“1994. Those we’re good days. I had my choice of Jewish summer camps
to attend and options to spend extended periods of time in Israel. I could study Hebrew in my public school and if was seeking a role model, Jewish movie stars, music icons, sports stars, and political leaders were not hard to find. I was 10 years old.”
In my grandfather’s 10th year of life, I imagine things we’re generally similar. His family had access to culture and the economic means to live comfortably in Krakow, Poland – a culturally rich Jewish center. But, it was in my grandfather’s 10th year of life that the second world war came to Krakow so began the end of our paired childhoods.
Imprints of Jewish life and vibrancy in my young grandfathers world began to vanish where they once flourished. Where Jewish institutions we’re being built at my impressionable age of 10, in my grandfather’s Jewish world, walls, reputations, and lives we’re ripped down in a great cultural disassembling. Where my tenth year was an unremarkable instance of Jewish life moving along happily, for my grandfather, his tenth year was the beginning of an instance when Jewish life – and life itself – nearly came to a permanent halt.
Being a member of the third generation since the Holocaust is different than being a member of either of the two that came before it. For my grandfather, his generation of survivors is obligated is to keep telling and retelling the story to ensure that it is not forgotten. For my mother, her generation’s obligation is to untangle the stories of the past, document them, and rebuild institutions of Jewish life. But what is my generation’s obligation?
1994 was a good year and for me, those good times have simply never stopped. My Jewish life has kept going at the pace of the rest of my life. It’s now almost 2014, twenty years since my life stopped resembling my grandfather’s and yet somehow, all of a sudden they do resemble each other again. By 30, my grandfather had survived the war, reunited with family, moved to New York and then Los Angeles, built a career, and began a family.
I am lucky and blessed that I get to benefit from the wisdom and hard work of the generations that came before me. It was my grandfather’s persistence that kept him alive through his great nightmare and on through to his American dream. And that very persistence may be the key to unlocking what it is that our generation, the third generation since the Holocaust is obligated to do. We must simply keeping going, keep building institutions, making jokes, building businesses, nurturing diversity, and creating a vibrant Jewish world alive as if it we’re simply never interrupted in the first place.
Ben Lesser’s Grandson