On the Boundaries of Identity

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Let's face it, it's exhilarating when someone gets us. When you give someone only the ABC of your life language and philosophy and they reflect back to you the KLM... RST... XYZ you're like, "Wow, what just happened here?" That happened to me today when I was talking to F., a friend and colleague of my mother's from the University of Connecticut. I sent him an article that I wrote for the Polish journal Konteksty about my relationship to Lublin and Brama Grodzka, the organization I work closely with that is devoted to remembering the Jews of Lublin. I bring all Bridge To Poland groups there; it's the heart of all my trips. F. is very familiar with my mother's work and immediately saw my focus on the rescuers of memory as a continuation of her work on rescue. 

We talked about identity. I told him that my friend Witek, Deputy Director at Brama Grodzka, and I talk about doing the work of remembering the Jews of Lublin together. I told F. that Witek and I had been born the same year. I had not felt a connection to Poland, and Witek had not known about the murder of the Jews in his country. With time we both learned, and we each came to devote our lives to the same thing—to the telling of the story of Lublin's Jews and to the breaking down of stereotypes related to Jewish Poland. Witek said to me last summer that our stories are now part of the story of the Jews of Lublin. I think that we both live on a Borderland of identity. We are comfortable on both sides, which makes us stronger storytellers.

F. recognized the synchronicity of my friendships in Poland and understood that together we are healing wounds from the past, from history. These are things that I know to be true but I don't expect many people to recognize them, let alone articulate them! 

My mother had to pass as a Catholic girl to survive the War. Part of that time she spent alone with a family, and the mother was emotionally abusive to her. She was hungry. With money that her father had left for her she was able to buy bread occasionally. She would take the bread to a church (this was in Otwock, Poland) to eat. F. read me a passage about this from my mother's memoir, Dry Tears: Inside a church I felt neither a Christian nor a Jew, but only a human being, who had a terrible need to confide in someone. In the stillness I could whisper my secrets without fear and whether it was a Christian or a Jewish God who listened to me did not matter. What mattered was that I had someone to confide in, and that he was listening. The bread and the church. Witek brought me to that church in 2008 and I cried my eyes out. I had never lingered on this passage in Dry Tears before, but hearing it read aloud today brought tears to my eyes once again. I guess because it sums up what is most important to me: It doesn't matter if we are Jewish or Christian, Black or White, Man or Women, Straight or Gay or something else. What matters is that we are human and that we are seen.