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Taking her Place on the Jewish Family Tree of Ancient and New Litvaks

By Shulamith Surnamer, May 2000

Traveling far across time and space 
were these women possibly attempting
to welcome her, the littlest Litvak, 
as they magically surfaced on my PC?

Were these ancestral mothers truly attempting
to make their ancient lost names reknown
magically surfacing and appearing on my PC
at the very moment their newest descendant is being born?

For their first names to now become known
via an unexpected e-mail from Anatolij
even as she, their newest descendant, is being born
takes on a special dimension all it own

Via an unexpected e-mail from Anatolij
Cheyesh, researching in St. Petersburg, 
in a synchronous serendipity all its own
come these names from an old Revizskaja Skazka

Chayesh, researching in St. Petersburg
unearthed these ancestral names from Zeimelis
long-lost feminine names retrieved from a Revizskaja Skazka 
from the 1818 and 1834 counting of the family Lepar

These ancestral female names, from Zeimelis ~ 
Reize, wife of Noach, and Sora, wife of Ber ~ 
in 1818 and 1834 recorded as mothers of the family Lepar
are now reseen just as their newest gggggggg-grandchild is seen

Reize, wife of Noach, and Sora, wife of Ber
joyfully join Emahot Gisa, Breine, Miriam, Chaya Mattel, and Esther
in the magical moment when the newest anekel is seen
so all the extended mishpacha can welcome her

Come Litvaks, Galitzianers, Jewish Mothers all
across time and space and all divides 
so all the extended mishpacha can welcome her
the newest descendant, Esther Malka

Across time and space and all divides
we feel your warm embrace welcoming the littlest one
as the newest descendant, Esther Malka
takes her place on the Jewish Family Tree

Still Life: Mother and Daughter
by Marjorie Stamm Rosenfeld

It’s not their turn yet.
The camera
captures their flesh
in a flash of light. Apt
the black
and white
of the film. Still,
the picture lies,
as pictures do:
You cannot see them quaver.
This is autumn, 1941,
a chill in the air.

In this field, the mother 
has brushed the hair
of the child
smooth,
tied a floppy bow,
as was the fashion then.
The child,
a girl of
ten, I would guess,
leans against her mother,
dressed in only a shift,
head down. 
The mother, too,
wears undergarments,
pantaloons,
a sleeveless linen shirt,
but stands
stiff as a ramrod,
shoulders back,
head up, eyes front, as if
someone had shouted
Achtung!

It’s not their turn, though. 
As for the undergarments,
they will remove those too, 
later. I think it is autumn from
the look
of the woods
behind them.
If it were spring
or even summer,
what might the daughter,
eyes to the ground,
fasten on?
Seed attached
to a tiny puff
that touches down
in summer grass
and catches? 
A pebble or,
from a pile of pebbles, 
larger one
touching a smaller one
beside it? After the final flash
of powder and light,
earth will hold them.

Child, I have no stone
to lay on your grave
only the weight of words.

"Still Life: Mother and Daughter" was inspired by a photo the poet saw on the Internet which resides at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum as Photo #19121. It is a photo of half-clad Jewish women and a young girl about to be executed on a beach forced to pose for a final photograph during a mid-December murder spree that took the lives of at least 2700 Jews. {To view the photo go
Although the event the photo depicts took place at Skede, Latvia, where most of the remaining Jewish citizens of Liepaja, Latvia, (some of whom were born in neighboring Lithuania) were slaughtered over two days in mid-December 1941 by Latvians and Germans acting in conjunction with Einsatzkommando 2 under SS Commander Fritz Dietrich, the poem is universal in that it describes the scene of the impending massacre of Jews of the sort that took place under the Nazis all over Eastern Europe during the Holocaust.
The author has now learned the name of the child shown in this photo: Sorella Epstein. Thus, the poem is now dedicated to her and to all the murdered children of Europe.
{Originally published in Babi Yar: A Jewish Catastrophe by Patrick Dempsey (P.A. Draigh, Measham, Derbyshire, UK, 2005), republished with author’s permission.}

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about the author
Shulamith Surnamer