The Most Important Thing

1 comment
Holocaust, Teaching

This semester I created a new midterm assignment for my students: The Most Important Thing. The assignment asked them to explore the most important thing they had learned so far in the course. They could do it in essay form, but I encouraged students to consider also an artistic form — poetry, collage, a movie, etc.

Dayna Samuels, a student in my Holocaust course, wrote this in response to the prompt. I post it here, with permission, in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day.

 

Bluma

Bluma

 

The most important thing is that she lived.

The most important thing is that she had a childhood

that she had a favorite color and a favorite song and favorite outfit,

and she had a favorite time of year

because of the length of the day and the way the trees look

and the hue of the sunset.

The most important thing is that she had an opinion about strawberries:

yes or no, sour or sweet, cream or sugar or au natural, best month of the season.

The most important thing is that she never ate them again.

 

The most important thing is that she once (maybe more) wore a pair of shoes that were too tight

and pinched her toes

but she wore them anyways because she liked the way they looked

or her mother bought them for her.

And she passed these shoes onto her daughter

and they pinched her toes,

but the pinching was Mother’s voice in her head.

guiding her wherever she went.

The most important thing is that they were taken from them.

 

The most important thing is that she had parents

and siblings and a dog

and she whispered prayers for them,

and she hugged them tight when she was scared

or when she cried.

The most important thing is that everything she ever held dear,

every piece of them,

every memento,

was taken and burned and the ashes flew into the air

the last ‘membrance leaving her like breath.

 

The most important thing is that she had a favorite tree:

it was outside her bedroom window

or in her front yard

or in the old schoolyard

or outside her synagogue,

and it had leaves that looked just so that they caught her eye

if only for a minute

or maybe an hour.

The most important thing is that it burned to the ground.

 

The most important thing is that she had a best friend

who giggled with her and did homework and exchanged books.

They were just about inseparable

and their mothers snickered as they ran off.

And then they grew up and got married

and still every day they went to one’s home or the other

drinking tea and kibbutzing.

The most important thing is that, one day,

it was the last time she saw that friend.

 

The most important thing is that generations of recipes lived in her mind,

every dish on the seder table,

all the cures for every illness,

and the best kugel in town.

Her favorite memories were of her grandmother in the kitchen,

the old woman’s wise hands around hers,

guiding the gentle rock of the knife.

The most important thing is that those memories,

those recipes,

those pieces of family history are lost forever.

 

The most important thing is her handwriting was mesmerizing.

Her hand floated over the page

like a cloud on a strong wind over the land below.

Her daughter stole old shopping lists and notes

just to trace the loops and connected letters,

learning to read by the irregularities of every line.

Sometimes she couldn’t even read it herself.

The most important thing is that all those notes and lists and letters

and scraps of scratch

won’t ever be read again.

 

The most important thing is that she celebrated Shabbat.

In her childhood, father sang heartily instead of his usual weekday humming,

and she saw the future she dreamed of in mother’s face as she blessed the candles,

and hoped every week that she would bring home a cinnamon challah from the baker.

And then it was her turn to be mother,

and her children asked for cinnamon challah

and the candles burned blush into her cheeks as she blessed them.

The most important thing is that,

as time went on,

the days began to blur together and Shabbat ceased to exist in her world.

 

The most important thing

was her dynamic life,

every moment she lived

and every breath she took.

The most important thing is that people loved her

and she loved

and the touch of her hand brought comfort

and the sound of her laughter brought smiles.

 

The most important thing is that she died,

this is the only photo of her,

the sound of her name hasn’t been heard in Gd knows how many years,

that her memory nearly died with my grandmother last year,

that every true memory of her life was smoked out in the embers of her body

that we don’t actually know what happened,

that every choice was taken from her.

 

The most important thing is that

SHE

was murdered.

 

— Dayna Samuels

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

One thought on “The Most Important Thing”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s