This is part of being Jewish, I think

I am stretching my arms across the century holding on to what is mine. To what was my grandmother’s childhood spanning two continents; to the villa in Nuremberg, to the apartment in New York City.

How I wish I would have asked her about the color of her bedroom walls. To know what she thought of during those long summer nights just lying in bed when you can’t fall asleep. What had been her every day? The routine she had after school, the questions her parents might have asked? I have no idea because I never thought to ask.

So, now I find myself grasping at pictures, like the ones from Marienbad and summer camp; grasping at stories, like how her sister Margie made her jump over a rug to get to her side of the room. And ultimately, grasping at language, struggling to keep it alive, to speak the sounds of my ancestors and share them with my son. Because it’s not just the sounds, but the images of the soul that I want him to know. The country in which he or I could have been.

So, I keep reaching back because he has to know about THEN. Because time moves both slow and fast, and he’s too far away from it to know that THERE WAS THIS TIME. That there WERE these people—so removed from him and us—but so present in the blood that runs through our veins and in the dreams that haunt us at night.

I wonder if he’ll also have those dreams, where the streets of foreign towns unfold like maps before him—where he knows his way even though he doesn’t. Will he meet the woman with the crisp blue eyes and the yellowish-grey bun, who lives in that house with chipped red paint at the foot of the mountain? I wonder if he’ll get that ache when the sun shines through the black clouds, and the feeling of longing for this strange place sets in. And will he also wonder why the mountains AND the city, the cobblestones AND the streetcars?

Perhaps this past will reveal itself to him more clearly since there will be some new technology or DNA test that tells us the names of the places we visit in these dreams. And then when we know, we will be able to answer the questions about WHY we are WHO we are. Then maybe we can tuck it into our pocket and file it away.

Then maybe I won’t feel like I’m stretching and always looking back?