For many of us children of Holocaust survivors, the Holocaust is not behind us, but stands in front of us. It lurks under our eyelids, appearing as we try to sleep. It warns. It informs our decisions, our prayer; a flickering-flame in a cave that leans toward fresh air, showing the way out.
Sacred Fragments (Click subtitle to follow link)
“Why?” You say. “You weren’t even there.” I’ll tell you why. My mother was born with all her eggs in her ovaries. When the Nazis tried to murder her, they were trying to kill all of her offspring, including me. In a very real way, part of me, my ovum – half of my genetic make up – was 50 feet away from the gas chambers and crematoria of Auschwitz that used chemical weapons to murder 2,000 men women and children daily. You heard the children’s cries last before it fell silent. Later, their greasy ashes flitted down, landing on my mother’s arms, hair, face. The stench of burnt human flesh made her gag and then lose her sense of smell.
Seeking Comfort and Assurance in Auschwitz (Click subtitle to follow link)
In more modern terms, having been starved nearly to death, having been forced to witness daily atrocities and insults to her moral fiber as well as daily fear of being whipped, beaten or taken to the gas chambers – all this between the ages of 14 and 15, my mother suffered and still suffers severe PTSD symptoms.
Forced separation from the males of her family and later from her mother and sister when she was selected to be murdered in the gas chambers (she escaped), she had to live with the agony of not knowing the fates of her closest family members. She already new her uncle’s and cousin’s fates, for she saw their discarded clothes in the sorting area next to the gas chambers, where she was forced to work on a diet of 600 calories daily.
This is thoroughly documented by my mother in her book “Mommy, What’s that Number on Your Arm? A6374” https://www.forewordreviews.com/reviews/mommy-whats-that-number-on-your-arm/
The stories of both degradation in and escape from Nazi concentration camps has a profound effect on the child of such a person – of the types of questions he asks, of the types of answers he must struggle to emotionally incorporate, and especially of the questions he must never ask lest his world collapse.
As a Jew – and contrary to the Catholic notion of Deus Ex Machina – I believe that the first thing that God created was chaos (Tohu Vavohu), which created a space in which our universe could self organize and ultimately result in self-awareness and free choice, for better or worse. This is why as a Jew, I believe in the primacy of relationship, free choice, action, personal responsibility and consequences for those choices and actions. Without the liberty to act on our important choices and without consequences for those choices and actions, there can be no freedom.
Making Choices: Walking in Liberty’s Shadow (Click subtitle to follow link)
Can we children of survivors forgive a Nazi perpetrator? It is not our place. Can survivors forgive? Possibly. Perhaps individually. But none of us can ever forget.
We Jews are always mindful of the price we pay for being slaves to truth, never accepting boot-strap explanations of truth when deeper and broader truths explain better. For it is this that grants us the freedom to ask the important questions and to throw out that which doesn’t work. The stuff of dreams, ideas floating in a solution to form new relationships and structures are the stuff of paradigm shifts. This is what allows us to see things from outside a system to judge it, change it, or to judge and change ourselves.
Getting above it all. Detail from: Paper-Cut Tallit (Prayer Shawl) (Click subtitle to follow link)
We are hated for this very thing. For this we are singled out for always throwing sand into the machinery. For this we are society’s proverbial “canary in the mine”. What happens to the oppressed usually happens to the rest. A society is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable. And this is why we need Brit (Covenant) with God to survive – no, thrive – right within the teeth of our oppressors.
Tracks vs Ladders (Click subtitle to follow link)
My art is an attempt to thrive through Covenant; Through the loving care to detail and devotion that is required in relationship. For as Rav Matis Weinberg says (paraphrasing), such a relationship makes even the smallest things one touches or does sacred.
More Than Meets the Eye: The Art of Jonathan Lyon, Inyan Magazine March 18, 2015
I believe this is what was meant by JTS’s chancellor Louis Finkelstein when he defined the Jewish Museum’s mission as the preservation and celebration of “the singular beauty of Jewish life, as ordained in the laws of Moses, developed in the Talmud, and embellished in tradition.”
What’s your opinion?
What do you think is the role of the generations whose parents or grandparents were profoundly effected during the Nazi Holocaust? Is it enough just to survive? What does thriving look like to you?
I am always looking for others’ opinions; especially those that challenge mine!
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Jonathan, your tremendous talent in visual and literary art has flourished, and this small article is a testament. I will never forget your mother, telling her story at your Seder, long ago, and it has inspired my work with refugees in the past few years. I have marveled at your art since I met you; I just bought your mom’s book; I want to buy your art and will explore how to do it. We often wish for you to return to us, but it is clear how Israel nourishes all parts of your life and how you thrive there. Mazel Tov for writing and illustrating such a beautiful piece.Jonathan, your tremendous talent in visual and literary art has flourished, and this small article is a testament. I will never forget your mother, telling her story at your Seder, long ago, and it has inspired my work with refugees in the past few years. I have marveled at your art since I met you; I just bought your mom’s book; I want to buy your art and will explore how to do it. We often wish for you to return to us, but it is clear how Israel nourishes all parts of your life and how you thrive there. Mazel Tov for writing and illustrating such a beautiful piece.
mr. jonathan lyon, why am i not suprised i found your blog 😉 i googled your name as i am writing a rough draft of the introduction to my very own blog and well the first half is mainly about you and i wanted to try to contact you to ask you if i may have your permission to use your name in my story? you are the most intelligent, fascinating and brilliant man i have ever had the pleasure of meeting, let alone to be your student was a dream come true. If it weren’t for you and your intelligence who knows where i would be, literally. you are such an important man in my eyes and such an inspiration! I met you like 20-21 years ago. that is insane. well hopefully this blog is still active andd you seee this. please reply asap on here, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org and i will shoot you my phone number , or we can conversate on email, up to you ! thank you again, from the bottom of my big ol’ heart ! i love you mr. lyon! i will absolutely NEVER EVER EVER FORGET YOU, YA JEW <333 (and i say jew with the most upright respect, love and humor!)
Call me in about 2 hours at (510) 335-3567 and we can chat.
Hi I just seen this is me Cassidy, I’m not sure when you posted it
Just after you sent your message. But I can’t talk now. I’m preparing for the Sabbath. So I’m off to shower. Can you call me Saturday evening around 7:30?
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