I recently visited Majdanek, a concentration camp in Poland, with my classmates. Afterward, I wrote this piece - part poem and part essay - about what spoke to me there.
As a teenager, I would sit on my bedroom floor listening to old records of Belgian singer-songwriter, poet, and performer Jacques Brel. I didn’t need to keep a journal, because his lyrics wove together everything I felt at the time. Brel had a fire within, and his anger, longing, passion, and truth blazed through every word he sang. His music, raw and real, transformed and fed my soul; it informed and shaped who I am today.
Growing up in rural Massachusetts, Judaism held a much different context in my life than it does now. Until college, I did Judaism, mimicking the motions of being a "good Jew." I didn't combine milk and meat in my house because my father told me not to.
Unless you know
what it is to look
at black & white proof
at lambs led to slaughter
at herds of the lost
He shall be dressed in a sacral linen tunic, with linen breeches next to his flesh, and be girt with a linen sash, and he shall wear a linen turban. They are sacral vestments; he shall bathe his body in water and then put them on. (Leviticus 16:4)
A few years ago, I was in Jerusalem in a Chasidic neighborhood, surrounded by stores carrying tallitot, kippot, and all sorts of Judaica. To my utter shock, prominently displayed in one store's window was a bright pink tallis! I went inside and started talking to the owner, a Chasid in full regalia: black coat, knickers, side curls, and fur-trimmed shtreimel hat. "Who would buy a pink tallit?" I asked. "A bat mitzvah girl of course," this Chasid said, with no hesitation. ". . . no, not the girls in my community," he added, "but in yours, sure, why not?"