7. How Things Are Done In Brownstone Brooklyn

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I stepped in the other day as a last-minute chaperone for a field trip that SmallerMan’s class took to a Jewish community center to chat, eat cake, and dance with survivors of the Holocaust.

I can’t imagine a more worthwhile experience for these kids to have. I would so much rather have SmallerMan miss a day of regular school—he can always catch up on math—than one of these regular monthly visits, but I discovered that others are inclined the other way and consider days like this perfect for scheduling a doctor appointment or a high school tour.

I jumped at the opportunity to go along, both because of what these occasions represent—a chance to touch, literally and figuratively, humanity, not meaning to be fetishistic about it—but also, more prosaically, because it felt like perhaps my last chance to chaperone for one of my kids. It’s not so much that I love chaperoning but that my kids always seemed to love when I did it. I won’t miss the actual experience—head counting, shushing, logistics—so much as the good feelings my accompanied son and I shared when it was over.

Also, my last chance signifies some stuff that I would rather not have signified. I don’t mean to be elliptical: time passing, getting old, kids don’t need me anymore, like that. There’s no escaping those truths, obviously, but accepting them isn’t supposed to be easy. And speaking of last chances: it won’t be long before there are no more living survivors, a part of history, my history, my boys’ history, entrusted to memory.

I sat down while lunch was being cleared and just as a very short, quite lively woman banged her hand down on the table and delivered this last declarative line to a tale I’d sadly missed: “And that’s how we did it in Auschwitz.” I smiled and did not counter with, “Well, this is how we do it in Brownstone Brooklyn,” though my guess is she probably would have been interested, because her how is in some convoluted way not unrelated to mine. My reality, the reality of these Jewish children, is something that can, and clearly does, give hers meaning.

It never ceases to shock me how joyful these folks are, my Nana Ruth, of blessed memory, a case in point; they somehow consider themselves to be without contradiction both unbelievably unlucky and incredibly lucky.

The gentleman ripping Obama, he didn’t say schvartza but I know he was thinking it; the problematic insistence on a binary worldview, Jewish (good), goyim (not so good); the ultimate and frightening distrust of well-being, just because something is doesn’t mean it will always be: I do not find fault with any of this because I understand why.

Although neither SmallerMan nor I joined in the dancing, we both enjoyed some excellent babka, and we’ll be back.

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