Category Archives: Holocaust

Reflections at Weissensee Cemetary – Berlin, Germany

Reflections at Weissensee Cemetery-Berlin, Germany

© hannah kozak

Stunning architecture at Weissensee Cemetary.

Weißensee Cemetery – I seek out Jewish cemeteries when I travel or cemeteries in general as I find them quieting, peaceful and meditative. Between my love of World War II history and because of my Jewish ancestry I knew I had to spend time at Weissensee Cemetary. I made my way to the Friedrichstraße main station and caught Train S7 in the direction of Ahrensfelde Bhf and got off on the first stop at S Hackescher Market in the direction of Falkenberg. From there, it was 10 stops to Albertinenstr. From that tram, I figured out which direction to walk on Herbert-Baum Strasse and came upon the largest Jewish cemetery in all of Europe.

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The fact that this cemetery survived during the Third Reich is a miracle in itself. Approximately 115,000 graves are set in over one hundred acres. Crunching leaves rustled beneath my feet as I walked through the graveyard filled with a mix of Italian renaissance and Art Nouveau. I viewed sunken gravestones tucked under trees as the rain started and stopped, adding a quiet soundtrack to my much needed solitude. Towards the end of my walk, I sat in a tomb from the 11th century and saw tiny stones and notes, similar to those tucked into the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The entire experience was humbling and offered me time to think and reflect about how temporary our lives are.

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My first stop was Herbert Baum’s grave. Baum was a Jewish member of the German resistance against National Socialism. He organized meetings, along with his wife, to deal with the threat of Nazism. Baum became the personification of Jewish resistance against the Nazis in Germany. Just like my father, Baum was forced into slave labor. He was at Siemens-Schuckertwerke, which today is Siemens AG. He was at the helm of a group of Jewish laborers at the plant who went into the Berlin underground, to escape being deported to the concentration camps. He organized an arson attack on May 18, 1942. This anticommunist and anti-Semitic propaganda exhibition was prepared by Joseph Goebbels at the Berliner Lustgarten. Because the attack was not a full success, meaning Baum only partially destroyed “The Soviet Paradise” exhibit, he was arrested, along with his wife and other members of his group. Baum was tortured to death as was his wife Marianne.

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Herbert Baum’s grave

I continued wandering and paused at the outstanding beauty including stunning craftsmanship of wrought iron, mosaics and stone. The early tablets erected before World War I are Silesian Marble or Saxon Sandstone and younger ones were made of Scandinavian dark hard rock or even artificial stone in the 40’s. I was pleased simply to have found German-Jewish painter and printmaker Max Liebermann’s grave.

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The Department of History of Architecture and Urban Design of the Berlin Institute of Technology, the Berlin State Office for the Preservation of Historic Monuments and the Centrum Judaicum cooperated on a comprehensive project from 2010 to 2012 to document the entirety of the 134 burial fields. I’ve read that there are aims to make this cemetery a UNESCO World Heritage site. Because it suffered almost no damage during The Third Reich, it forms one of the most important and best-preserved Jewish monuments in Germany.

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Perhaps because all of my father’s family (mother, father, three sisters, two brothers) were killed at Auschwitz and one brother died in Treblinka during the uprising, and because my family from Poland have no graves at all, I find these graves remarkably beautiful. I see tiny stones resting atop gravestones where people have visited someone from their past and I find beauty in that dignity.

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Being at the Weissensee Cemetary offered me a quiet place to take a long walk, a journey into the past. Even if one doesn’t have family there it is a special sacred place to walk, wander, remember and wonder.

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The photos I’ve made remind me to enjoy the present while I still have my inhale and exhale and to breath in deeply and profoundly as we enter into the Age of Aquarius. We have such a short amount of time here. I hope that these images will remind every one of us to stay present to what’s in front of us, to embrace our changing consciousness in humanity, and remember that we are all going to the same place where death is the great equalizer.

© hannah kozak

© hannah kozak

Reflections at Weissensee Cemetary-Berlin, Germany


Jewish Museum in Berlin, Germany

Jewish Museum in Berlin, Germany

The zinc-clad, jagged structure of the Jewish Museum in Berlin is likened to a deconstructed Star of David, which I find genius. Zig zagging turns, slopes, voids all designed by Daniel Libeskind, a Polish-Jewish architect based in the U.S. His idea was to invoke disorientation, loss and the destruction of Jewish Life. Every facet of the museum from the plan, shape, style, interior and exterior arrangement of the building are part of a complicated philosophical programme to illustrate the history and culture of Germany’s Jewish community and the repercussions of the Holocaust.

I purposely set out early in the morning so I could savor the silence before I entered the space located in what was West Berlin before the fall of the Wall. I believe that a Jewish Museum in Berlin offers not just a memorial but dedication to the rebirth of the Jewish people and their history. The Jewish Museum (Jüdisches Museum) has succeeded. Every place I visit, every word I write and every time I share, I honor the memory of my father, who survived eight Nazi forced labor camps.

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Entrance to The Jewish Museum – Berlin, Germany (Jüdisches Museum Berlin)

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Jewish Museum – Berlin, Germany

In March 1939, the Berlin couple Ruth & Wolfgang Prager, sent their children on a transport to Sweden. Because Ruth required treatment in a sanitarium, she and Wolfgang put off emigrating until it was too late. In October 1941, they were deported to the Lodz ghetto, where they died the following year. Here is the letter they sent to their children.

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“My dear children, I don’t know what to tell you because my heart is so full and words are so small and say so little. I had always hoped that we would be reunited but we are probably at a fateful juncture just now.”

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Windows in the main building seen from the interior.

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Farewell scene,
Julius Rosenbaum
(1879-1956)
Berlin, 1934, chalk
The drawing shows Jewish emigrants departing from the Anhalter Bahnhof in Berlin.

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When Hitler came into Power, Felix Nussbaum was on a scholarship in Rome. He did not return to Germany, but went via Switzerland and France to Belgium. After the invasion of the German troops, Nussbaum was arrested and interned in Southern France. He fled and, together with his wife, hid in Brussels. In July 1944, both were deported to Auschwitz & murdered.
Nussbaum’s late paintings tell of the period of persecution, of life in the camps, & living illegally.
“You call out and shout but not an echo returns.” wrote Nussbaum in 1937 in a letter to Ludwig Meidner.

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The public debate about the murder of European Jews began in the courtroom. In 1958, German authorities started systematically investigating Nazi criminals. However, these investigations only seldom resulted in indictments. There was a lack of concrete evidence that could be used to prove suspects were personally responsible for murder. As a result, most of the charges had to be dropped. On the other hand, the court proceedings also served as a means of researching and documenting events that had taken place in the camps.
The Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial (1963-1965) ended the long silence about Nazi trials. Over 200 camp survivors gave testimony. International media reported from the courtroom.
The Dusseldorf Majdanek trial (1975-1981) was the longest trial ever held in a German court.

The Holocaust tower is a void of intimidating height with no windows, blank walls and a small slit just under the ceiling which allows in a tiny amount of light and amplifies the outside sounds. Being in this room one is completely separated from the rest of the museum (and world) which invokes a feeling of isolation while feeling the cold. This room is best visited alone to receive the full experience. It felt like having a moment, one tiny space of what it must have been like to be a prisoner in a camp, being incarcerated by the Nazis. Victor Frankl wrote of camp inmates experiencing shock, apathy, and depersonalization in Man’s Search for Meaning. I remember my father, when interviewed for Spielberg’s Shoah project, cried and explained that he choose not to share with his children when we were young because “I didn’t want them to know the suffering I went through.” The heavy door is opened and I couldn’t get out fast enough. As a second generation survivor, I experienced a brief feeling of discomfort that can never, ever come close to what my father experienced in the labor camps for years.

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Inside the Holocaust Tower.

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Inside the Holocaust Tower

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Inside the Holocaust Tower

The Jewish Museum is dedicated to 2,000 years of history, culture and traditions of the Jewish communities in Germany. I loved the physical voids that Libeskind created throughout the building. These so-called voids extend vertically throughout the entire museum and represent the absence of Jews from German society.

The Memory Void contains a work by the Israeli artist Menace Kadishman, who calls his installation, “Shalekhet,” or “Fallen Leaves.” He has dedicated the over 10,000 faces covering the floor not only to Jews killed during the Shoah but to all innocent victims of war and violence. These 10,000 faces punched out of steel are distributed on the ground of the Memory Void. You can walk on the faces and listen to the sounds created by the metal sheets as they clang and rattle against each other. I think it’s powerful and made to unnerve.

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© hannah kozak

hannah kozak – Self Portrait at
Menace Kadishman’s Shalekhet – Fallen Leaves

The Garden of Exile is forty-nine tilted pillars to represent the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948 plus one for Berlin. The garden symbolizes the forced exile of Germany’s Jews. There are concrete columns with oleaster (which look like olive but are wild) trees surrounding them. It’s not truly a garden to relax in and that’s precisely the point and intention.

© hannah kozak


Garden of Exile:
49 tilted pillars to represent the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948 plus one for Berlin. The garden symbolizes the forced exile of Germany’s Jews.

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My prayer for my mother. I believe in miracles.

As I exited the museum and began to find the train station that I came from, I began my solitary walk looking at people, trees, sidewalks, cafes, buses, bicyclists. Walking helps me to simultaneously quiet my mind while thinking. My thoughts flow better when I am moving my legs. Walking helps me reclaim myself as I am recently overworked, which feels like self escape. Unable to turn off the demands at work by not switching off my phone, I am invigorated by walking and being disconnected. I am inspired by the cold air and rain and relish the surprises I find when simply wandering. I have always been motivated to photograph exactly what my eyes see.

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As I was leaving the Jewish Museum.

In Augustiner’s Restaurant, I was captivated by these two men’s faces while the Festival of Lights was endlessly compelling.

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Augustiner’s Restaurant

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Berlin Festival of Lights

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Self Portrait – Jewish Museum

“A Jew must believe in miracles. If a Jew doesn’t believe in miracles, he is not a realist.” – Simon Wiesenthal

Jewish Museum in Berlin, Germany


Warsaw in Winter

Warsaw in Winter

Traveling to Poland for Christmas was a decision I made for a few distinct reasons. One, it was a postmortem readjustment to my father’s death. I had been to Poland before, both times in the spring, in May but I wanted to have the winter light in my photos on this trip. I wanted to feel the deathly cold winter of Poland, like my father did.

I went to Poland to continue my documentary on my father, a survivor of eight Nazi forced labor camps. Because my father passed away on Christmas, I wanted to awaken in his country, on the third anniversary of his death, to help me deal with a grief too deep for tears while simultaneously feeling a near-umbilical attachment to this country I love, a country with a past filled with too much sadness to ever understand.

© hannah kozak

I arrived on Christmas Eve. After a Polish man kindly helped me figure out how to buy a bus ticket from the ticket booth (I’m not a fan of cabs) I sat on my bus seat, staring out of the windows for a familiar site. When I exited at Warsaw University, I had the surprise of seeing purple and white holiday decorations– instead of the customary red and green in Los Angeles– leading into Old Town, where I like to stay. The location opening on Castle Square overlooked the Vistula River and granted a stunning view of Old Town. I heard the bell chimes of the Royal Castle, which was rebuilt only thirty years ago after being destroyed by the Nazis during WWII. In my small, quiet hotel room, I have a desk to write at as well as two bay windows to look out of where I photographed the view of the Vistula River and the changing light, throughout the day and night.

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Krakowskie Przedmiescie & Plac Pilsudskiego, Warsaw

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View of Vistula River in Old Town
Fuji XT1 w/16-55mmF2.8 LM WR

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Old Town – Warsaw, Poland
Fuji XT1 w/16-55mmF2.8 LM WR

I was in so much anguish on this third trip to Poland. My cat Jackson died suddenly three days after I arrived in Warsaw and I was alone in my hotel room. “No! No! No!” I screamed, in part because I was in shock and in part because I thought I could undue it all. I didn’t want to leave my hotel room yet I also needed the freezing cold air of Warsaw to help me breathe as I avoided making eye contact with strangers. I felt so useless to Jackson that all I could do was chant. I had left him at the vet and that was the last time I saw him. I was processing regret at leaving my companion with a specialist that I didn’t know but who said he would heal my little friend. My pain was profoundly humbling. The only thing I could come up with to self soothe was mantra so I played it nightly.

The state of grief continued as I traveled through Poland, seeing and experiencing Poland, in that emotional state. Something about the death of Jackson helped me get in touch with my father’s tremendous losses. Grief is grief and it colors everything.

© hannah kozak

Jackson – 3 days before he passed.

Jackson brought me infinite joy. I loved the sound of his paws hitting the hard wood floors in the morning as he and his brother ran to the kitchen, eager for breakfast. He used to plead with me to let him go outside and only liked being hugged on the futon in the television room. He’s gone but the memories of him will stay with me like a faded photograph.

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Michael & Jackson – 1 Nov 2011

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M & J – 17 Nov 2011

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M & J – 16 April 2012

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Michael and Jackson – 22 May 2012

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Jackson & Michael – 4 Jan 2013

I experienced grief and joy simultaneously at retracing my father’s footsteps through war torn Poland as I mourned the loss of my friend and didn’t sleep well for eight nights.

Prior to World War II, Warsaw was the leading center of secular Jewish culture in Eastern Europe. At one time, only New York had a larger Jewish population. I could imagine the diverse vitality of Jewish life here. From Warsaw’s turbulent history to the beauty of the rebuilt city, I was inspired. From the hot bowls of soup served with fresh baguettes to the sound of the language I don’t understand but resonate with, to the architecture of Gothic buildings made of brick and to cathedrals made of stone and Romanesque architecture and the kindness from strangers I am repeatedly impressed with, Poland has a piece of my tired and hurting heart.

On a side note, I was able to put the Fuji XT1 to use. This is a photographer’s camera and one of many cool features, it is weather resistant, which helped a lot in the cold of Poland. It’s responsive and I’m impressed with this mirrorless camera. There was no giant learning curve, it’s as intuitive as my Nikon FM from back in the 1980’s. No more lugging around DSLR’s.

© hannah kozak

Old Town, Warsaw
Fuji XT1 w/16-55mmF2.8 LM WR

© hannah kozak

Warsaw, Poland
Fuji XT1 w/16-55mmF2.8 LM WR

© hannah kozak

Warsaw, Poland
Fuji XT1 w/Fujinon XF16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR

© hannah kozak

Warsaw, Poland
Fuji XT1 w/XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR

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My favorite restaurant for soup and bread.
Fuji XT1 w/Fujinon XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR

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Warsaw, Poland
Fuji XT1 w/Fujinon XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR

 © hannah kozak

Warsaw, Poland
Fuji XT1 w/Fujinon XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR

© hannah kozak

I love getting around Poland via buses & trains.
Fuji XT1 w/Fujinon XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR

© hannah kozak

Warsaw, Poland
Fuji XT1 w/Fujinon XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR

© hannah kozak

Dusk in Warsaw, Poland
Fuji XT1 w/Fujinon XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR

© hannah kozak

Directly outside Old Town in Warsaw, Poland
Fuji XT1 w/Fujinon XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR

 © hannah kozak

Fantastic walking guides in Warsaw, Poland.
Fuji XT1 w/Fujinon XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR

© hannah kozak

Children in Old Town; Warsaw, Poland
Fuji XT1 w/Fujinon 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR

© hannah kozak

Warsaw, Poland
Fuji XT1 w/Fujinon XF 16-55 mm F 2.8 R LM WR

© hannah kozak

Warsaw, Poland
Fuji XT1 w/Fujinon XF16-55 mm
F2.8 R LM WR

© hannah kozak

Self Portrait en route to Museum of the History of Polish Jews – Warsaw, Poland
Fuji XT1 w/Fujinon XF 16-55 mm F2.8 R LM WR

© hannah kozak

Old Town – Warsaw, Poland
Fuji XT1 w/Fujinon XF 16-55 mm F2.8 R LM WR

© hannah kozak

Warsaw, Poland.
Fuji XT1 w/Fujinon XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR

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Self Portrait at my favorite place to stay in Warsaw: Dom Literatury.
Fuji XT 1 w/Fujinon XF 16-55 mm F2.8 R LM WR

© hannah kozak

Old City – Warsaw, Poland
Fuji XT1 w/Fujinon XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR

It has been said that Poland is dead, exhausted, enslaved, but here is the proof of her life and triumph.
Henryk Sienkiewicz

Warsaw in Winter


Auschwitz – Remembering and Not Forgetting

Auschwitz – Remembering and Not Forgetting

@ hannah kozak

“Work Sets You Free”
Entrance to Auschwitz

I made my first sojourn to Auschwitz in 2013 and I have been haunted by the images I saw ever since. Yet I have also found Auschwitz to be a place of contemplation – an invitation to meditation. Photography has always kept me from forgetting, so camera in hand, I return to this place of killing of innocent souls hoping to honor the nameless and faceless. I can’t help but wonder if evil can’t be overcome by looking it square in the face.

Visiting Auschwitz required me to not forget the significance of its’ past, while simultaneously being forced to remember it. I read many books about the Holocaust throughout my entire life -beginning with Escape from Warsaw when I was in grade school and throughout my teens. I continued to devour similar culturally and historically relevant books when I started a project on my father’s journey from his hometown of Bedzin, Poland to many forced labor camps in Markstädt, Klettendorf, Hundsfeld , Hirschberg, Bad Warmbrunn and Ermannsdorf. He was sent to Hirschberg twice before he was liberated from Dernau on May 8, 1945. Even with such emotional proximity to this history, I still wasn’t prepared for seeing tools designed to kill people in person. Fences, barbed wire, barracks, crematorium. The controversial historian Ernst Nolte refers to the Holocaust as “a past that will not pass away.” Indeed, I have always felt the more I study the Holocaust, the less I understand about humanity.

I felt an existential delirium being in Auschwitz. Standing in line with people for the tour felt too confining, so as I have always done, I got out of line and went off on my own. Getting out of line is what saved my father’s life at the very end of his stay in those forced labor camps. He was told to get in line with all the other remaining inmates at Dernau. My father’s angels, (as he called them) or his intuition ( how I refer to his knowing), was always marvelous whether it came to people or situations. So when it told him to get out of line, he did and went immediately into the barracks. Had he not listened to that subconscious nudge, he would have ended upon a death walk with everyone else in that line. They were forced to dig their own graves before they were machine gunned down. Because my father broke the rules and got out of line, he was liberated by the Soviet armed forces one day later.

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Auschwitz by hannah kozak

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Auschwitz by hannah kozak

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Auschwitz by hannah kozak

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Auschwitz 24 block by hannah kozak

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Auschwitz by hannah kozak

In some places, the pulse beats more than others. Poland is one of those places for me. I’ve heard people say that they could never visit Auschwitz but perhaps if they had a father that survived eight forced labor camps they would feel differently. I can’t imagine not wanting to see the labor, concentration and killing centers ** in person. Duality; making others wrong, is always judgment. I needed to see this place to help me keep remembering.

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Auschwitz block 15 by hannah kozak

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Auschwitz museum

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Auschwitz museum

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Auschwitz museum

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Auschwitz museum

The Talmud describes the difference between remembering and not forgetting. Forgetting first occurs in the heart. It’s not cognitive. It’s the natural course of events that dispossess us from the event and then tragically, we are left devoid of the reason it was ever important to us to begin with. Remembering, on the other hand, is to engage in activities that promote remembrance.

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Auschwitz museum

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Auschwitz museum

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Auschwitz museum by hannah kozak

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Auschwitz museum by hannah kozak

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Auschwitz museum by hannah kozak

My father found a way to make something out of nothing, so that he could survive. He created life out of a world of darkness. As a second generation Holocaust survivor, I feel it is my duty to not forget and to present the upside of my heavy heritage so it can be a catalyst, and not a yoke.

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Auschwitz museum by hannah kozak

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Auschwitz

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Auschwitz

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Auschwitz

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Auschwitz

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Auschwitz Krematorium

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Auschwitz Krematorium

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Auschwitz

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Trees – Auschwitz

I kept mostly to myself in school almost as if I was still hiding. One side of me was a happy girl that loved to laugh; the other side was a girl with sadness so overwhelming, I could never understand where it stemmed from. As a second generation Holocaust survivor, I understand that my father’s unprocessed grief and sadness was handed down, and it’s up to me, to transform that sadness into understanding the carefully orchestrated plan of genocide because the Jews believe, “He who saves one life, saves the entire world. ” I think it’s dangerous that the suffering and struggle of my ancestors will be forgotten with the passage of time. I must tell and retell the stories of our past, so that we will remain free, in the future.

** death camp is too vague, since taken literally it evokes the image of a place in which a large number of people died, such as the footage of dead bodies taken in Dachau and Buchenwald, which misleadingly, are often shown as backdrop in documentaries on the Holocaust. “Death camp” could in theory apply to most concentration camps, many labor camps, and, in the winter of 1941/1942, virtually all camps for Soviet POWs. We prefer killing center because it denotes exactly and explicitly what the facility was established to achieve–to kill human beings as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

Auschwitz: Remembering and Not Forgetting


Yom Hashoah honored by Israel with silence, sirens and contemplation

As the sirens begin to wail and continue for two full minutes, I witness people getting off their bikes, stopping in their tracks while cars and buses also halt wherever they are.  People bow their heads and I find the space to feel the loss of my father, a Holocaust survivor of eight Nazi forced labor camps, who recently died. I am in Israel. So while some may view Israel, a country bordered by Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt as a place of violence and terror, I see nothing but beauty in a land that was created for displaced Jews.  I murmur a prayer for the dead, for my father who made survival his art.

© hannah kozak

Yom Hashoah observance in Ramat Hasharon, Israel

Nine days after my father left his physical body, I booked a trip to Israel to rejuvenate and Poland to seek out my heritage, to visit my ancestral shtetl. I want to see where my father lived with his seven siblings, mother and father in a one-bedroom apartment in Bedzin, Poland in my quest as a redemption narrative, going beyond what I know.

My sojourn began in a suburb called Ramat Hasharon to be with my mother’s brothers’ family.  I spent the morning swimming with my cousin in a outdoor sea water swimming pool in the Sharon Hotel in Herzliya overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, which revitalized me from the jet lag I was in.

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Mediterranean Sea from Sharon Hotel – Herzliya

Now I am part of a day to memorialize the tragedies of the Holocaust.  We stand in remembrance for our families and for those we never knew. The Knesset in Israel made Yom Hashoah a national public holiday in nineteen fifty nine and a law was passed in nineteen sixty one that closed all public entertainment on this day.

As Neo-Nazis have once again been legalized in Europe, openly sitting in parliaments, I, along with the people next to me, bow my head in silence as the tears run down my face. I needed this experience to help me feel and clear out the sadness from losing my father.

And now the best part of returning to Israel, a mission to find the best hummus. My uncle brought us to a local favorite restaurant that is on the border of Ramat Hasharon and Tel Aviv called Dagim 206. Their hummus gets a ten. Goiked!

© hannah kozak

Hummus in Ramat Hasharon

“I will not say, do not weep, for not all tears are an evil.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien


The long & winding road to Masada with Hummus

The Judean desert overlooking the Dead Sea is home to an ancient site in Israel; Masada. Anything on the World Heritage List fascinates me. It’s true. Why am I in Israel? Being in Israel brings me to my family on my mother’s side, the home of the Jewish people, and a country that not only has the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea & The Dead Sea plus pretty mountains and a bonus of yummy falafel and hummus.

Sitting in a bus is relaxing as we drive in the desert since I don’t have to worry about directions. I feel my breath slow down. When we physically don’t move, our minds become still. I don’t need any mantra or teacher or technique. Our minds were given as tools to serve us not to be our master. I recognize my breath in broader terms than simply respiration. As I slow my breath down, I close my eyes remembering the story of Masada.

It’s a great, awesome yet tragic story. Not to be flippant but if nine hundred sixty Jews committed suicide so the Romans wouldn’t force them into slavery, the least I can do is climb the snake path. You can either take the snake path, which is eight hundred thirteen steps, ( I love minutiae) and was the original and only way the ancient inhabitants walked or you can take the cable car to the summit. The 1st century Roman-Jewish historian Joseph Flavius wrote of the snake path “And one of these ways is called the Serpent, as resembling that animal in its narrowness and perpetual windings and he that would walk along it must first go on one leg and then the other; there is also nothing but destruction in case your feet slip, for on each side there is a vastly deep chasm and precipice, sufficient to quell the courage of everybody by the terror it infuses into the mind.”

You’d never see something like this in America without rail guards. Frankly I think it’s completely safe and I doubt anyone is going to fall. I have the fear chromosome. I just refuse to let it run me & my life. Honestly the walk was challenging but it’s worth the pain. I had an injury that I’ve never been quite the same from and whenever I attempt to do things like this, I pay for it dearly. In my head I’m still able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

I go off into a fantasy where I see Jewish people climbing this path and I hear them singing my favorite songs from Hebrew school. Hevenu Shalom Aleichem which means we brought peace onto you. Don’t worry if you don’t get the first verse. Second verse is exactly the same. I always liked mantra because I was trying to quiet my thoughts. I just didn’t know that it had a name back then.

I wish I had shorts on instead of jeans. I start to remove my layers of clothing as I begin the steep climb. It’s just me and my favorite MJ Off The Wall t-shirt all the way to the crown.

I was nearing the top as a group of four was coming down the stairs. A woman, noticing my obvious discomfort says “take some water”  in a tone that is part stern teacher and part loving mother. “I don’t have any” I replied. “Honey, give her some water” she said to her husband in a tone that was not negotiable. For a split second I saw a “why do i want to give up my water to a complete stranger when I still have to climb this entire mountain down the hill” look in his eyes. Without missing a beat, he handed me his Arrowhead water bottle. “Keep the bottle” she said my discomfort so apparent anyone could see. They continued their descent down the mountain.  I leaned my right hand on the mountain as I was shaky, stopped and drank the entire bottle and was thankful for this person reaching out to me. I would have done the same. That is if I had any water.  I love when we see each other.

I reach the summit. I feel the light of god’s presence which swallows my loneliness whole. As the group around me chit chats with each other I am off with my camera recording what I see. The force of holiness is looming in every crevice in this all at once sacred and god forsaken spot.

I have a meeting with G-d. I ask if he can take away my mother’s pain and sorrow from living in a home for the aged for thirty one years. I further make a request to remove my sister’s hurt and anguish because she’s the only one who visited my mother most all those decades. Please G-d grant me acceptance of my mother’s life. I beg him. I have no choice but to feel everything I have been running from.”Sorry but it’s all yours” he says. Mine’s so big he can’t make any arrangements. It’s karma that belongs to me because I choose her to be my mother so I could learn forgiveness. Who was it that said no matter where you go there you are? I flew all the way to Israel and I still can’t get away from me.

Freud defined neurosis as the separation of self. If I’m a child of G-d then the love is inside of me. It has been all along. It’s so simple but we mess it up. Whenever love disappears we become fearful. Fear is to love just as darkness is to light. Anytime your mind goes south, it’s fear that the love is gone. G-d didn’t create fear. We did. If it’s not love, it’s an illusion. Speaking of illusion, next stop is the Dead Sea. It doesn’t seem like it could be real.

The Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth. But the translation is not accurate. Yam Ha-Melah, means the Salt Sea. It’s the lowest place on the earth, 33.7 % salt and eighty six times saltier than the ocean. It’s so dense you can’t really swim rather you float. You can see my view from the Israeli side looking across to Jordan.

As I sit silently in the bus as we make our way back to the bus station in Tel Aviv I begin to think of my father and what it took for him to leave Poland after losing his entire family during the Holocaust, seven siblings, his mother, father and both sets of grandparents. No one. He was completely alone. He didn’t speak English, not a dollar in his pocket and he boarded a ship to make his way to America. He had nowhere to go simply because he was a Jew. Out of nowhere I feel the emotion well up inside of me like a wave. I have no family on my father’s side because he is Jewish. That seems insane. I’m in Israel because I feel connected to the people here. There’s an unspoken understanding we have. Even if I feel as if I don’t belong sometimes; which I struggle with less and less; in Israel I am part of a group.

I moved to Israel thirty years ago to deal with my feelings and emotions surrounding my mother. Now I am back in Israel and am thinking of my father and what a survivor he is. In the dictionary there is a photo of my father next to survivor. He worked a nine to five job for thirty years at Hughes Aircraft as an aircraft inspector. On his lunch hour some days he’d sell porn out of the trunk of his Chevy Nova and/or leather jackets he would buy wholesale. Once a week he’d tell his co-workers to cover for him as he would drive to downtown Los Angeles from Culver City, a half hour drive, to buy clothes second hand which we’d sell every weekend at the swap meet. “These pants are too small.”  someone would say trying on clothes. “They’ll stretch” he’d swiftly reply.  “These pants are too big.” from another.” They’ll shrink.” he’d come back just as quickly. He bought real estate on the side; renting out homes in the San Fernando Valley. My father was raising five children so he had to hustle. His motto of stay hungry kept him working non-stop seven days a week. I never saw my father kick back on a couch on Sunday with a Budweiser can in his hand. He makes most men look like bums my father. He taught me to sell just by watching him. My eyes are so filled with tears now that I can’t see the road anymore. I don’t need to see it. I’m not driving. I’m thinking about a friend that I miss so much that I flew to Israel for the holidays so I wouldn’t have to be at home. I have a tendency to run when I start to feel too much.

I’m noticing the beauty that is in front of me and all around me. G-d created the mountains on either side of the road and the sun is beginning to set as the sky turns a brilliant orange and pink. I have a bag filled with bath salts from The Dead Sea that I purchased to give to a friend along with olive oil to bring a friend because she practically lives on it.  Michael Jackson is singing to me from my iPod and in between the tears from thinking about how inspiring my father is; I am humbled with how blessed I am. I am in Israel, I’m thinking to myself. I have my mother’s family here that I love, friends like Hope and her beautiful family are nearby and I have time to be alone when I need to. When I return home I am going to visit my father. I will call him just to say how are you doing Dad. I have my breath. My life is a blessing and a gift. I’m off to search for the perfect hummus and falafel in Tel Aviv when I get off this bus. And a side of forgiveness.Now we’re talking.

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My father, Holocaust Survivor

My father is a Holocaust survivor. He was never a victim. His unresolved grief and sadness became a catalyst for ambition. His parents were Orthodox Jews who in my fathers’ words “never had money in the bank and lived hand to mouth.” One of eight children, he is the only one to survive in his entire family including his parents and grandparents. His education stopped at the seventh grade when he was taken away from his home by the Germans. They came for his father but my dad talked them out of taking the grandfather I never knew and to take him instead. He was in nine work camps in Poland from the age of fifteen to twenty and suffered from Tuberculosis because of the conditions he was forced to live under.

On the day the Russians came in he heard in Yiddish, “the Russians are coming, the Russians are coming”.When Dernau, the final camp he was in was liberated May 8, 1945, he collapsed at sixty-five pounds.He spent a year in a sanitorium called Marin House, a place mainly for people for Tuberculosis. He would suffer from Asthma and Bronchitis his entire life.I remember when we were driving he’d frequently have to pull over to open his driver’s door, lean his head out and spit.

A self made man, at one time he had eleven homes in the San Fernando Valley. He never spent money he didn’t have. He was street smart and knew how to talk to people. He worked as an aircraft inspector for Hughes Aircraft for thirty years but he always sold something on the side. At lunch time at work guys would line up for leather coats and porn, which he sold out of the trunk of his car. He also went to downtown Los Angeles on his lunch hour where he bought thousands of pairs of seconds of jeans and shirts.When most people were eating lunch, this hour became another way for my father to make money. All his children knew not to call him at work for this reason.I remember him telling us not to call him at work on his lunch hour. We spent the eighties working the swap meets on Saturday and Sundays selling the clothing. I learned how to sell from watching him.

My father married twice. After his second wife died from a brain tumor when he was eighty years old, he sold his home in Los Angeles and moved to Las Vegas, a city he always loved. He has a full time, live in caretaker.

He is a proud, resilient man. Even though he suffered a stroke and a heart attack, he continues. He has a spiritual outlook on life and believed it was because of G-d that he survived the work camps. He told me recently that he thinks he has ten years left.

My photos show him at home, in casinos and at dinner. His capacity to go on is unlike any person I have ever known. I remember when I was a little girl and my mother went into intensive care.He said “Hannah, you have to control your emotions and not let them control you”. He is an inspiration to me to keep going especially when my emotions get the best of me.

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