by Erika Dreifus
I did not cry the first time I went to Mannheim,
when my father and I studied the nameplates
listing the residents of the building on Ifflenstrasse
where his mother had been born, and grown up.
The building she left one April day in 1938, just in time,
and had never re-entered.
I did not cry even when the current second-floor residents
invited us to visit,
and I stood in the high-ceilinged rooms where my great-grandparents had
withstood the Kristallnacht.
In fact, in the photos my father snapped
to show my grandmother, back in Brooklyn,
I am smiling.
I did not cry the second time I went to Mannheim,
when my father and mother and sister and I
toured the city
armed with Grandma’s handwritten maps
and visited the shiny new synagogue.
So much blue.
From the hotel we telephoned Brooklyn
before driving away on the Autobahn.
The third time,
the train from Stuttgart stopped.
I descended to the platform.
And the signs read,
This time my grandmother was gone.
Not just from Germany.
But back in New York
had just arrived.
I blinked a few times.
Bit my lip.
Stared at the sign, and swallowed.
And then I walked, fast, through sunbaked streets,
straight to the department store
where I bought the baby a sweater
and tiny socks
before I hurried back to the train station.
Rain delays my flight an hour. Another. Other flights are canceled.
Diverted. I wait for my plane to Columbus, Ohio, where the elder
daughter of a second cousin will be called to the Torah as a Bat
Mitzvah in the morning. I wait, despite the storms and the
announcements and the overcrowded Delta terminal in New York and the
additional holdup after boarding as thunder rattles the commuter jet on
the tarmac, and in the end, I will arrive safely at the Columbus
Airport Marriott at two-thirty in the morning.
Seven hours later, in the sanctuary of Congregation Tifereth Israel on
East Broad Street, young Talia stands behind the Torah. Her maternal
grandmother—my father's first cousin—recites a Hebrew prayer in the
cadence of the sabra she is. The paternal grandparents chant
together, with the Lusophone inflections of their family's adopted home
in São Paulo, and the entire Brazilian contingent laughs when the rabbi
attempts a few words in Portuguese.
And the rest of us—the aunts and uncles and cousins of varying
degrees—have converged from Canada and California, from Memphis and
Boston, from Raleigh and tiny Williamson, West Virginia, and in our
blood and our bones we've reconstructed here the remnants of our common
home, the birthplace of my father's parents, and the sabra's,
Deutschland, Deutschland, über alles. The mid-October sun
streams through stained glass into the sanctuary, joyful ancestral
Erika Dreifus's paternal grandparents emigrated from Nazi Germany in 1937 and 1938; this family history has infused much of her writing, including short stories published in Mississippi Review Online, Solander: The Magazine of the Historical Novel Society, Southern Indiana Review, and TriQuarterly, and "Homecomings," a story that won the David Dornstein Memorial Creative Writing Contest. Please visit http://www.practicing-writer.com to learn more about Erika and her writing, and check in with her "My Machberet" blog (http://machberet.blogspot.com) for her notes on matters of Jewish literary and cultural interest.
Welcome to the New Vilna Review
*A Note From the Publisher - February 8, 2012*
Dear readers and contributors,
The New Vilna Review has been going through some changes the past few
months, and our focus has shifted to offering an expanded selection of
poetry, fiction and arts writing. We are once again accepting submissions,
and look forward to continuing to publish some of the most interesting and
thought provoking work in the world of Jewish arts and letters.
-Daniel E. Levenson
Publisher and Editor-in-Chief
The New Vilna Review
New Vilna Review Insulated Travel Mug
This 16 oz. travel mug features an original design by local New England artist Sarah Pelletier. These mugs make great gifts for friends, family, colleagues or treat yourself and know you are helping to support Jewish arts and culture.