needed to let her know that I was here.

We were still here.

In high school, a project prompted us to write where our ancestors came from. I double checked with my mom and asked, “Russia and Poland, yea?” She said no. I thought she was being dramatic. But she explained that her grandparents were  Jews. They lived with other Jews. They fled with other Jews from places that didn’t want Jews. I thought of those stories.

When Nazis marched on Charlottesville, when Trump rescinded DACA, when his Administration issued a travel ban, those stories prompted me to write, to march, to speak out, to learn. They taught me that our ancestors went running toward opportunity and we survive because they were lucky enough to find it. That’s no different today.

Then, yesterday, I read the news. Through blurry eyes, I read a woman’s post about how her grandmother hid in hay bales on her escape. And I smiled. I couldn’t believe myself, how could I smile in this moment? How could I smile when our common thread is woven through stories of fear, of loss? Then, I realized I was smiling because it reminded me of sitting at my grandma’s feet as she told those stories. They’re not just my family’s stories, they’re the stories of the Jewish people.

It was a story rewritten yesterday as at least 11 individual stories were cut short.

So I tell my little stories, knowing they are nothing all that noteworthy, but feeling it’s the best way I can honor their memories. To tell my stories which are born from my grandma’s stories which are born from her parents’ stories. And I will keep telling our peoples’ stories. I will keep learning from their stories. I will keep fighting for justice for all people because of their stories.