I’m in Pennsylvania this week for the Bar-Mitzvah of my nephew Jacob. He is my baby brother’s oldest child. Stepping back from this event for a moment, I am reflecting on the fact that our cousin’s daughter, Emily, was being Bat-Mitzvahed in New Jersey yesterday as well. Emily’s grandfather and Jacob’s grandfather (my father) are first cousins. I hope this doesn’t sound too biblical, like with the begats, but Jacob’s great-grandfather (Dad’s father) and Emily’s great-grandfather, who were brothers, came to America from Poland through Ellis Island in 1915 (I think I have that date correct). By coming to this country, those brothers escaped the Holocaust, which decimated Polish Jewry. Although other members of their family escaped, to destinations all over the world (including America), most of the family perished. When I was growing up, I was painfully aware of the fact that there were few Wachspresses in the world. But we have been multiplying. So yesterday, as I sat in my nephew’s synagogue and watched him read the Torah, I paused to celebrate the fact that I was missing Emily’s Bat-Mitzvah and to glory in the missing relatives who were at the other event. Look how well we survived, to have this many Wachspress children called to Torah on the same day because we have now so many children!
At Jacob’s Bar-Mitzvah, he set aside an empty chair for one particular Polish Jewish child who died at the age of 3 in a concentration camp. I imagined that child sitting in that chair, and I imagined all that surrounded me vanishing as I imagined my father as that child. Could have been our family erased.