Remembrance Day

Leviticus 19:1-20:27

By Daniel M. Jaffe

Published May 06, 2005, issue of May 06, 2005.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Marla sits alone in the sanctuary, her long face dimly illuminated by electric candles set about the room. She has arrived early for the Holocaust Remembrance Day service so as to contemplate private memories of the lost. Not that Marla can remember any specific person slain in the Holocaust, so long before her time, nor can she fathom the millions. But she can resurrect images taught by survivors: rabbis in cheder placing honey candies shaped like Hebrew letters onto the tongues of boys learning the aleph-bet; audiences at Yiddish theater; neighborhoods where, rather than violate the Sabbath by carrying from inside a house to outside, kerchiefed women handed pots of cholent through kitchen windows to those gathering in summer courtyards. So much was lost. Stolen.

She pulls out the Hertz Bible from the pew’s seatback in front of her; turns to the upcoming Sabbath portion, Kedoshim; scans the English translation until she finds the passage she’s vaguely recalled to be there, the prohibition against tattoos. How many Jewish forearms did the Nazis violate?

Marla hasn’t come to synagogue with any regularity, but today felt that she must. This morning, after setting coffee and croissants on their breakfast table, she was just reading in the newspaper about tonight’s memorial service when Billy entered the kitchen. He knelt beside her; ran slim fingers through his blond hair; pulled back the sleeve of his red pajama top to reveal something he’d hidden from her the previous night, something new on his forearm, “Marla Forever” inscribed within a heart, a tattoo.

She traced the letters with her gaze, thinking — Jews don’t get tattoos; but, Billy’s not Jewish, so what’s the problem? She looked into his eyes as he took her hand, pulled out a ring from his pajama pocket, proposed. They’d been living together for two years already, why was she surprised?

Before she could respond, he slipped the ring onto her finger, embraced her.

It was the suddenness of the proposal that shook her, his assumption of her “yes” that annoyed her, and that damn goyishe tattoo. She gently removed the ring. “Tonight’s Yom HaShoah,” she explained, showing the newspaper article. “I have to go to services, and Jews don’t do happy things, like get engaged, when in mourning.” She had no idea if this is really true, but Billy wouldn’t know the difference.

“Jeez, I’m sorry,” he said, clasping the ring in his palm. “If I’m marrying a Jew, I should learn these things. I apologize.”

“No, no,” she said. “Don’t apologize.” Please don’t. Had he not promised, repeatedly, to learn about Jewish traditions so they could raise their future children Jewish? What more did she want from him except, perhaps, answers to questions he never knew that she posed to herself: Was it possible to remain true to one’s personal strand of history while intertwining with another’s? Had ghetto walls been entirely a source of oppressive segregation, or had they also served as protective insulation?

In the sanctuary now, Marla pores over Kedoshim and, still seated, rocks with kavanah (intent) that she has never before experienced, studies the prohibitions against paganism — idol worship, child sacrifice, soothsaying, self-mutilation, marking of the flesh. Billy is Episcopalian, not pagan. And their children will be Jewish. And with Billy’s help, she’ll teach them about the Holocaust, what was stolen, about Jewish everything. And they will sit on their father’s knee and he will… proudly display the tattoo of their mother’s name? And one day the children will read Kedoshim… will she explain their father to be exempt from the Torah’s prohibitions?

She feels a hand on her shoulder, jumps. She looks up — it’s Billy.

“Okay for me to be here?” he asks.

“Of course,” she says, although quietly uncertain.

“If it’s your suffering, I need to understand,” he adds. “I need to share.”

Marla takes his hand, presses her face into his palm, so cool and comforting. She pictures herself explaining to their children the extent of Daddy’s love: “He even got a tattoo for me.” Billy moves from behind and sits beside her, takes her hand.

Others arrive in the sanctuary; soon the service begins. Prayer and song. All the while, Marla wonders what lessons their children will take from Daddy’s example of tattooed devotion, what they will learn about weighing the authority of the Torah against the power of love. She wonders what she, herself, believes.

Daniel M. Jaffe, editor of “With Signs and Wonders: An International Anthology of Jewish Fabulist Fiction,” lives in Santa Barbara, Calif.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.