THE SWEET CELEBRATION
When I trudged through my final year of High School, my Senior English instructor assigned two thesis papers. The first, I chose to write on Sharks, specifically those found near the Great Barrier Reef, over to Australia. The second (queerly unrelated, just wait) was on the Holocaust. I can rationalize the interest in Sharks stemming from my Brother’s early desire to become a Marine Biologist, but I have no clue what bore my passion for education on the Holocaust. Nevertheless, I am grateful my interest has lent me several visions and experiences into a world I will likely never physically understand, but emotionally believe I should recognize and remember.
During college in Ohio, I worked as a coffee maid and frequently read works written by Holocaust survivors over my shifts. Inevitably, my Tuesday evening clients would see my books and inquire, ‘Class or pleasure?’ It was usually the most uncomfortable question I had to answer (until 2.00 am, during Rush week, when various Frat boys would trample in asking for ’bagels’). There was a lack of Jewish studies at my college, so that beat out the ‘class’ question, but is it right to answer ‘I’m reading a book about the Holocaust for pleasure’? In addition to that, is it right to answer, ‘Yes, I’m reading said book for pleasure’ and then have the questioner’s awkward expression mirror my own? Jury’s still out on this.
Practically every operation I’ve had, hospital stay, holiday to visit the nieces & nephews of the person I’m dating: I bring a book either about the Holocaust, a survivor’s story from the Holocaust, something concerning the Eichmann trials, etc. I guess, now, instead of questioning the initial reasons I am fascinated by the Holocaust (read the time, people, and reasons surrounding it), I feel that it honestly is something that shouldn’t stop being broadcast. And being broadcast as a nightmare is probably one of the most powerful descriptions as there are moments I cannot fathom this area existed beyond the photographs, films, and personal items of documentation which, in my own mind, carry an ashed black & white pulsating stain which quietly refuses to let itself be removed.
As a human, I do have those fantasies I want to experience during my lifetime. My big-ticket items are to observe what’s left of Bergen-Belsen, the Auschwitz Camps & Subcamps, and attend the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. For now, I’ve been supplementing myself with literature and the Oregon Jewish Museum.
I’ve actually become quite taken with the Oregon Jewish Museum regarding it’s Artists and Art displays. Recently, I was fortunate enough to step into the OJM’s standing Photography exhibit, The Shape of Time: Accumulations of place and memory. The exhibit featured about seven Photographers, in two galleries, who focused their medium on past and present objects that represented their own interpretations of historic Jewish cultures and lives. Added to this exhibit were tin-type photographs of wedding dresses, nostalgic prints of Jewish business owners in Portland as well as prints of the family members who survive now, a wall of seemingly pushed/abstracted leaves related to Temple designs, and my personal favourite-photographs of tombstones in Jewish cemeteries.
Those who know me know one of my great loves is photographing cemeteries. In addition to my pouting plea to read everything I can about the Holocaust, I will probably always choose photographing tombstones over true lives. When I visit these plots, I am blanketed with so much to think about…regarding living, deaths, favourite holidays, dislike for chicken or veal, how does anyone arrive at the decision to be buried into the ground…
Among the matted OJM’s Artist’s Statements, was a description that was undeniably appropriate in understanding Photography over Physical Objects (I believe I heard a ‘gong’). One Artist made the soundless observation of Judaism being attached to memories over physical objects-and photographs are documented memories. My half-lid peering into the photographs of tombstones, covered with visitation rocks, slowly kinda kicked it to the back of my thoughts that this culture is so strong it’s soft. The realization of a world with desire replaced by memories makes for a quiet existence…and possibly one that‘s even more peaceful and accepting.
This is the kind of quite I could feel in the placement of the visitation rocks. A slow breathing, making a note to someone once living and now cared for in a memory is that quiet. It’s the silence that I would expect to scratch my own hand when entering the Camps and Subcamps. It’s quiet and it’s observed, but maybe any religion is not meant to truly make sense to those who aren’t fully dedicated. Or maybe you don’t have to be fully dedicated; maybe you just have to remain still enough to take in something that could eventually become a memory.