On the night of 26 October 2006, my aunt Bluma dies, and thirty-six hours later I find myself on a flight to Tel Aviv. Jewish funerals are speedy affairs and I have only a margin of eighteen hours. The news of aunt Bluma’s death was unexpected and the decision to attend her funeral was not considered; but as I settle down in the plane, the thoughts and memories come forth. The thoughts of stories silenced and links severed. The memories of glittering eyes, contagious laughs, the unruly mix of Polish, Yiddish, and Hebrew, the indomitable joie-de-vivre against a backdrop of unmentionable experiences.
Bluma was born in 1915 in the village of Chelm in Eastern Poland, noted in folklore for its fools (as is the Swedish city in which I was born, Södertälje). She was eleven years older than her youngest sister and the only remaining member of the Staw family with a conscious memory of the place where my mother was born. Many years ago, on a tape in a format for which they no longer make tape recorders, I asked her for memories of Chelm. When, bursting out laughing, she told me about the local Wunderrabbi and his miraculous cures and blessings (in case of difficult childbirth, tie a prayer book to the bed with a thread), I couldn’t be sure whether she was reminiscing or just telling tales. While I’m not sure I understood everything she said, I am sure that whatever she did manage to tell me is as much as I will ever know about the world from which my mother’s family came.
*Art by Banksy – Relavant link: Art prankster sprays Israeli wall