Not All About My Mother | Non-Fiction | Fresh Soup
Two and a half years ago, right before the pandemic hit, my mother passed away. Although I usually do a pretty good job of expressing myself, to this day I’ve been unable to find the words to convey how unusual, powerful and one-of-a-kind she was. But a few months ago I decided I had to try. This September, the Jewish Museum Berlin will open an exhibition called “Inside Out,” in which I will attempt – somewhat confusedly – to share something of this incredible woman’s spirit. Yes, I know, every kid thinks their mother is the most extraordinary person in the world. But I happen to be right.
Tomorrow I’m flying to Berlin to meet with the museum’s curators, and we will put together a selection that explores how Orna Keret – the diminutive Wonder Woman from Poland – was seen through the eyes of her buck-toothed, asthmatic, youngest child. In honor of the trip, I’d like to share with you a short text that will introduce the exhibition.
When you’re an adult, you are just a little detail amid the infinite universe, a speck of dust resting on the edge of the endless plain known as the world. But when you’re a child, creation goes in the opposite direction: from the inside outward. You are the center of the world. What’s important to you is important, and what isn’t—simply doesn’t exist. My mother went through World War II as a child. She lost her entire family in the war, and when it was over she was left with no external, adult narrative to mediate between her experiences and the world. All she had was a giant mosaic composed of countless shards of memories and experience-fragments. A history devoid of dates and names, a chronicle of sensations and fears and smells: her own private history.
In Jewish culture, an ancient tradition stems from the Exodus verse, “And you shall tell your children.” Every Jewish person is obliged to relay to their children what happened to their ancestors, and to their ancestors’ ancestors, to preserve the nation’s heritage. My mother did not hesitate to share our family history with me, as she remembered it: without names, without dates. From the inside out. Continuing this tradition, I try to share this history with my son, and now— with you.