Saturday, December 16, 2006

Grandma's Auschwitz Hanukkah Miracle ...

Kids' parties can become a tiresome drag for the mother who already has too much on her plate. There's a lot to do this time of year and sometimes you have to fake being cheerful. This story is to vaccinate the reader against getting pooped out with kids' parties.

The invitation sent home for the upcoming Hanukkah party assumed its traditional place of honor on the refrigerator door, where three other invites immediately joined it. One shaped like a menorah, the second a dreidel and a third the spitting image of a sufganiya (traditional Hanukkah pastry).

The only common denominator between all of these invitations is that parents are invited to all of the events. I check the dates. I have to take off work for four mornings in a row this week – even though, of course, just as Hanukkah approaches, work is busier than ever.

True, the nursery schools should be praised for accomplishing the amazing feat of coordinating all of their Hanukah parties so that none overlap the other. But alas – why couldn't they just coordinate them with my boss so they don't overlap with my work. To be honest – can't we all do without the parties? The teachers will celebrate with the children and we will be released from the baking, costuming, gifting, line coaching and stage-fright sedation?

Some of my children have a somewhat chronic habit when it comes to holiday plays; when the curtain goes up and the spotlight is turned on, they tend to regress by several years and assume the fetal position between the folds of my skirt. I've already learned not to be disappointed by this, and enjoy just watching the play with them, but why abuse the grandmothers who were so expecting to see their grandchildren and only wind up being let down.

And so the grandmothers may usually forgo this particular duty, but when my own grandmother, visiting from abroad, asked if she could attend one of the children's parties, I of course agreed.

Everything was normal; the songs, the tunes, the dances, the costume changes, flashes glared from all around us. And then, between one flash and the next, my grandmother leaned towards me and whispered: "Mali, I'm so excited…"

Another camera flash and again a whisper: "Mali you know, I'm not very young and I'm a survivor of the camps... When I sit here, with my great-granddaughter, before all these little girls singing about the land of Israel – sweet beautiful little girls – I feel as though it is my small victory against the Germans. Small, but crushing!"

Then and there I choked up. All too often I forget that this noble woman with the light blue eyes, who I call grandma, is a Holocaust survivor who lived through the hells of Auschwitz. She, the girl whose mother and sisters were murdered before her eyes, is the brave woman who raised a family so that "the strength of Israel will not lie" (1 Samuel, 15:29).

I would never presume to say that I changed in that moment, but I can tell you that when the party ended I asked to say a few words.

I rose from my seat, cleared my throat and began: "Dear teachers and guests, do you see this woman beside me? This is my grandmother, who survived Auschwitz, who endured hunger and loss, abuse and labor and the death marches. She was blessed with what six million others were not, she lived. And all that has been worth it, if only for the party that you, dear teachers, are responsible for. It's difficult for her to speak now, but I can assure you that she has enjoyed every minute, and she will treasure these moments in her heart forever."

And without shame I let the tears run down my cheeks, as the tears of other mothers and the teachers flowed with mine.

Suddenly I find myself, yes, me the anti-party mother, waiting expectantly for the next holiday.


Mali Green, 33, is a full time writer and journalist. She and her husband have nine children. H/T Allison Kaplan Sommer

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