When you watch other people, what you see depends on what is important to you at the time. A barber will notice styles and quality of haircuts. A tailor will notice clothing. A salesman will notice potential customers. A critical person will notice what is wrong. And a compassionate person will notice opportunities to be compassionate.
Be compassionate. This elevates you greatly
Love Yehuda Lave
Moth Orchid (Phalaenopsis)
Naked Man Orchid (Orchis Italica)
Angel Orchid (Habenaria Grandifloriformis)
It's very cold.
There is hunger, no, starvation, and there is thirst. There is crowding, and filth, and lice. Boards for beds and no water for washing. No facilities to maintain one's dignity.
There are beatings, and always, always, the fear of death.
But above all this...
There is the cold.
It seeps through everything. It seeps through the thin walls of the barracks. There is no heat, of course. It comes through the thin clothes I wear. I have no coat, of course.
It seeps through my skin. It seeps through my blood. It seeps through my bones.
I would not have known the cold would be like this. But as September turned into October, and October turned into November, and November turned into December, it became so. The cold rules our lives, holds us in its grasp. It turns our bodies stiff, and makes us long for fire, for anything red, for flame itself. Sometimes I dream of black stoves, and I think that if my dream would come real that moment, I would put my hands on the iron without fear of being burnt. Sometimes I think I would hold the flames themselves, embrace them, clutch them inside me.
That would be warm.
When my body is stiff, and does not want to work, or move, and longs for blankets that are not to be had...
Then my mind is all that I have.
The cold seeks to take that too. It presses down on my brain, whispering that it should shut off. Shut off, shut down, anything- anything to escape from the ice. The air is ice. Life is ice. My mind tells me that ice is death, and that I must go to sleep. Must, must, go to sleep, be still, shut out the cold, freeze.
But my mind is all that I have, and I must go on.
And so I fight.
It's hard to believe now that September ever was. But once, many many days ago, when the sun still shone, and the earth and the air had not yet frozen, Moishe, and Yankel, and Srulik, and I sat together in our barracks and spoke.
"In a few months it will be Chanukah," Yankel said.
"If we're still alive then," Moishe responded.
"It will be Chanukah whether we are alive or not," Yankel said, "and God willing, we will be alive."
"I've been thinking about it too," I admitted. I leaned forward on the wooden slat that was my bunk.
The four of us had bunks near each other, and talking together was not too dangerous. We had just come back from work, and we were all very tired, but this was important.
"Menorah?" Srulik lifted his head from his bunk and looked at me. I could hardly see him in the dark, but a streak of moonlight coming through the walls gleamed of his eye as he turned.
"It's possible," I said.
The three of them were silent for a moment, thinking. I knew Yankel, at least, shared some of my thoughts.
"We need a menorah," I said, "and I believe it is possible. After all, we have oil. If we save enough, we can light it."
We were all quiet again, thinking the same thing.
Yes, we have oil.
We have one gram of oil, rationed to us as we need it.
Do you know how much a gram is?
One gram of oil will fill a thimble.
A small thimble.
We use one hair from the hide of a horse to apply it.
We are given many watches, as many as we can fix, but the oil must be used carefully and sparingly. Spill a drop, waste a drop, and you are in trouble. Wheels must be greased and cogs must be oiled and gears lubricated. A watchmaker needs oil for everything.
One gram, only one gram.
"We can save it," Yankel said. "I can take a piece of tin and bend it. If we use the lubrication oil very, very carefully, we can take a tiny bit off each gram. I'll save it, and it will add up."
We are silent again, thinking again. It is much more then oil, of course. It is life, and it is death. Oil taken from the gram can be death. Oil lit on Chanukah is death.
"I am going to try to save oil," I said.
One must try. God has commanded, and we must try.
I am a man. We are all men. Men try.
"I am also going to save," Yankel said. "Tomorrow I will see what can be done for a container."
"I'm almost finished my gram," said Srulik, "and I can't spare any now. When I get my next ration I will work to make it last."
"Tell me when you have something to hold it in," Moishe said to Yankel. "I'm going to try."
We sat together there, for a few moments in the dark, and felt each others' presence.
There was danger, and maybe death, but we did not speak of it.
We are men, and men must try.
It is morning.
This morning, like all mornings, we march out of the camp.
There is frost on the ground.
There is frost on the trees, frost on the buildings, frost on the air.
It is not September anymore.
The frozen leaves crunch underfoot as we march. My breath makes clouds in the air. We are passing through the camp gates, out of the encircling barbed wire. We pass by trees, many trees of a forest.
Some part of my mind knows that in other times, other years, I might find this walk pleasant. A crisp, cold, day in early December, walking through the green and white of a winter wood.
Without a coat, with hardly a body to insulate my bones, with my mind barely there... it is almost ludicrous that that part of my mind even knows that it... could be pleasant. In another place... another time.
I keep my eyes on the head in front of me. It is one way to keep going; to focus on the head, on one more step, one more moment. To pass by the cold, the frozen forest and the frozen air, and not let it catch me in its grasp.
I live for the moment.
We arrive at our destination: work.
Inside the large building it is not really warm, but compared to the outdoors it is heaven.
We take our stations at our tables and set to work.
The Germans, of course, all have watches. An army must have perfectly calibrated timepieces to coordinate the efforts of every soldier.
The Germans, of course, also have other watches. Maaaaaany, many watches, watches that came off the arms of Jewish men. It would be a shame, indeed, for all those watches to go to waste.
I pick up the next timepiece to be fixed and examine it. It is a fine piece of work, made of strong metal and well-constructed parts. No precious metals or stones on this one, but it was made to last.
Whose arm did this watch last encircle?
A soldier of the Reich? Tall, husky, with a strong face and a pistol on his hip?
The steel seems contaminated.
A thin Jewish man? With a short beard, and anxious eyes? Who is now dead?
It feels sacrilegious.
The thought does not stay in my head for longer then half a clock-beat. Strong instinct for functioning and preservation push it into oblivion. I allow myself to focus only on the watch, on the workings of the gears and screws. Perhaps I will allow myself to give myself up to its beauty. If necessary, I might.
Otherwise, I think I would rather not.
"Froyim!" There is an anxious whisper at my side.
I look up.
It is Itche Perlow, a short, slight, anxious man. Well, he has good reason to be anxious. Itche couldn't fix a watch to save his life.
How could he? Itche had been a shoemaker before the war.
Itche is holding a lady's watch and looking at me anxiously.
I put down the steel watch I am holding and take the one from his hand. It is also a fine piece; mass produced, not particularly unique in any way, but good quality, good design.
The watch is already open. Apparently Itche had done that much before giving up.
I scan the workings and see the problem almost immediately. The lower spring has simply given out from wear and tear. I look up.
"Get me a number three spring," I say. "If there are none in the "parts" box, go to Shmiel and ask him if he has any. I know he was fixing some ladies' watches yesterday and there might have been some unsalvageable ones he can give me."
Itche hurries off.
I look up and take in all the men at the tables around me.
We are all watchmakers, we men from Barracks Three. We have all been put together for this one purpose- to fix watches for soldiers and citizens.
My eyes move from head to head. Out of all the men standing here at worktables, many cannot fix a watch. Many have never fixed a watch in their life. Many have never looked inside a timepiece to see the workings within.
Is it their fault if they were grocers, peddlers, butchers, before the war?
The Germans asked for watchmakers, so we knew that watchmakers would live. Of course they claimed to be watchmakers.
And so they became watchmakers... who cannot fix a watch.
My hands have been holding watches since I was twelve. They know the feel of smooth gold, the sharpness of a fine-toothed gear, the minute space between lever and spring.
My hands know how to fix a watch.
And so many bring their watches to me. The German guard is not here most of the day, and it can be done. It is only right that hands that know watches should fix them for those with hands that don't.
Itche comes back holding a spring.
"Shmiel gave it to me," he explains. "He had to look through a bunch of old watches before he found it."
"Shmiel gave it to me," he explains. "He had to look through a bunch of old watches before he found it."
I take the spring and set to work. I barely see Itche return to his table; all I see now is the machine before me. It is a beautiful thing, all delicacy and precision. Precision must be maintained.
As I work, on Itche's watch and then on others, I draw from the oil in front of me to lubricate the parts.
It is a tiny metal container, barely half the size of my thumb.
It held one gram of oil.
I lift a horsehair and carefully dip it into the oil, then draw it over the gear in my hand.
Then I take the horsehair and dip it in the oil again. I draw it out and move my hand to the left, where there is another tiny container of oil.
This container is made from a scrap of tin. Yankel found it somewhere. He also found scraps of tin for Moishe, Srulik, and himself.
Most of the half-gram missing from my container has been used to oil springs and pistons.
Some of it has been taken, carefully stolen away, into this scrap of tin. Horsehair by horsehair.
It has filled up, slowly, over these past months. Horsehair by horsehair.
Soon it will be full. Or almost full.
Soon it will be Chanukah.
My mind thinks of the small container in front of Yankel, and the one in front of Moishe, and the one in front of Srulik. It hopes that they are getting full.
For now, I work. Watch by watch, spring by spring, wheel by wheel, time turns on.
Horsehair by horsehair.
Tonight is Chanukah.
We march back to the camp in darkness. Night falls early in the winter, and Jewish slaves must work late.
In my hand I carry the small tin container. Today I am glad of the darkness; it makes detection less likely.
We are in our barracks. Most of the men are on their way to sleep. It is late, and they are tired.
Moishe, Yankel, Srulik, and I gather in the back of the room. Moishe and I are holding cups of oil; the others have left theirs at work, and will bring them back when ours is finished.
I think of drops of oil that lasted for eight days, longer then they should last. Our oil should last for eight days. Not for very long each night, and not in very large cups, but it should last. We cannot hope for a miracle, but we can do what we can. For eight nights, we can try to draw oil from our meager hoard.
Yankel is holding an empty cup, too. It is crude, but it will hold oil, and that is all that matters. "Where shall we put it?" he asks quietly.
We all look around.
There is a small slat of wood that sticks out in the connection between the bunks. Ultimately, Yankel puts it here, leaning against the beam of wood.
Moishe takes his cup of oil and pours a few drops into the menora.
I pick at my sleeve where the fabric has unraveled. I pull at a frayed white thread until it is a few inches long. I snap it off and set it carefully inside the cup.
Now we are ready.
It is a solemn moment.
We feel the rush of pressure that comes from fear of discovery. We must be silent, we must be careful, and no matter what, any moment death may come.
Still, there is solemnity. A hushed, silent, awareness, of life, and God, and Man, and moment.
If time cannot stand still for us in the tranquility of a sanctified moment, it can stand still for us in the fear of this sanctified moment. It may shiver and shake, but it will stand still.
This moment is holy.
I strike a match and hold it in the air. There is no time for reflection, but the time will contain all that it must. All that must be said. All that must be thought. All that must be felt.
Blessed are you, Hashem, our God, King of the world, who has sanctified us through his mitzvos, and has commanded us to ignite the flame of Chanukah.
Blessed are you, Hashem, our God, King of the world, who performed miracles for our fathers, in those days, at this time.
Blessed are you, Hashem, our God, King of the world, who has-
and there is only a moment's worth left of the match, but my voice breaks and pauses before I continue-
given us life-
we are alive
and has sustained us-
we are still alive
and has brought us to this time
we live yet.
The flame touches the thread, and the licht is alight.
We stand, Moishe, and Yankel, and Srulik, and I, and we watch the flame.
The flame of an oil lamp is unique.
It sometimes burns straight and tall, and sometimes dances, or jumps.
It has its own unique color; the transparent, antique, yellow-bronze of ancient, unmixed gold.
This lamp is an oil lamp. It dances, and jumps, and sometimes burns straight and tall.
It is tiny, barely a pinprick of light. But it is alive. It is vibrant, so vibrant, and strong, and warm. It radiates warmth through the darkness, touching our minds with the color of its life.
We cannot touch the warmth. Even if it was permitted to benefit from it, it is barely there. Tiny.
But we can touch the vibrancy. The life is there, plain to see, cannot be denied.
Burn, little flame, burn high, and burn long.
It straightens our backs.
It makes us powerful, masters of our own destiny, for this one night- for this one moment.
It is the greatest defiance possible- to create life, and to sustain it- a vibrant, strong, warm young life.
They cannot take it away.
A flame commanded by God. A God who has sanctified us through his commandments.
Yes, we are holy.
A God who has performed miracles for us, His people, in these very days.
Yes, there are miracles.
We stand there, our backs straight, proud and defiant, and we watch the flame.
It is dark, so dark, all around us.
Only this one small flame is light. It spreads between us, pushing out as far as it can.
All around is darkness.
It is hard to be a man.
It is hard to be a man when you have no bread, and no water... and certainly nothing else to eat or drink. The body starves, and the mind becomes weak, and the man becomes diminished.
It is hard to be a man when one lives through ice... all the time. One's body fights, and one's mind fights... but it is a hard fight.
It is hard to be a man when one must labor all day, every day, with no respite, save a short sleep in a bare wooden room. Far from one's family.
The manhood starves, and freezes, and shrivels up. It grows thin and weak within us. It pulses forward, and resists, to be flogged, and flayed once more, and smashed with the toe of an iron boot.
We can not, we will not, we do not, let it die.
All around us is darkness.
We sit in it, inside the containing force of oppression, with the iron boot always an inch from our necks.
Tonight I am a man, a man with a God, who has not forsaken his God...
...and whose God has not forsaken him.
Efraim Greenberg slaved in Sachsenhousen, a German labor camp, towards the end of the war.
"I'm thinking of the men in Sachsenhousen," she says. Her voice is tinged with the strength of bitterness, but also the strength of pride.
The flames burn yello-bronze. Her back is straight.
Some of the details of this story, such as what the oil was stored and burned in, or the number and names of the men who participated, I did not know, and had to guess or invent. The rest of the story is true.
To cheer you up after that --here is Adam Sandler's Chanukah song--funny as always