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Galus Child

I've seen the Holocaust its remnants. I’ve been to Majdanek to Auschwitz; tasted the blood and ash and thickness of its air.

I’ve walked the noisy streets of Krakow skeletal bare of what once was. I explored Budapest’s busy avenues pulsing with humanity and emptiness of all that had been.

And now I see The Children’s Forest. A rather unremarkable forest, somewhere in the thick of Poland. We hike through the woods, a bunch of happy, tired tourists, only to stop at a small fenced-in patch of grass, where, we are solemnly informed, eight hundred Jewish babies were beaten to death. Beaten. To Death. Eight hundred babies.

In the gloom, we can barely make out the words inscribed on the lone monument, standing witness in this large, grievous land. Our tour guide reads, in Yiddish:

Du ligen di tzibrochene kepelach fin acht hindert Yiddishe kinder. Here lie the shattered little heads of eight hundred Jewish children.

There isn’t much to say. I cry more than I thought possible. Then we leave.

A few weeks later, it is back to Brooklyn, back to life. The ghosts of the past I had encountered so closely flit about uneasily in the back of my mind. Slowly, as time passes, they flutter to a rest.

Having just graduated high school, I find a job and get busy. Then I get engaged and married, and it is rare that I revisit the horror of that black forest. It is simply too much.

But then my son is born and I can chase the memories no longer.

Suddenly, I am a mother. I have a baby. A tiny miracle, floating crystal magic, so huge and precious I can barely breathe past the wonder of it. And just thinking of the babies of the Holocaust, of the mothers, makes my stomach curdle.

I think of the cold, gloomy forest, of so many babies, each a mother’s child. Tiny things with peachy skin and rosebud lips, flailing little arms, screaming. Cries lost forever in the dense trees. Mothers, once cradling delicious little people, staring in wonder at rosy cheeks and shining eyes, left with… nothing. Only grief, huge and unfathomable.

I inhale, trying to escape the horror in my mind. It’s too dark, and within the prism of reality, there is no relief. It really happened. Those mothers really were, they lived and breathed and cried and wrung their hands, those babies were killed. We need Hashem to take us back home, I think feverishly, muttering love and fear into my baby’s curls. We need Mashiach. Redemption.

I don’t want my child to be another galus baby. Another sweet little child with a yarmulke playing on the dusty streets of Brooklyn, called in for dinner, fed, bathed, and put to bed.

A little boy wrapped in a tallis, given aleph-beis letters dripping with honey to lick, and then left to grapple with a lifetime of distractions and hardship, every sweet word of Torah a struggle, every glimmer of light a fight in the prevailing darkness.

I’m a galus girl. I daven as my mind flies, I bite back lashon hara, and sometimes, I don’t. I sigh as another tragedy is reported, I close my eyes for a moment, shed a tear for the fresh orphans, for the hurting woman, the ill father. And then I open my eyes and cut up a salad and go shopping.

We’re galus people, aren’t we? Flailing in a black world, searching for a glimmer of G-d, a whisper of Truth in a volcanic universe. There’s grief in our eyes, sorrow in our souls, brimming with hope so desperate, searching and unbearable.

I look down at my baby, my poor, poor, galus baby, and I whisper of things I can only imagine. I cry and I sing of a City of Gold, of hope and light and sunshine. Of winged hearts and soaring joy, of brilliant sun in a million shades of happiness, of relief too enormous to contain.

My baby whimpers and I cry with him; we cry for love and trust and profound clarity, for sweeping connection and blinding joy, for all that’s waiting in the wings, waiting for us to reclaim it.

Maybe my firstborn will yet be a son of geulah. Maybe he will yet grow up, all rosy cheeks and shining eyes, in a world too beautiful to comprehend.

Maybe. He is not yet two years old. He may yet be my geulah baby

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 503)

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