There is nothing like a nice relaxing, head-clearing walk with Bear the Mitvah Dog to make me realize a cruel irony. The opportunity to free associate and just follow my train of thought wherever it takes me on these shaptzeern can lead me to see things I have never noticed before, both literally and figuratively and both pretty and ugly.
Out on a walk this afternoon, I was surprised to notice “Johnny 1956” written into the concrete at the end of a driveway I had passed many times before. I am used to seeing street names imprinted at the corners of the sidewalks in our old neighborhood, but my eyes had missed this less conspicuous inscription until today. The inscription made me smile and and all warm inside to think that a little boy probably wrote these words as the driveway was being paved in front of his house fifty-four years ago. I then immediately recalled that a few years ago I was taken by the handprints and signatures captured in the patio paving stones behind another house here in Palo Alto. They must have been put there by the children who once lived in the home, which we were considering buying. As I have already written, I am a lover of old houses and the personal histories they embody and represent.
As I continued on with Bear, my mind wandered accordingly to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, where entertainers know they have “made it” if their handprints and signature appear in one of its tiles. Similar such walks of fame have sprouted up around the world, like the one dedicated to the greats of classical music I saw on a visit to Vienna a few summers ago.
Then the most critical connection lightbulb went on. Yad VaShem, the name of the Holocaust memorial (officially the “Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority”) in Jerusalem literally means “hand and name.” I usually thought of “yad” as “memorial” (a more figurative meaning of the word) in this context, but focused on its literal sense as I contemplated it today. The term Yad VaShem is derived from the verse in Isaiah (56:5), “And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name that shall not be cut off.”
How ironic it is that celebrities, who live increasingly public lives, would metaphorically die to have their names and handprints immortalized in concrete, while the victims of the Holocaust would have done anything to have been able to live out their natural lives in obscurity, their names never appearing on one of countless Nazi extermination lists recovered and now housed forever at Yad VaShem.
© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.