At the beginning of WW2 my family tried to flee Europe. My grandfather’s parents were killed when he was very young and he was taken to an orphanage by nuns. They changed his name in an effort to keep him safe. It didn’t seem to matter, people found out he was Jewish. He was abused, beaten & forced to do impossible tasks.
After years in the orphanage a couple from Ontario adopted him, and he was sent to the little town of Hanover. His placement wasn’t perfect. He was unhappy, once again failing to fit in. He tried running away with nowhere to go. His new parents asked what they could do to make him stay. He pointed to a cow on their farm. They agreed, and so began his business into which he channeled his soul.
Still determined to find a relative, he wrote letters to every city where he knew them to have been. There was no record of their existence. A letter arrived several years after his initial inquiries, they found records of his family- in the database of Holocaust victims.
I grew up fairly sheltered from antisemitism. There were a handful of other Jewish families in our town, we all knew each other well. It was one of the most special and strange bonds. My grandparents would tell us to keep quiet about being Jewish around school. I think they thought it would be easier. I chose, for the most part, to honour that commitment even though it was hard.
When I was 12 they gave me a beautiful Jewish Star necklace. I wore it on the first day of school. When my teacher saw it he was stunned and singled me out in front of the class. He asked if I was Jewish, and when I said yes, he said he’d never actually met a Jewish person. He asked if I ate pork and I said no. There were a lot of weird questions he asked to verify my observance. He approached me through the remainder of the year with inappropriate and antisemitic comments, and my grades took a nosedive. I never told anyone why.
Since, I’ve worked with the ADL & UN to amplify the voices of those harmed by hatred. Enduring antisemitism for standing up against it. It’s both a burden and a blessing to be able to defend yourself.
My grandparents never placed their Menorah in the window. Now, I never miss an opportunity to.
Source: Karla Levy