For everything there is a season. A time to destroy. A time to build . . . (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

It all happened in a moment.

The moment my grandmother received the knock in the middle of the night, a fierce pounding that shook the door of her sleeping home and threatened to knock it from its hinges. The moment she was escorted from her home dressed in her nightgown and winter coat, hurried by a Nazi soldier who wouldn’t allow her the time to put on her stockings. The moment her history was stripped to its barest essentials, pared down to the contents of a single overnight bag—a change of clothes, her hairbrush, and the prayerbook she received on her wedding day.

Our common history of our family’s exiles unites us

From that moment, my family has been uprooted.

Two generations, and two continents later, we are still rebuilding.

My grandmother was marched through the streets of her once-familiar village until the town square, where a thousand lost souls waited. Stripped of their names and identities, the entire Jewish community in her town vanished that night.

By the end of the war, my grandmother had no use for Europe. She began again in Coney Island, as a bathing suit designer with no time to swim. For her it was just work, shaping spandex into waterproof outfits for people untouched by war.

My mother was touched by the war. Yiddish-speaking ghosts haunted her nursery, whispering the names of the missing and unaccounted for. Years later, as a mother herself, those same ghosts haunted my nursery. For years, I never knew that anyone living spoke Yiddish. I thought it was the language of ghosts.

I learned about the technicality of the Holocaust in school. I learned about the sheer numbers that defied comprehension. I learned about the terminology of mass genocide. From my mother I learned the personal side of the devastation. My mother was an English teacher who specialized in Holocaust literature. So I read all her books, and sat crying by her side through endless Holocaust films at the local theater. We talked about the books we read, and analyzed the films we had seen.

But I never spoke to my mother about what happened in our home. How each time before we left the house I watched my mother at the gas stove, checking the burners over and over. Surely there were other mothers who also couldn’t leave the house without standing before the oven in a trance. Besides, what did this have to do with the war? My mother chanted as she counted the knobs. “Silver, one, two, three, off.” She always used these same words, while my father paced and gritted his teeth, jangling the car keys and quietly fuming that we would once again be late. Still he couldn’t disturb her, or she would start from the beginning.

My mother knew that you had to be careful with gas and germs. You had to check again that the oven was off, and wash the floor every night with bleach. You had to do these things in order to stay alive. You had to do these things to make sure it didn’t all disappear before you returned.

My mother’s behavior was not unique. To be a child of a survivor means being hyper-vigilant, as though this act of vigilance could keep the wolves from their prey. My husband is also the grandchild of survivors. His grandparents escaped Germany on the eve of the war, and everything they left behind was consumed in the inferno. Our common history of our family’s exiles unites us.

Rebuilding is also how my husband and I have chosen to honor our families’ stories

It would be easy to focus on the losses of the past, especially when their trauma is still being felt. Yet my husband and I have chosen to build our lives in Israel, where we both came as students. In our apartment building we have neighbors from Canada and New Zealand, from Belgium and South Africa. We are surrounded by those who consciously chose to make Israel their home, despite the challenges of learning a new language and absorbing a new culture that this entails. We are grateful to be part of this community of builders.

On Tishah B’Av, the day that is designated nationally for mourning the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, the Holy Temple, we also remember the more immediate tragedies that our families experienced during the war. Yet even on Tishah B’Av, a day designed for mourning, the focus is not exclusively on the past. By midday it is time to turn our focus once again to the future, to the task of building and rebuilding, a task at which the Jewish people excel.

The amazing thing about the Jewish people is our ability to focus on the future, and to never forget our responsibility to future generations. When Jews come to a new place, they are commanded to build a mikvah—a ritual bath—before any other community structure. This commandment forces us to focus on the task of rebuilding.

Rebuilding is also how my husband and I have chosen to honor our families’ stories. It has been sixteen years since I first came to Israel, on the equivalent of my collegiate “junior year abroad.” I was drawn here, searching for something I didn’t quite understand. Yet looking back, I understand what drew me here was this search for a way to honor the past by focusing on building the future.