Religion and Philosophy
In the house where I grew up, the war never ended. All of us were infected with hatred. This was their real legacy. If my mother and grandmother had been pearl divers, I would be able to hold my breath for a very long time. But they were Holocaust survivors, so instead I have an infinite capacity for hatred.
As children of a psychoanalyst, my brothers and I were brought up with three basic beliefs: everything has some deeper significance, there is no such thing as an accident, and never buy retail.
In the year 1944, in a Polish village fifty-five miles west of Krakow, the door to the house of Frederick Sokolowski, the village blacksmith, opens, and out slips the blacksmith’s son. Jerzey is the boy’s name. He is tall and slight, with a tuft of black hair falling over his forehead, and his hands, when examined closely, seem to be those of a man and not of an eight-year-old boy.
We already know that our lives will not be as they were before September 11. When the World Trade Center towers collapsed, a deep, long crack appeared in the old reality. The muffled roar of everything that might burst out can be heard through the crack: violence, cruelty, fanaticism, and madness. The wish that we might keep what we have, keep up a daily schedule, suddenly seems exposed and vulnerable. The effort to maintain some sort of routine — to keep family, home, friends together — now seems so touching, even heroic.
We had been preparing for months, slowly ridding ourselves of possessions we had once thought essential. By the time we left, everything that was ours fit into three brown vinyl suitcases. My parents told me this would be enough, but, like so much they said, these words of comfort were not particularly plausible. Still, there was consolation. On our last day in Russia, as the fall of 1979 slid into winter, my brother Viktor lost his piano.
On a soaking-wet August day I stood under an umbrella in a Jewish cemetery in Paramus, New Jersey. Though the man we were burying hadn’t been particularly observant, the service was Orthodox, and everyone followed protocol: the other women and I huddled to the side while the men lifted the heavy casket.