Midlife Musical Musings: How Memories are Made
by Miriam Hendeles
Pesach is coming and we look forward to gathering around the Seder with the various generations: parents, grandparents, cousins, grandchildren, and so forth. We celebrate Pesach, drink the four cups of wine and keep all the wonderful mitzvos of this special Yom Tov. We share the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim.
What will become of all the memories?
Are they to scatter with the dust in the breeze?
And who will stand before the world knowing what to say?
When the very last survivor… fades away…
Some are on the sidelines, listening, and need to be drawn out and engaged in conversation. Others try to reminisce and no one really listens. Or even worse, no one asks.
Now that I’ve been in the category of “grandparents” for some time now, I note the value in sharing and listening. Regardless of whatever role I take, storytelling or story listening or bystander, I’m more sensitive to time passing. My desire to capture the moments in speech, picture, song or prose is more intense.
As a child, I was one of the few who had grandparents. Most of my friends’ bubbies and zeides had passed away in the Holocaust and my friends’ parents had emigrated to the US to start new families. My grandparents each survived the war and travelled to the US with their children—my parents—in the late 1930s and early 1940s respectively.
Many of my friends tell me that they didn’t grow up hearing stories about the Holocaust from their survivor parents. Aside from the stamps their parents had on their arms indicating their years in concentration camps, there was little proof that they had experienced atrocities. These survivors were reticent to share their horror stories with their children and grandchildren.
Some open up more willingly. In his later years, my father-in-law, who passed away in 2001, freely shared stories of how he and his brother escaped from Poland, and my husband and his siblings lapped up these stories.
Children ask a lot of questions, but adults don’t always want to prod. They may wonder, do the elders really want to talk? Are their memories really accurate? Is this act of eliciting reminiscence really for their catharsis or therapeutic benefit? Or is it for us so we can record it all for posterity? How do we know if we are being sensitive to their needs?
Both my father, a”h, and mother, may she live till 120, survived the Holocaust. One thing that sticks out in my memory is my father telling us bedtime stories about his childhood in Antwerp before the war. A few years before his passing, my brothers recorded him as he spoke on tape about some of the more fascinating escape stories, leaving Belgium and France and coming to the US.
As the sandwich generation, it is up to us to make sure we don’t miss the chance—whether formally or informally—to have these important conversations with the older generations. The message of Pesach is to delve into our memories to benefit ourselves and the next generation. Later we may regret those missed moments and conversations. And with that knowledge, let’s share with our grandkids our values and heritage, and let’s glean wisdom from our elders.
Take out a pen and paper, pull out the phone’s recording app and document your parents’ or grandparents’ voices. Then take those thoughts and consider writing down your own memories. Make a collage or scrapbook using old pictures. Interview them, tape them and send a link of the memories to the cousins.
Back to Abie Rotenberg:
There’s nothing I can say or do to make this change…
Time has a way of passing by so fast…
And like a fleeting shadow, now one will recall… the faces of the past…
Whatever generation you’re part of—the Baby Boom, Gen X, Millenial or Gen Z—there’s so much to learn from each other. Know that and act upon it. Your grandchildren will thank you for it.
This article originally appeared in The Jewish Home of Los Angeles and has been adapted for the Uplift magazine.
Miriam Hendeles, MT-BC, is a board-certified music therapist who works with hospice patients. She is the author of Mazel Tov! It’s a Bubby and Best Foot Forward, both published by Israel Bookshop Publications. Miriam writes for magazines, and her blog is Miriam-hendeles.com