Israeli Elders in the Current Climate

March 13, 2024
Simon Kaminer

New York City, New York, United States

Class of 2024

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     It has been two months, or about 60 days, since the devastating attack on October 7th (at the time of writing this article). Since then, I have been immersed in a multitude of climates. I have debated with those on the other side and heard opinions from people further along the axis towards Israel than I am - and I didn’t know that was even possible. Going to a school in New York City is hard, especially because my school is situated on a college campus. There have been protests during my school day - no longer is the issue through my phone, but it has penetrated right through to my everyday life. However, I found my most impactful interaction somewhere else. 

     During the first week of November, the former cantor of my Synagogue visited NYC with his wife. In the late '90s, my synagogue sent a delegation to Israel to convince the Cantor to make his way to a new land and sing for our synagogue. He said yes. He is such an incredible soul - during my Bar Mitzvah practice, I would make my way up to his office every week to study with him. The way he had me study was quite peculiar - we would read no vowels, no trope. I would learn the words first, and then we would add the additional markings where they popped up. About ¾ of the way through my studying, I learned he was planning to move to Florida - but not until after the current batch of students he was working with finished their mitzvot. He wanted to see them shine. He was quite old, but he wanted to see them shine.

     The night I saw the cantor and his wife, they were staying at my grandparents' house - they live very close to me, about a block away. I use their gym, so I completed a workout and made my way up to their apartment. The first thing I said to the cantor was, “Ma Koreh?” - Hebrew for ‘What’s up?’. He looked at me, smiled, and came in for a hug - and then he grabbed my head and told me he was going to kiss my cup. I had never heard that before, but I let it happen. I had not been in contact with the cantor since the summer when I sent him a picture of me at Masada with one of his former students, whom I happened to see on my trip. He did not respond to that message- he is not very technologically savvy. 

     The 5 of us - my grandma, grandpa, the cantor, and his wife - sat down around the table while I ate. The four of them were going to temple for services, and we were talking and catching up before they went. Of course, the topic of war came up. I was asked how it was at my school - they had seen scenes of anti-Israel protests in the news and wanted to know if it had made its way over to me. I could only tell them the truth - it was not in my high school but on the college campus where I go to school. This made everyone at the table visibly upset. I noticed that people of this age - born maybe after the shoah but whose parents knew its horrors - speak about the situation differently than everyone else. To them, there is no debate or discourse. There is only a grave tone and fog surrounding eerily sounding words that seem to descend and hang upon the room. They speak as if we have reached some point of no return, with nothing in front of us to be happy about. They speak of annihilation.

     While the topic makes me upset and surely isn’t the peachiest thing I could converse about, I am not on the level of dread that my elders seem to have reached. It is almost as if they have seen this before. The scariest part is - they have.

     Once, I fell while riding an electric bike through the streets of New York. Rather, I didn’t fall, but a taxi passenger opened his door right as I went bad. I cut my finger pretty badly and was shaken. I went right home and did not ride a bike for a week. The next week, I decided I had to grab a bike as I was rushing to school. This time, I was very vigilant - I slowed down as I passed cars and made sure to be safe and steady at all times. Why do I bring this up? Well, as an example of what I am trying to convey. Our seniors speak with such disdain and lowness because they know where we are headed. Both of my grandfather's parents, my Omi and Zeider, survived the camps. My Grandfather knew the stories firsthand. When he hears what is going on at places like Penn and Harvard, it is first to strike him - the similarity to Germany. And the cantor - he lived in Israel as a wave of immigrants from Europe arrived. He saw the destruction Germany brought to his brothers and sisters firsthand. He saw the tattered clothes, the tattered home. He knows what it is like. 

     The cantors wife kept mentioning the babies and the oven tragedy. Every time she brought it up, it sounded like the cantor was brought to tears and begged her to stop. And yet, the conversation found its way back to it, through her. This isn’t a downcast on her- it is only a showcase of what goes through their minds. It is impossible to think, impossible to believe that never again has happened again. 

     While this was almost a month ago, it was likely the last time I ever saw the cantor and his wife. I think about how my last encounter with him was plagued by issues overseas - but it only instilled light inside of me. The elders have seen it all. They are allowed to speak with dread. It is up to us, as the youth, to take the torch from them - so that the everlasting light of our people never burns out. 

Simon Kaminer is an Aleph from New York City and has a dog that weighs 150 pounds.

All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.

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