portraits

NewYork Day 3

In On the Road in NY on June 18, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Up at 5.29am again. Had about 6 hours sleep so not sure why my body clock continues to wake up sooooo early! we are going to Queens today – a day on the road in our slightly beat up car! I am having an issue with the playback on my camera with one particular recording – am slightly worried but will see if Harry can shed some wisdom. Guy returns tonight from Boston – looking forward to seeing him ūüôā

What a day it was.I am now writing this the morning after – our only day off in the week long journey. Got home last night after 10.30pm – so it’s around a 14 hour day – even longer for Harry because he has to drive further. If¬†I think back to the morning of the day – it feels like days ago. so many stories, energies, emotions,¬†I cried today for the first time in an interview. maybe it’s partly the pregnancy, but¬†I don’t think so. I couldn’t contain my emotion.

Stop 1 – 83 year old¬†Ruth. We arrive in Queens at these huge apartment blocks – one after the other – and are met by Ralph, Ruth’s husband who has been keeping a look out for us. He walks us in the building and stops to chat to a young Hispanic man who has just had a baby. The interaction between Ralph and him is warm and friendly and is¬†my first ¬†indication of who Ralph and Ruth are – very kind people who accept everyone as god’s children and help a lot of underprivileged¬†people. Both dressed in yellow tops, they invite us in, offer us tea, juice, cake and make sure¬†I am eating well for the baby. Like most Holocaust survivors we meet, the living room is cluttered with family photos, each one remembering a story, a milestone, a moment. Before¬†I start recording I ask Ruth what is it that keeps her going, and she says her¬†faith in god. “god is blessing me. anytime I ask him something most of the time he grants it for me.” I told her many people don’t believe in god because of the Holocaust – she responded: “The bible says there comes a time when the jewish people do not obey and they’re being punished and I’m afraid that’s what happened because really there was a lot going on that we did not observe and that we did not do.” When she says this she is referring to everyone, that “we should all go back to our house of prayers, house of worship and god is really good and we have to pray. the world is really in need of great prayers. and please god it should never happen a Holocaust again.” I have never heard a Holocaust survivor say this.

We arrive at hidden child Judith’s place and after a miscommunication about times and confirmations we finally make our way up to her apartment to meet with her and husband Dr David – who used to be a comic on the road with¬†Jackie Mason. ¬†Both Judith and David are interfaith ministers and Judith is also a Reiki¬†Master. Initially, due to the miscommunication there was a little tension in the room but after Judith prepared herself for the photo shoot and showed me a photo of her parents and her as a baby, my heart opened and¬†I could already feel my emotions being stirred in a way that I would not be able to control. This photo will stay for me forever – such joy in her parents’ faces, hope for the future, innocence¬†and wonder. ¬†I don’t know why this photo of all photos has had such an effect on me, but it does. She then sat down with me for an interview, and all the tension disappeared and we were transported to a much deeper space. Judith’s parents¬†both died in the camps but before going on the train they organised¬†for her to survive. she lived with a Catholic family and was Catholic for 4 years.¬†¬†Because of what her parents did for her, to save her life, she says she lives according to the third commandment – honour your father and your mother – she says their wishes were for her to live – and what is she living for? – she is living to honour them, to remember them and to try to bring a message across that we have to get together, there is a lot of love outside of the jewish religion. As a survivor, she wants to carry this message that the Holocaust did happen in her lifetime and she has a responsibility to let people know about it. Judith then told me in detail about the moment she had to say goodbye to her parents. “Look over there…” Her father¬†let go of her hand. I cry even now rewatching¬†the video – the fragility of life, the responsibility of a parent, the lack of words, the feelings of abandonment, the forces of circumstance, the messy nature of love.

After wolfing¬†down unhealthy burgers and fries in the car, Harry and I made our way to 85 year old¬†Hana – who¬†is related to friends of my family – the Kaplans. Hana’s granddaughter Jodi and I have been coordinating this meeting for about a month – Hana was not at first keen to participate but after some insistence from Jodi (under my instruction!) she agreed. Hana is a smart lady, a writer and she welcomed us in her home with fruit and biscuits and a TV for Harry to watch the GAME. (This is somewhat of a sore spot between¬†me and Harry – but as all our conversations go – we have found the lighter side.) Hana says her¬†hope kept her going. “I was hoping for everything. It doesn’t cost anything.” She says this with a smile on her face, a sparkle in her eyes and¬†I can feel her hope. Later while Hana was writing her testimonial at the kitchen table and Harry was sitting right next to her watching the soccer –¬†I saw how life is everything in a moment. From the banal to the fragile – it is all happening at once in synchronicity. And to watch it without judgement – to just see it all happening is very freeing. My mind wanted to say – how can Harry watch football while Hana is writing her Holocaust testimonial – but this is life. It also reminded not to underestimate the strength of survivors, their resilience.

Bertha waited many hours for us to visit her. The schedule got a little crazy and I had to change her appointment twice that day. Luckily we made it. By this stage of the day¬†I was very tired plus we were running very late for our next appointment further up Long Island, so I didn’t get a chance to interview Bertha. Harry of course managed to take some beautiful, striking photos of Bertha – one of which reminds me of¬†a Monet painting. We left Bertha’s with¬†granny smith¬†apples for the journey – reminding me of my papa.

Our final stop for the day was in Stony Brook, Long Island¬†– an hour from Manhattan in good traffic not so¬†much fun¬†in Friday 6pm traffic.¬†After much consideration, we decided to go anyway – take the risk of losing daylight and getting there with little time to work. Saying ‘no’ to a survivor that wants¬†to participate is basically difficult and probably the hardest part of this project. ¬†Harry sped along the HOV (can’t remember what this stands for but basically it’s a fast lane for carpooling – like the T2 in Sydney) and we got there by 7.30pm. Christine, her husband Mel and son Hal were eagerly waiting for us at the front door. Hal had just seen Harry’s photographs and was in awe of them – a perfect welcome for¬†us weary, slightly emotional¬†travellers. While Harry photographed Chris outside, I chatted with Mel and Hal in the kitchen – where all good conversations occur – and within a short time we were¬†in a wonderful discussion about India, spirituality, family dynamics and just generally life.

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