Monday, April 16, 2007

Zeda, I never knew you

In Memoriam Benjamin Amsel, April 16, 1904

This poem was written in tribute to my paternal grandfather, my Zeda. In my family my mom’s parents were “grandma” and “grandpa” and my dad’s mom was “bubby”, which was the Yiddish or Ukrainian word. There was no “zeda” – he had died in 1966, two years before my birth. Today would have been Zeda’s 103rd birthday, had he survived the sweatshop conditions that destroyed his lungs, leading to his early death. My father, DesertPeace, posted a beautiful remembrance of his father, which is well worth reading, here. Below is a poem that I wrote, in memory of the zeda that I never had the honour of knowing.

Zeda, I never knew you

growing up with three grandparents
a child should feel lucky:
the opportunity to connect with the past through
those who were there,
to connect with those who understood the truths
that one couldn’t learn in school

to be loved by more than your parents,
to know the greatness of character that went in to
making up mom and dad …
making it easier to
respect, to honour what they say,
knowing the wisdom that gave it life

even so, now that the three have passed from this temporal world
one regret remains: only three were known to me

everything ever said about my Zeda – my “other” grandfather
is a memory … from someone else
having died before my birth
there is nothing that is known in my heart
save that there is an empty place
for where he would have been

there is no way that we cannot live in the past
though it may be tried … with varying degrees of success,
nor can we mourn the loss of that which we never knew
yet, had it been possible … to know the man
(still proudly called Zeda;)
is it possible to know how different my life could be?

by all accounts he was a man whose stature
far exceeded his height … one cannot appreciate the full
measure of a man by their mere appearance:
a simple man living to help his fellow man – regardless of their colour or creed,
losing his family in Medzilaborce was not an end to him,
it hardened his resolve – to live for the future and fight for change

he was a simple man who wanted simple things;
peace, justice and the fair treatment of workers …
a desire was to make the words “never again” resound throughout the world
with a meaning that was more than merely symbolic
a desire to see an end to the class distinctions
that strangled the poor

a man who had the courage to turn his back on religion,
but not, perhaps, his faith …
“I’ll never set foot inside a synagogue again as long as I live!”
after seeing the hypocrisy of the rich man’s son
jumping in front of him, buying his place
at the front of the congregation

he was a man with vision, who saw that the rich were trampling the poor
climbing the ladders of “success” on the backs of the weak
paving the streets of America with the gold mined from the sweatshops
tainted with the blood of their workers
unrelenting in their drive for more profits
not caring what happened to those who worked in the factories

he breathed in their poisoned air,
filled with the fibres from the garments he made,
filling his lungs for years on end until,
in the end,
he wasn’t able to breath at all and lost his final battle,
defeated by those whose profits come from the suffering of others

in the end, dear Zeda, it is true:
I may never have known you,
but in many ways, perhaps I did:
through all the stories, from Bubby and aunt Ruthie
from uncle Phil … and from your son …
the memories are there, as alive as any can be

there is a picture of a fisherman with a warm woollen hat
a picture that was seen often while growing up,
but it is not merely a memory of a man long dead:
it belongs to a man with a story, a history: a man who said,
“Do all the good you can, to all the people you can,
in every way you can, for as long as you can”

In Memoriam Benjamin Amsel, April 16, 1904

© 2007 by
Peter Amsel, aka aCrazyComposer


Anonymous said...

That was a beautiful tribute Peter. Zeda would have been proud of you for being the 'mentch' you are. I know I am....
I linked this to my original text so people can go back and forth... back and forth...

Frank Partisan said...

Brilliant writing.

Unknown said...

As Benjamin Amsel's first born son,I think that he was fortunate never to have known you, a grandson who all but ignored his paternal grandmother. The love he had for my son gave him great joy. You have fictionalized many events in my father's life that never occurred.

Unknown said...

Welcome to my site, Martin - I hope Anita and the kids are well ... it has been quite a while since we've been in touch.

As for your comment, you have - as usual - demonstrated your penchant for fictionalizing situations towards your own scenario - one that bears no resemblance to reality. All of my comments regarding your father contain facts garnered from the original post by my father (your brother - see link at the top of article). In case you forgot your history, Martin, your father did, in fact, join - and organize - trade unions, he did quit the synagogue, and everything else mentioned is verifiable according to first-hand accounts - another son.

Don't imagine that I'm going to write something just for the sake of putting words together; look at the comment from "DesertPeace" - your brother - I certainly value his opinion about what I wrote about his father more than your attack.

Rather than pointing out what you disagree with you come here and flail out, making a comment that is aimed at cutting to the core - just like the mamzer that the family has known you to be for decades.

As for my relationship with Bubby, you have no idea what our relationship was like - when I visited her during the summer you would be there for one day - so what? But this is about you.
Do you know how much Bubby grieved about the despicable way you because of the way you would behave when you would come over to her apartment? - 2780 West 5th Street, Apt 3J, Brooklyn, NY, 11224 - Just in case you doubt my memory - You would arrive and sit down and then you would yell for Anita to get you anything you wanted while you sat on your ass, reading your paper. Bubby would be in her tiny kitchen, with me, shaking her head saying, "I don't know why she stays with him - she could do so much better."

Then there was the answer you once gave when asked, "why did you join the Auxiliary Police Force"? This one is perfect to demonstrate your true character, Martin - it really shows you for who you are - the real "mentsch" of the family - nu? What was your answer, I can't recall ... oh ... yes ...

"Someone's gotta' keep the niggers in their place."

That's what your legacy is, Martin - or, that's what it is so far - what have you been up to lately?

CC out.