My funny, glamorous, gracious Aunt Lola was enslaved in Auschwitz at 16.

[Today is Yom Ha’Shoa. Yesterday I was at lunch and my Aunt Lola was brought to mind, so I thought I’d share this post from 2015: My funny, glamorous, gracious Aunt Lola died last night. She was enslaved in Auschwitz at 16. The full text I wrote then follows.]


I just learned that my Aunt Lola died last night–great aunt, technically, the wife of one of my father’s uncles. Although we’ve lived in the same town for twenty years, Lola and I, I had only seen her a small handful of times during those decades; there’s been bad blood in our family. Not with Lola and me, but elsewhere, and we wound up on different sides. That’s just how it goes.

I loved her very much when I was small. She was small–putting her at my level, as a tall dweeb in a clip-on tie and penny loafers–and glamorous and funny. She glowed. Her rich, thick Czech accent always reminded me of Dr. Ruth Westheimer, which is a not-super-insane association for a boy who watched a ton of TV in the ’80s. I remember one time, at a summer party at my Aunt Denise’s house, at the end of the party, she slipped off her shoes–fancy gold, sharp-toed, high heels. Her toes were twisted and calloused, almost as though her feet had been bound–which I guess they had, although by American women’s fashion, not some out-modded and backward cultural obsession with ideals of beauty (ha! Joke!)

I remember her gingerly stepping from foot to foot on the thick shag in her hose, “Ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh!” as though it was hot as coals–and she wasn’t play acting; her feet were aching from the shoes and the standing and the heat of the day. She looked up to see me sitting on the sofa across from her, looking on in dismay.

“Oh David,” she smiled, “Sometimes you need to suffer to be beautiful.”

I didn’t know then that, at 16, she been shipped to Auschwitz like a crate of shoes–a slow three-day train ride, because of the congestion on the tracks created by shipping so many other folks to camps, like cattle or shoes or some other commodity. There she’d been disgorged onto a ramp, and at the bottom stood Dr. Mengele. He was making a selection. Some were sent right, other left. Her folks went one way, she the other. She became my aunt, they became ash. She was stripped and shaved and tattooed and beaten, and sent walking to her new life.

She ended up in the barracks closest to the crematory ovens, and so her job was to sort the belongings of the dead–the clothes, the luggage–searching for jewelry and food and blankets and meds and anything of use. To sort it, to box it up for storage, or to be redistributed to widows and orphans.

There’s more, there’s lots more–heck, there’s a second run-in with Dr. Mengele. You can read and listen to her testimony here.

But I didn’t know any of that when I was small–I mean, I knew all of that, because such stories were not rare where I grew up, nor such survivors. But I did not know her story until I was much older–older than she was when she was enslaved–and I’m still learning bits and pieces, because I never heard it from her.

Which I don’t take personally; there was never a good time to share it with me, and there was no bad blood between us. When I last saw her, even though the folks around her were shooting me and my sisters daggers–gosh, even though one of my cousins later sought me out to hassle me about that chance encounter–Aunt Lola was still as charming and gracious as ever.

And I still loved her very much. Let her name be a blessing.

Her name is Lola Taubman; she sorted the laundry in Hell for a time as a teen, and then lived 72 years more, largely here, largely in good health.

A Holiday Tip for Gentile Schoolteachers🎅🏿🕎

Last year, during the pandemic, I eavesdropped the most brilliant piece of classroom third-rail navigation I’ve ever seen in my life.

This was in my then-third grader’s Zoom music class (we’ll leave for another day any discussion of the crime against humanity that is “grade-school Zoom music class”).

This is always a fraught time of year for grade-school music teachers: They wanna sing Xmas songs, most of the kids wanna sing Xmas songs, but the constant Othering definitely grinds away at the Jewish kids (esp. when they try and “include” you be singing the “Dreidel Song”; that song is crap, and we know it. The Xmas songs are way better).

So in my daughter’s class, the teacher shows this slide: it’s an unremarkable middle-aged White dude, “Mitchell Parish.”  Who the heck is Mitchell Parish? Well, he was born in Lithuania, and brought here by his parents, who were Jews (my daughter immediately perks up; Jews! Like us!) and he was a popular songwriter in New York in the ‘20s, ‘30s, and ‘40s—and he wrote the lyrics to “Sleigh Ride”!  

*advance to next slide* 

*kids sing “Sleigh Ride”* 

*EVERYONE IS A WINNER!*

My daughter felt seen, gentiles got their Christmas carol, and no one had to sing the goddamned “Dreidel Song.” 

So there’s the trick to getting to sing Christmas carols in public school: 

Start out with a brief bio of the Jews who wrote your Xmas song

(all your favorite Xmas songs were written by Jews; you’re welcome).

Heck, you can do a whole Winter Concert—featuring “Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer,” “A Holly Jolly Christmas,” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” and “Run, Run Rudolph”—on just a single bio slide: All four of those classics were written by the same Jew (the inimitable Johnny Marks, whose Jewish brother-in-law was the guy who created Rudolph to begin with).

May We Be Brought Back from the Mouth of Annihilation

After the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting my coworker at the Hebrew school admits she wishes we had less windows” by Joshua Elbaum

​​I bet birds wish the same thing.
That anyone would take the sky, crack it,
put its pieces where they don’t belong,
astonishes them. The birds fear our foolishness.
We who dare to choose between gifts
the sky offers: light without rain, heat
without hail, stars without the space between—   
I remember the stained glass of Sundays,
how it stained the light too, shape of Jacob,
Joseph, Miriam. Shape of a dove,
of an ox. Shape of a story our faith arrives
through, refracted. My mouth forming
the shape of someone else’s mother
tongue, the prayers too a window,
through which a song might pass
but not the meaning. We are to be ready
for what the children ask in the morning.
We are to be ready to barricade the doors.
Windows are most dangerous when they are so clean
you could mistake them for air.
When I tell my family about this job they laugh
because all I ever used to ask about at holidays
were the plot holes. These children ask nothing,
as if knowing they could slip away into American
suburbia if they had to. It is said Jews fear transcendent
relationship with G-d because it reminds us
of assimilation. There is a reason for every law,
like skin they keep the self inside the self.
A person should pray only in a house
with windows, as it is written.

The Orthodox draw a circle in the sand
saying everything to one side of this is holy.
The Mystics draw a circle around a circle
and erase little holes into the smaller one.
My grandparents kept glass cases
filled with children and birds,
a tiny fiddler, a goose with golden eggs.
Each case a window into a childhood
that might be bought back retroactively
from the mouth of annihilation,
from the night of too many stars,
the streets covered in little pieces of sky.
The body perishes because it is permeable.
To weather and disease and bullets.
If you want to be king of the world
make your world very small. Plug every plot hole.
Take the lightless box and pray in it.
The killer too sat at a dark window others
at other dark windows whispered through.
Windows are most dangerous when they are so clean
you could mistake them for a mirror.
There is a teaching that Moses at Mount Sinai
received no tablets, no commandments
not even a word, just one soundless letter
the noise of the larynx clicking into gear,
glottal seed to spool story around like pearl to grit,
plot hole that vacuums creation in around it.
On another stained Sunday I wonder why
any sound needs my mouth to make it at all.
When I open to ask, a pigeon flies down my throat.
I close my eyes and everything I can’t see is spared.
God whispers through the window of the sky at night
saying, the body perishes unless it is permeable.
A kid at work tells me my eyes look like the universe.
I thank him, and he corrects me: the universe is dead.
My eyes look like the dead universe. He is my favorite.
The sky is running out of birds to throw at us.
Soon there will be no wings to carry our prayers up.
I am trying to keep breathing. I am trying not to look away.
A miracle, that no matter how much we see,
there never seems to be any less light.

for Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax, and Irving Younger

…for all of my slaughtered brothers and sisters…

May their memories be for a blessing. May HaShem avenge their blood.

This isn’t antisemitism—but, straight talk: It’s really hard to argue that Ann Arbor gives a shit about its Jews

This vexes me.

Just for the record, this isn’t antisemitism. I saw this Saturday, soon after it was painted, while driving past with my kids on the way to the river. I’m one of the chairs of the Jewish safety committee for this area, so it’s safe to say that my anti-Jew radar is exquisitely well tuned.

Fuck Israel” written on a public Rock that, for decades, has been a locus of political speech?  That isn’t hate speech.

The fact is, Israel is a goddamned country.  You can say the nastiest words in the world about Israel, and as long as you keep it about the nation-state of Israel, we’re all good. It’s just like how you can criticize China or the Democratic Republic of the Congo without being racist about it. 

Meanwhile, standing outside a synagogue and holding a sign that reads “Israel Has No Right to Exist”? That is antisemitism. And folks have been doing it just a few hundred feet up the street from the goddamned Rock for 16 years and Ann Arbor has done shit about it: 

anti-Jewish protest in Ann Arbor, MI, around 2019

[source]