I have juxtaposed Lika Tov’s beautiful, powerful and inspirational Jacob’s Ladder with Auschwitz’s powerful and iconic railroad tracks. Unfortunately, both are still being used. In the end, however, the ladder will prevail.
The following story that I wrote in 2012 inspired my Tracks vs Ladders:
I was twelve. I had silently come into grampa’s room for something. I stood just inside the open door of his bedroom watching him. He sat staring outward into space, unaware of my presence Westward out the window as the sun set, its rays streaming into his face evoking some long past dark memory. Dust particles did pirouettes like angels in the motes of light streaming into the room like ladders. It was still. Not even the birds were chirping outside.
The sun scraped the horizon casting and pinning his shadow against the back wall. He sat for the longest time, his mind in a far off place and time. Now the suns rays glared up into his face, casting a distorted, enlarged menacing shadow onto the back wall above him. Now the motes were parallel ominous railroad tracks.
Then he spoke – but not in his usual strong voice: I could hear a strangled huskiness in his throat as he struggled to speak.
“Reboyneh shel Oylom, how could you have put me in this position! I have always tried to be a fair man. You, You allowed them to make a mockery of my fairness! The Nazis, may their memory be erased, always gave us short fuses. Too short. Always too short… If I chose him, he would die. If I chose another, that one would die. If I chose no one, we would all be shot! Always I had to choose. What could I do with such madness? It ate at my soul. It still eats away at it! Such a waste! And I had to choose whom would die, doing the devil’s work for him.” I did not need to know exactly what he was talking about. I knew he was referring to Dora Mittelbau.
In his great anguish, the tears were streaming down his cheeks, dripping into the pleading upturned hands that were in his lap. His hands kept clenching into fists and then opening palm up. My heart melted. Deep within me I felt an upheaval that I had to swallow back down so as not to interrupt him. At all cost, I could not interrupt him or his great struggle. Yet my heart went out to him. I yearned to run to him and hug him. However, I remained rooted in my spot.
He was unburdening himself to the only one who could offer comfort for such an assault on his humanity. He sat there for the longest time silently, punctuated by more waves of tears. He sat till the first stars appeared in the sky. The time for Mincha had passed.
I backed out of his room unperceived and watched him from the corridor, enveloped in darkness.
Finally, he got up and went over to his dresser, kissed the pictures of Herzel, David Ben Gurion, Golda Meir, and Moshe Dayan at the Kotel. He considered the pictures of the Israeli soldier, jet fighter, and the tank. He took in a large cleansing breath and let out a long tremulous sigh. Then he kissed them as well and began the Maariv service in his usual strong voice. This had been his Mincha.
He never spoke of his “Hitbodedut” to anyone. Neither did I. Yet, to this day, there is a desperate silent cry within me during Mincha & Maariv on Friday. It informs my prayer.
Tracks vs Ladders: They tried to destroy our vision and yet we dare to dream.
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