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Remember Me Forever

Remember Me Forever

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On my desk sit the pictures and the invitation -- so different yet very much the same. The pictures are of a past generation that never really was, and the invitation represents the future generation that may never be.

I look at these pictures again and again. Some are already discolored, some withered with age. The victims are mainly in their early 20's. They are laughing at the beach, sitting in a boat, posed in front of the house, celebrating at a wedding. They are beautifully dressed. Style must have been important to them. The men are wearing ties, vests and jackets. The women are in fancy dresses and beautiful hats. They all wrote messages on the back of their pictures. They all wrote, "Remember me forever."

My grandfather can't really recall the majority of their names. It is not his fault. It's been many years. As we sit on his sofa in his Tel Aviv apartment we go through the pictures one by one. Who is this? What is this name written on the back? "Yes, yes, I do remember him -- we grew up together and went to the same university. He also did not survive." He thinks he has found a picture of his house. It is a huge red-brick home with beautiful large windows. He changes his mind. It was not his, as the house in the pictures has two stories and his had only one. He must not have brought any pictures of his house with him. Why would he have? He never thought he would not be back.

My grandfather, Yosef Matz, was an ardent Zionist like the rest of his friends. It was everyone's dream to move to the Holy Land and build a Jewish State. Many of the messages on the backs of the pictures told of this dream. "Moshe Golshifsky, 1937 -- Remember me forever. We will meet soon in our land, Eretz Yisroel." Unfortunately, my grandfather could only be left with his memory, as Moshe and the others never made it. My grandfather was one of the fortunate few. In 1937, he obtained a visa to study in British Palestine. Eagerly, he packed his bags, grabbed a few photo albums, and left Utena, Lithuania to fulfill his dream. His hope was that he would be able to secure visas for his younger brother and sister. He was never able to.

He remained in contact with his family through letters. Then the war broke out. The letters became more and more scarce. Then he stopped receiving them altogether. That is what happens during a war. He would have to wait patiently until it ended and then he would bring them to the Land of Israel. He had no way of knowing what had happened. How could he have?

In August of 1941 all the Jews of the town of Utena were rounded up. They were marched to a forest. They were beaten, stripped of their clothes, and shot, one by one, their bodies falling into the shallow pit behind them. Men, women, children, young and old. This was their end. This was the end of the Jewry of Utena. This was the end of all of his family and friends. He was a Matz. There were 70 other Matz families. He was the only survivor. All he is left with are their pictures and their desperate wish -- "Remember me forever."

He didn't find out what happened until after the war. He had just married. I look at his wedding invitation. Tzvi and Masha Matz (Litva) invite you to celebrate in the wedding of their son, Yosef. The chuppah will be December 21, 1941. Though Tzvi and Masha wouldn't be there. He didn't know. He couldn't have known. He shouldn't have.

My eyes glance from one invitation to the next. From the simple, tattered invitation of my grandfather's, my father's father, to the traditional, white, elegant invitation of my dear cousin.

Her family was more fortunate. They left Europe for America years before the War. They never needed to deal with such hatred, horror, and loss. They were not tortured and murdered for being Jews. This side of the family lived and flourished and had children and their children had children. And now, her family eagerly awaits her special day. And it is this invitation that sits on my desk.

We invite you to share the beginning of our new life together... Saturday, September 25, Trinity Episcopal Church. The 25th of September is Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, our day of atonement as a Jewish people and as individuals.

The extended family will attend. Her father will walk her down the aisle. The priest will marry them. This bothers no one. Her mother raves about how beautiful the church is. My cousin has decided that she will raise her children Catholic. She's not religious but her fiancée is. Quite religious actually, and he is insistent that any children he has be raised Catholic. She doesn't care. She wasn't raised with any religion, except an X-mas Tree. What is important is that they are happy. Having her raise her Jewish children Catholic will make him happy.

My cousin's mother married a non-Jew. Her uncle married a non-Jew. His two children are not Jewish. She and her brother are, but only "biologically," I'm told. Will her children ever realize they are Jewish? Not according to their father. Not according to his church.

She has no way of knowing what she will be denying her children. She has never been exposed to the beauty of her heritage, of her Judaism, of her soul. Because she has no knowledge, she has no knowledge to pass down.

Will her children ever taste fresh, home-baked challah on Shabbat night? Will they ever dance with the Torah until their little feet float in the air on Simchat Torah? Will they be given the opportunity to delve into the depths of the Torah and drink of it's life-giving waters as their minds and hearts explode with its Infinite wisdom? Will their precious neshamas,their Jewish souls, ever experience the love of their Creator ?

My grandfather's family went to their deaths praying and praising their Creator. Will my cousin and her children ever recognize their ability to pray and praise Him? The answer must be "yes." For her children will have a neshama, a Jewish soul, that will always be yearning to reunite with its Source. The tragedy is that they will have to come from so far to recognize what is so near -- what is hidden right inside them.

Tzvi and Masha Matz unfortunately were unable to attend their eldest son's chuppah. My grandfather was married without any family to help him celebrate. He had his first child, my father, with no family to share in the joy. When my father was born in 1945 my grandfather still didn't know what had happened. Little did he know how alone he was. No more mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, cousin. "Remember me forever," they all wrote. He tried. I am trying.

I hope to make copies of all of my grandfather's pictures. Perhaps one of the Holocaust museums will help me restore them. Perhaps they will want to display some of the only historical artifacts of Jewish life in Utena. Maybe he will remember some more of the names. Maybe someone will be able to decipher the inscriptions on the back of the pictures. Maybe one day when my children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren visit a memorial they will be able to find out about their ancestors. I can help ensure that their memories stay alive -- that they don't remain old pictures in an old box tucked away in the closet. My grandfather couldn't do anything with them. It hurt too much. But I can. I can try.

And so their pictures sit on my desk. They are turned over and I stare at the inscriptions they all wrote on the back. "Remember me forever..." Directly next to it sits my grandfather's wedding invitation, and to its right, my cousin's. "Please respond at your earliest convenience" it reads. And so I write, "Rabbi and Mrs. Crispe will unfortunately not be able to attend."

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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Ruth Housman marshfield hills, ma June 5, 2011

moving commentaries All commentaries here seem propelled by love but in different directions. I read what Shiksa wife has written and she is truly an open, loving and caring person who respects the religion she has married into.

My son married Sarah, who is not Jewish, and we have two beautiful grandchildren. We cannot go backwards in life once decisions are made and children are so beautiful. They would not be, if not for this particular union and they are precious.

I feel, deeply, that this diverse world is totally a Creation of what is Divine, and that this does pose problems with those who say they will close the doors on all those "other decisions". I agree with Shiksa wife that life is created in diversity and LOVE does not belong just to Judaism.

No, we do not do what Hitler did. I do not see the parallels here. I think merger perhaps is part of the picture as is being separate and cultural identiy being precious for us all. We are part and a part, and this entire story was CREATED for ALL. Reply

Leah NYC, USA June 1, 2011

Intermarriage is incomparable to the Holocaust First of all, Hitler wanted the intermarried Jews dead along with the rest of us. Hitler's ghost does not smile in the front seat of an intermarriage- his ghost rages at the desecration of the 'Aryan nation.' Emotions are good- but please channel them rationally! Yes, intermarriage is a terrible idea. Yes, mourn the loss of a member of our people and their progeny to the arms of another people- but for G-d's sake its not Hitler or the Holocaust!

Secondly, as many have already tacitly pointed out, the living can return to Jewish life via kiruv or conversion. The dead (z'l) cannot. A physical death by hatred is not the same as a spiritual separation by love. NOT COMPARABLE.

Thirdly, when you say intermarriage is like the holocaust- you tell me that I am dead, (or may as well be) and that my parents are murderers. You will have little kiruv or conversion from the progeny of intermarriage if those of us who return to the people are thought of this way. Reply

Anonymous MArshfield, Ma April 12, 2011

About Soul This is beautifully written. It could be your cousin did not know the wedding date corresponded with Yom Kippur because she had, so to speak, left the fold. There will always be angst for a branch that blossomed differently, that was grafted to another tree. It is surely love of Judaism that propels that angst.

It is also clear that this is a world of soul and that soul is not just about the Jews. Our G-d created a world filled with diverse customs, religious traditions and even within our religion, Judaism, there are ardent and loving proponents of very different ways to observe.

Coercion feels wrong to me but freely choosing to worship in other ways is not wrong in my view. Perhaps sad for one who dearly cherishes Judaism. But within other ways of being are also deeply sensitive and moving ways of worship.

I read widely and do live among people who share a common humanity. I so enjoy learning from them and do cherish especially the gifts that come with teaching everyone. Reply

Linda East Windsor, NJ April 7, 2011

Moving Story Thank you for writing such a story. That they chose that day for their wedding was shameful! I am a Catholic and I will never worry if any of my family members convert to Judaism as it is the foundation of Christianity. I appreciate the pain for Jews whose children marry out of the faith. Practically every interfaith couple I know has Catholic children. It is so because the Catholic faith requires the children of such unions be raised Catholic, with both parents signing a commitment to do so. Why so many Jews agree to this is beyond me, yet it is a choice they make. Grandparents should be sad, but live a full Jewish life with their non-Jewish grandchildren a big part of it. Again, thank you for writing this story. Peace. Reply

Anonymous September 20, 2010

"Will my cousin and her children ever recognize their ability to pray and praise Him? The answer must be "yes." For her children will have a neshama, a Jewish soul, that will always be yearning to reunite with its Source."
Jewish or not, human souls yearn to pray, to praise, and to reunite with the Source. And the Source welcomes non-Jew believers into the fold. You don't have to believe this for it to be true, as it is for millions of non-Jew believers. Reply

Dena Modiin Ilit, Israel July 20, 2009

So Painful What a painful article to read.
The part about the non Jewish cousin was more painful than the part about your grandfather's family who perished in the holocaust. What an unbelievable (actually, too believable) tragedy.

I read it and cried. Reply

Lizzi Altzmann Moore Bendigo, Victoria Australia July 20, 2009

INTERMARRIAGE YET AGAIN I agree with the last respondent that mixed marriages are not necessarily a bad thing - when you are only half Jewish in parentage as I am, I believe you can have a greater appreciation, than some full Jews, of Judaism and your Jewish heritage. In all countries there are (some) full Jews, who sadly treat their beautiful and precious legacy with contempt. My own father was incredulous that someone with blue eyes could regard themselves as Jewish - their blue eyes being proof of the Ahkenazim trawl through Europe and the distance created from a truly Semitic set of genes. I believe it is having a Jewish heart and soul that matters - and yes I have dark eyes that are not blue! Part bred Jews can still be great Jews. Reply

Lizzie Altzmann Moore Bendigo, Victoria - Australia July 20, 2009

Marrying out yet again - part two - its in the worst possible taste to have the wedding on Yom Kippur - but the children of this marriage may seek out their Jewish heritage and this is something that the parents will likely be unable to control, no matter how Catholic or Anglican they are. I can understand your mourning though - what they are doing, is the legacy of earlier marrying out and from the soul point of view, yes it is very, very sad. I can understand, given what happened to the family in 'Gestapo Europe', the sense of betrayal that you feel. Shalom, Lizzi in Australia. Reply

Anonymous Jerusalem , Israel July 20, 2009

Never Give Up Thank you for your beautifully told personal story. I'm sure you can get a researcher at Yad Vashem to help you with the pictures next time you are in Jerusalem. You can also have them copied and repaired and send copies to your cousins. You can never tell when someone will discover them at home and remember his/her Jewish heritage. I suggest that you send a Hanukiya for a gift. Reply

sharon December 4, 2008

100% Jew I am 100% Jew: daughter of two Jews, nephew of four Jews and so on, and I have to admit that I met in my life Catholics and Christians who know more of Judaism than I do. So, what is this remembering? What is this Judaism? Is it a DNA thing or is it rather a philosophy of life? Is it a set of gestures or is it a set of values? I think that there are many Atheists that are more Jewish than many Jews (including myself) when it comes to performing Mitzvot and acting in a moral way... Reply

daniela October 26, 2008

Sara Esther: if they will have children, keep in touch. The children will eventually find their way back.
Anonymous from Montreal: we can see that intermarriages do not work, but, yes, occasionally we hear of stories like yours. Last such story i heard, after decades of happy life together and children somehow educated in the jewish way, eventually the "nonjewish spouse" decided to consider a "reform conversion" and started going to the "reform temple" from time to time. Guess what? It was a good thing that there was no halachic conversion. It would have been a blessing in vain. The "nonjewish spouse", of latin-american descent, was no less jewish than moshe rabeinu.... G-d writes straight, even though we provide Him with a notebook with twisted lines.... Reply

Anonymous Montreal, Canada August 24, 2008

The Paradox of Truth Just last week I celebrated my 25th wedding anniversary to my non-Jewish husband. I am proud of being Jewish. I am beyond words to express the love for our children (raised Jewish). We were married by a Rabbi which I thought was the kosher thing to do. After 25 years of this man loving me, taking care of our family, with strength, kindness and being a real mensch while I watched other couples (both Jewish) go through divorces and tearing apart families, I cannot say I made "a mistake". If G-d wanted me here and sent other souls, my children, through me and my non-Jewish husband, is this not meant to be? I agree with the tenets of Torah's principles. However, this issue begs the question, for the Jewish woman, would she do it over again if she could? I believe things happen for a reason. Maybe our sustained "marriage" was G-d's way of providing a stable home for our children and show that marriages in this age in a secular world can work if there is mutual love and respect. Reply

Shiksa Wife Vienna, VA July 11, 2008

Not All Interfaith Marriages are the Same Please, not all us shiksa wives are the same! I am RC and married a Jewish man w/very secular background--- family never belonged to a temple, and he was never bar-mitzvahed. He is not interested in any organized religion. So--- who cooks seders, celebrates holidays and has never barred her Catholic daughters from going to services w/Jewish grparents? Not his sister!This Catholic mom does! My older girl converting to Judaism after travel to Israel, and I am OK w/it, because she found G_d there, better than what her dad did not have. When his parents were in hospital, guess who called rabbi at temple they finally joined? Me. While I raised girls as RC, I wanted them to know they had a special heritage, because their dad came from the same people Jesus did. (They also know their Polish and Italian Catholic backgrounds well).BTW, my husband's family loves me alot, as do my many Jewish friends. Like Jews, not all goyim are alike! G_d loves us all, or he would not have created us! Reply

Ann Richmond, VA March 28, 2008

How sad... I was raised in the Episcopal church, and can assure you there is nothing "incorrect" here; I can also assure you that everything is wrong! This is why I became Catholic. A true Catholic is obligated to forego attending such a wedding.... especially if it is his own!! The children will NOT be raised in the Catholic faith, because the father is NOT a practicing Catholic... he is "Catholic" when it suits him. Thank goodness G-d is not hampered by the actions of His thoughtless creatures. I pray their children will find Him amidst the chaos. Reply

Anna Overland Park, KS June 26, 2007

Amazing This story is so amazing. I am personally dealing with this issue in my family - my sister is marrying an non-Jewish man - and i have such internal conflict about it. Your story really brought me to tears; it was beautiful, bitter-sweet, touching, and an example to us all. I wish I could send the same rsvp, but circomstances are different in each case. Reply

Sara Esther Crispe September 26, 2005

Response to Nancy Dear Nancy,

Thank you for taking the time to write and you have raised some important issues and questions that need clarification.

Firstly, my cousin married a man who had been previously married. Because the Catholic church would not annul his marriage, and does not consider divorice valid, he was not able to marry my cousin in a Catholic church, which is why they were married in an Episcopalian one. Needless to say, my cousin's husband, who considers himself an ardent Catholic, is considered to be living in sin according to his own church, but that is another topic altogether.

In terms of the issues you raise about a non-Jew experiencing spirituality and a connection to his or her Creator, absolutely. In no way did I mean to imply that there was no depth to such a relationship. However, the way for a JEW to connect to G-d is through Judaism, and this is the tragedy that occured when my cousin married a non-Jew: her children will be denied the path and way that they their souls were created to be raised.

Judaism not only acknowledges the importance of non-Jews leading spiritual and meaningful lives with a deep relationship with G-d, but more so, goes to great lengths to explain the importance and necessity of the nations of the world adhering to the 7 Commandments (which subdivide to many more) given to Noach (the Noachide laws.) When both peoples are fulfilling what they were commanded to do, then we are taught that we will rectify the world so that we can be redeemed and taken from this exile through the revelation of Moshiach. However, if a non-Jew attempts to fulfill the role of a Jew or a Jew the role of a non-Jew, then both are doing something contrary to the makeup of their souls and mission in this world. It's like taking another person's medical prescription: in one person it could be life saving, in another, the very same medicine could be extremely damaging.

I very much hope this helps answer your questions and I am sorry for any confusion I caused in my original piece. Again, thank you for having taken the time to write.

Sincerely, Reply

Nancy Princeton , NJ September 24, 2005

Your cousin is marrying an ardent Catholic but they're getting married in an Episcopal church?? Not likely. Something in the story is incorrect.

You wrote (re: your cousin's future children):

"Will their precious neshamas ever experience the love of Hashem?"

Of course they will. This may come as a major shock to you but we Christians actually experience a profound and life transforming spiritual closeness to God every bit as meaningful as that which Jews experience. It's not your experience, so you assume it's worthless. YOUR legacy and heritage is beautiful, valuable, and rich, and gives meaning to your life, but ours is nothing more than a Christmas ("X-mas") tree -- probably a fake one at that.

The "Jewish souls" of your cousin's kids will be fine. "(We don't classify souls by race or religion.)

Just get the wedding in the right church or there might be a problem later on. : Reply

Wilda Barrios via shaloh.org May 26, 2005

As a non Jew, who grew up in a culturally rich Jewish neighborhood ... I thank you for that wonderful piece.

I respect and understand your beliefs. Reply

Anonymous September 25, 2004

Utena & Rzhech "Utena had a Jewish cemetery with tombstones from the 16th century..During the period of Lithuanian independence (1918-39) the town developed considerably and its Jewish population increased: in 1935 their number was estimated at 5,000..The major source of livelihood was trade in flax, skins, and boar bristles. The community supported both a Tarbut and a Yiddish school.

"On August 7, 1941, under German occupation, Utena's Jews were deported and then killed. After the war the community was not reconstituted. In 1963 the Jewish cemetery was completely destroyed and its land earmarked for a building project. A monument has been erected for Jews murdered by the Nazis in the nearby forest of Rzhech."
http://motlc.wiesenthal.com/text/x33/xm3350.html

On Yom Kippur 5765 your cousin will marry a non-Jew. And I can't help but wish that, one day perhaps, she will go to Utena and walk where the cemetery used to be-or look at the monument at Rzhech-and hear her people calling out to her.
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Peter Walters Bath, Great Britain September 15, 2004

But all is not lost... Thank you for a very moving and poignant article.

It is shocking to think how fast a family can move from being Rabbis to being completely assimilated. On the other hand, my grandmother married out around 1900 and lived the rest of her life in a gentile environment, and is now buried in the local churchyard. I was 17 and a committed Christian when I found this out. I went on to reject the Christian faith and to live as a religious Jew (with thanks due in a great part to the influence of Lubavitch) and my sons are both studying Torah with great keenness. So it is possible for the trend to be reversed - the Jewish spark lies dormant but does not die. Reply