Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Son of Bear indeed

I went to a talk about kashrut this evening. The rabbi wasn’t ours, he was some important and knowledgeable Kashrut man. I want to tell you the story he told us. I won’t tell you his name bcs I do not want to facilitate google-search-invites unnecessarily. Come-outed I may be, stupid I am not. Hebrew speakers will know, though.

He is of Portuguese descent. His father spoke fluent Portuguese. One day, in some European city, his father stepped outside the synagogue and heard a couple speaking Portuguese. He started talking to them and found out they were Brazilian. He then told them he spoke the language because his mother came from Porto (Oporto in English but the extra “o” annoys me bcs IT’S NOT IRISH IS IT so Porto it is). The lady was very interested and asked what the mother’s maiden name was and he answered B-D. The lady almost fainted and they had to rush her to a place where she could sit down for a while.

This was her explanation: just before dying her father had told her again “Remember, if you ever meet someone from the Porto’s B-D family, KNOW that everything we did, our lives, your life, your children’s lives and their descendents' will forever be intertwined because we owe ours to a B-D.”

This is their story: Second World War. Dictatorship in Portugal. Portugal was used as an escape route to South Africa, Brazil and other countries, and foreigners were allowed in the country only if they had relatives here.

[One day, one fine, clear, crisp, bright-eyed, sad and proud day I will tell you about Aristides Sousa Mendes, Our Consul, a righteous in his own right, a true tzadik, who was made to suffer and die in exile and poverty bcs of it but whose pine tree stands tall in Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, and how my friend Lilah, the Israeli soldier kid, and I sat in front of it while she played pioneer songs for him on her flute. Some other fine, clear, crisp, bright-eyed, sad and proud day I will tell you about the Children’s Memorial there, the most moving and horrifying monument I am likely to see in my life, and how I am compelled to visit it every time I’m in Jerusalem even though every time I leave bearing the weight of those souls and am certain I will never ever smile again.]

The Jewish community was flooded with desperate requests from Jews all over Europe for said invitations. They wrote “If you don’t invite us we will be taken and do not know where to or what will happen to us.” We do.
Auschwitz-Birkenau. Maly Trostenets. Majdanek. Janówska. Chelmno. Sobibór. Treblinka. Warsaw. And these are only the extermination ones.

The Jewish community sent hundreds of invitations and hundreds came. The lady’s mother arrived with the two very young daughters first, the father was to join them later. They stayed with the rabbi’s grandfather's family. For weeks they waited for the husband to arrive. There was no way to contact him. All they could do was wait. So they did, they waited. And waited. And waited. The husband didn’t come, the visa for the four of them was almost expired, there was one last ship leaving (for Brazil) before the expiry date, the woman had no choice but to leave with the two little girls. The ship sailed. Thirty minutes later the husband arrived at the harbour and the rabbi’s grandfather was beyond himself with anger and pity and frustration and simply could not accept it had all gone so terribly wrong.

He found a speedboat.

He chased after the big ship, far into the open water.

He caught up with it.

He got the man on board.


They never heard from each other again, until the day a Portuguese-speaking man stepped out into the street and overheard a woman speaking his parents’ language.

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At 28/10/04 01:17, Blogger brooksba said...

Thank you for sharing this story. It moved my heart. It brought tears to my eyes. It helped solidify my belief that there are people out there who can make a difference, big or small. Thank you.

At 28/10/04 10:46, Blogger Noorster said...

That's really touching. I don't normally cry before noon.

At 29/10/04 20:56, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. This was very moving.


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