Mendush is the hatless one
Frankfurt, Germany - November, 2008
What I was about to do was a violation, I knew it. But the moment to act would never present again. I knew what I was about to do was wrong …. but I did it anyway.
My father’s younger brother z”l, my favorite uncle Mendush (I always called him by the Yiddish name of his boyhood in Dabie, Poland) was standing on the bimah of Frankfurt’s main synagogue. Moments earlier prior to reading the week’s Torah portion, he was bestowed the honor of chanting the introductory blessings. Mendush was a survivor of the Holocaust. How could he be standing there, in Germany, now? Could this really be happening?
Almost eighty years earlier synagogues all across Germany were ablaze during Krystallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, a massive pogrom targeting Jews and Jewish establishments. It was the night of terror considered the opening salvo of the Holocaust. Years later when the conflagration which scorched all of Europe finally ebbed to smoldering ashes, six million Jews had been consumed in Nazi Germany’s obsession of extermination. Somehow my uncle emerged from this greatest crime against all humanity. He was now an honored guest standing before the assembled worshippers in the country he never intended to set foot in.
I sat in disbelief embraced by my father’s tallit (prayer shawl). Bringing the tallit with me was my way of transporting him along for this surreal journey. Had my father lived to this day, he too would have been there with us. My thoughts raced in overdrive, my eyes moistened, and my body started to shake. I knew a truly decisive moment never to be repeated was playing out before me and I sensed an inescapable obligation to record the moment. But doing so was wrong, a violation of the Sabbath. I also knew I could never live with myself if I didn’t capture the image. Still trembling, I reached down to slip out a small pocket camera, the one I always had with me, and as surreptitiously as possible, composed and froze the moment for all time.
Despite the stealth, I was outed and firmly berated by a congregation official. In response I acted apologetic, but inwardly I was immune to his anger. In fact I felt a sense of accomplishment. As I said at the outset, ‘What I was about to do was a violation, I knew it. But the moment to act would never present again. I knew what I was about to do was wrong …. but I did it anyway. ’ Committing violations are not my typical MO. My actions in Frankfurt were guided in part by a lesson learned from a respected photography mentor and friend, Essdras Suarez, the Pulitzer Prize winning former Boston Globe photographer. He counseled that when the option of a decisive moment presents ….. click the camera’s shutter; ‘it is better to ask forgiveness than to request permission.’ That’s exactly what I did.
Mendush and me
photo - Joseph Greenfield
What were we doing in Germany anyway? The answer in my next photo-blog post. Visit my web site anytime to view Galleries, Photo-essays, and read previous blog-posts.
z”l (zichrono livracha) - may his memory be a blessing.