To eat or not to eat?
There was no question about it – I was a skinny “bag of bones” kid. And there was no question about how I could be persuaded to have my soup.
“Where’s Omi’s Loeffel” I would whine, even at well over three years old. My mother rummaged in the drawer for her mother’s old, battered, almost flattened tin spoon, transforming soup into a delicacy. Even after finishing the soup I grasped the spoon.
“Pessy,” my mother would cajole, “Let me wash it up.”
The greyish object clutched lovingly in my hands – I must give up? But it was from my grandmother, Oma (German for grandmother), for me called Omi, left in Germany with my Opa, to their fate. I would not let go.
And my parents did not let go of baby me on Germany’s ferociously inhuman Kristallnacht pogrom, November 9 and 10, 1938. Nazis screamed, “Alle Juden Raus!” – “All Jews out!” evicting Jews, shattering windows and our lives in Leipzig, where we lived. Running desperately to our upstairs non-Jewish neighbors, with me bundled in my father’s arms, my mother pleaded with these righteous gentiles, “Please hide us. The child will not cry and give you away, I promise you.”
Stuffed into a closet I did not cry. Perilously, disguised as peasants, smuggling a few household objects, we fled over the border to Belgium’s Antwerp. Before long I was a sitting up, puny eater, but always opening my mouth to Omi’s battered tin spoon. My mother, so happy when receiving her mother’s letters, “Tell my little Pessy that her loving Omi sends kisses. Make sure you take good care of my little Pessale.”
“Tell me about her,” I would beg.
“Your Omi had a Gemach money fund. She helped engaged couples, who had little money, buy what they needed for their new home.”
“What about when you married daddy?”
“Omi bought us all we needed new from her and Opa’s money. But still she gave us some of their own tableware for everyday use.”
“Is that how I have Omi’s spoon to eat with?”
“Yes. Your magic spoon! Filled with love from the moment you were born, Omi rarely saw you. Dresden was 101 kilometers away from our Leipzig home, and she was busy running their large menswear store while Opa Berisch was learning. My letters told what a lively, skinny toddler you were, and how only from her spoon would you eat!”
To shoot or not to shoot?
Oh spoon, old tin spoon, if only you could speak! How amazing that you survived with us, me on my father’s shoulders, racing with just the clothes we stood up in, from Antwerp to Dunkirk. And how we miraculously reached the bomb-strafed beaches with hundreds of tiny boats rescuing British troops.
I’m sure you saw me there, hoisted on my six-foot father’s shoulders and my brave mother, in her best English, accosting one of the British officers.
“I beg you, take us on one of your boats to England!” and his reply, “Impossible. We are evacuating the British troops.”
And Mother pleading, “Please!”
Response again, “Impossible.”
It was life or death on the beaches. Desperately my mother pulled the gun from the officer’s holster, held it up to my head and screamed, “If you do not take us, I shoot my child, my husband and myself before your eyes!”
Retrieving his gun, the shaken officer dropped us into a boat full of soldiers being evacuated to safety in England’s seaside town, Ramsgate. On one of those soldier-packed boats, some saw and heard a little two-year-eight-month-old girl skipping and singing down the narrow passage: “Pessy drey dich... mach hop sa! Pessy turnabout, make a hop, skip and jump!”
Entertained, troops patted me on the top of my head!
British officers viewed us as German spies – my father speaking no English – and interned us on the Isle of Man. Family, hearing of our plight, vouched for our integrity, and we were freed.
To go or not to go?
I make a hop, skip and a jump to London. There we settled in a calm suburb called Willesden, miraculously with my beloved tin spoon intact!
On Sabbath mornings children learned the traditional prayers in classes adjoining the synagogue. One such morning, Mr. Brody, the usually calm principal, arrived urgently, instructing us, “Children! Stand up! News has spread like wildfire!”
Bewilderedly scraping our chairs we clambered to our feet hearing his dramatic announcement.
“Today a miracle has occurred! Yesterday, Medinat Yisrael was established! Today we have a country of our own!”
What? How? Where?
“Breathe deeply and sing loudly Israel’s national anthem, the Hatikvah – Song of Hope!”
A miracle? A country of our own? Wasn’t I in my own country?
Mother mused, “England accepted us and here we live. But our own country is Israel.”
“So when are we going?”
Regretfully, “It is too hard for us to uproot ourselves again. It was difficult enough settling here.”
On the spot I decided that one day I would live in our own country. I can tell you, dear Omi’s spoon, that when I met Neville, we shared the dream.
To hope or not to hope?
Dear spoon, if only you could tell me how I lost you when Neville and I married. I so wanted him to know how you came from my Omi, to take you with me to the North of England’s Sheffield where Neville and his family factory actually produced knives, forks and spoons – yes, spoons! But none like you! I wanted to introduce you to our three sons, Shimon, Dov and Daniel, to share our history.
Still, they never take for granted having our own country. We visited Israel five weeks after the miraculous 1967 Six Day War when they were four, seven and nine years old. In brilliant sunshine we drove from Jerusalem to Hebron’s Cave of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs – the Cave of Machpela – where Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca and Jacob and Leah are buried. Our lads were accosted by Arab children who greeted us with offerings of one shoelace, combs with missing teeth, toothy grins, melting away as Israeli soldiers in army vehicles rolled up the steps toward Machpela Cave.
Amazed were we all, but even more so on our stay a few days later in Netanya’s seaside Margoa Hotel. Putting us all up in a room where the boys had to climb a spiral staircase to get to bed, I repeatedly asked, “Please give us a better room, I’m afraid the boys will have an accident falling out of bed”
Finally, exasperated, the heavily accented proprietress said to us, “Come with me!”
Going up to the regular bedrooms she threw open door after door, revealing khaki dressed soldiers, men and women, relaxing on beds, some on the balconies.
“Now, you see! We are offering our soldiers free hospitality after their terrible war ordeal when they miraculously reached the Kotel – Western Wall – putting it in our hands for the first time in 19 years. I have been to the Old City at last, where my grandparents lived years ago. Our heroes achieved all this.”
Feeling rather ashamed, we felt in need of refreshment. What better than to the corner stand across the square from the hotel, where songbirds of the streets cried out “Sabras, Sabras – come buy our tasty Sabras!” In barrels of ice cubed waters floated Sabra fruit. Likened to Israelis, they are prickly on the outside, soft and sweet inside.
Dear Omi Loffel, it would have been so helpful to have had a spoon like you to scoop out the tasty fruit. Amazingly, when we went down to the beach, digging in the sand, the boys whooped – “Imma – Mummy! Look! Treasure! We’ve dug up an old spoon!”
A spoonful heaped with sand – a spoonful of hope.
To depend, or not to depend?
Now, in 2021, my boys blessedly are husbands, fathers and even grandfathers.
Omi, your spoon has seen a transformation from one that held so many memories of hardship and hunger to one of encouragement. Who do I hear calling “Savta Omi”? My Israeli grandchildren and their children combine the Hebrew word for grandmother, Savta with that of Omi. Yes, it’s none other than me!
Omi, indeed your spoon has seen a revolution. We are enjoying a remarkable diet. From a people running away to one that runs its own beloved country. This 73rd Israel Independence Day we sing our National Anthem – Hatikvah - The Hope. Our forefather Abraham was promised that just like the sand, our people cannot be counted, and like the stars each and every one is special. That includes you, my Omi and Opa, my cousins, nieces, nephews and millions of others. You did not perish. Though you are far – yet you are near, always.
Your memories are for a blessing.
To life! L’chaim!
The writer is a psychotherapist and organization consultant. [email protected]