Lost souls


By Ruthie Blum




'Excuse me, would you mind holding my place while I go upstairs to foreign currency?" Dina asks, rifling through an oversized straw purse that has just been mauled by the security guard at the door.


"Dina, is that you?" answers the person ahead of her in line to whom she has

addressed her request.


Dina looks up, startled by the stranger's recognition. Worried that she won't be able to reciprocate. Lately, she's been so forgetful that she considers it a miracle when she can remember her own name, let alone anyone else's. At this moment, for example, she can't find the power-of-attorney document she needs for the transaction she has to complete for her housebound father.


"Yes..." she says, squinting slightly, pushing the search button inside her brain to place this unfamiliar face in some context that will jar her memory. Hoping the woman will volunteer some morsel of information that will expedite the process.


"It's me. Irit. You know, Yoav's mother. From the Anthroposophical kindergarten."


"Wow..." Dina says, grateful for being rescued. And reminded. "Of course. How've you been?" she asks.


"Oh, you know, surviving in this reality like everyone else. How about you? How's Tamir?" Irit asks, referring to Dina's son, whom she hasn't seen since the boys graduated the Rudolf Steiner preschool together.


"He's fine," Dina says, pulling her waist-length braid out from under the strap of her satchel. "He's at Auschwitz right now."


"Oh, how wonderful for him!" Irit bubbles. "Yoav has been dying to go on one of those concentration camp trips, but each time something's come up to prevent him. Last year, it was rehearsals for his school's production of Brecht's Threepenny Opera and this year it was his first call-up for the army."


"Well, I'm not so sure I approve of these missions, to tell you the truth," Dina says, shifting her weight from one Birkenstock clog to the other. "Some of the kids come back completely devastated, and I don't think their teachers are equipped to deal with it. Nor am I sure I approve of this whole orgy surrounding the Holocaust."


"Isn't that the whole point, though?" Irit runs her fingers, covered in hand-made silver rings, through her cropped salt-and-pepper hair. "You know, to shake them up? Give them a glimpse into the horrors of fascism and genocide?"


Dina shrugs. "A lot of good that seems to be doing," she says, pointing at the PR photos of Prime Minister Sharon and Defense Minister Ben-Eliezer hanging on the wall above the tellers.


"I know what you mean," Irit sighs. "I really worry about us losing our soul. But that's why I'm in favor of sending the kids to Poland. Especially since they'll be in uniform themselves by next year."


"I agree," says Dina. "But, like everything else in this country, it's done by shooting from the hip first and thinking about the consequences later. Not to mention the mockery some of the groups have made of it. Remember that disgusting incident a couple of years ago when a bunch of the kids on the trip hired strippers to come to their hotel rooms to perform?"


"Oh yeah, I remember reading something about that in the newspaper..." Irit giggles slightly, thinking about Dina's reference to the orgy surrounding the Holocaust. "But that was an isolated incident. And don't forget that they're kids, after all; on a class trip with all their friends. So they're bound to get a little rowdy here and there."


"WHAT ABOUT teaching them to appreciate the depths of the evil of anti-Semitism?" interrupts a man who has been eavesdropping on their conversation. "What about teaching them the meaning behind 'never again'?" His wife, who has been clucking her tongue throughout the women's exchange, tugs at his arm.


"Shah," she says quietly, "Don't get yourself all excited. It's not worth it."


"Not that it's any of your business, sir," responds Irit curtly, "but 'never again' is precisely what I want to teach my son. That he shouldn't sink to the level of the Nazis. That he shouldn't lose his soul."


"Do you think the Nazis sat around worrying about losing their souls?" he raises his voice, while shooing his wife away. "Do you think the Palestinians sit around worrying about losing their souls? No! All they do is plot how to kill Jews and then do it! It's your life - and your son's - you should be worried about losing!"


"You'll make yourself sick," his wife warns, trying to steer him away from the scene of contention.


"Those kids have to see the gas chambers so that when they come home and put on their IDF uniforms, they'll understand that if they die, they'll do so defending themselves as sovereign Jewish soldiers, not as branded cattle being led to the slaughter!"


"I've really got to go and take care of business before the bank closes," Dina says, finally locating the document she was looking for among the clutter in her purse.


Irit nods, focused more on the rebuttal she's planning than on Dina's departure.


As Dina makes her way to the steps, she hears what she hopes will be the tail end of the dispute she had no inclination to enter. She is tired of having the Holocaust served on a platter at every opportunity - by every right-winger, left-winger and centrist - for the purpose of winning political and moral arguments. She plans on raising this issue at her "Children of Survivors" support-group meeting tonight.


But first things first.


"I'd like to exchange the Deutschmarks in this account for shekels, please," she says, handing the foreign currency teller her father's reparations notice and power-of-attorney.


The clerk is courteous. "No problem," she says. "Only it's in euros now, honey."

Copyright 2002 Jerusalem Post.