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Reflections - Late December, 1989

Shel Horowitz reflects on his personal connection to the 1989 Romanian Revolution.

The Berlin Wall is down and people in wagons with leaf springs bounce across the unguarded border--to go shopping, to fill up their baskets with drapes and candles and spackle, to fill the cracks on the plaster of their dreary, drab apartments. Their clothes are neatly pressed, but still they seem a bit out of place, watching the fashionable teenagers draped in black leather and snorting crack.


Digression #1: Jo McMahon had a collection of baskets. And a collection of little glass jars and bottles. And a collection of fluffy cats whose hair shed all over their crowded loft, but who never broke the bottles or shat in the baskets. She had a mother-in-law who came from Germany before the Berlin Wall, before the Nazis, and still lives in a tiny apartment in a dark house with the same people living in it for over 50 years. Jo McMahon packed up all the clutter in her large and crowded loft in New York and moved to a tiny trailer in Maine, almost to Canada, where she gave up shopping for baskets and bottles and grows 136 different kinds of apples.


The Berlin Wall is down and my relatives in Timisoara, which no one ever heard of until two weeks ago, are rejoicing because their dictator is dead. Except that I don't have relatives there anymore, because they were all killed by the Germans or moved to the United States, even before Jo McMahon's mother-in-law, or moved after the war to a Chassidic community in Israel, where my great uncle still lists himself as the son-in-law of the late Chief Rabbi of Timisoara.


Digression #2: In Israel, in Sfat, we passed the Chernobyl synagogue and were taken in for Shabbas dinner by Chassidic vegetarians who lived in an all Chassidic housing project that looked just like Co-op City. In Israel, in B'nai Brak, we visited the remnant of my mother's Romanian family. They spoke no English and invited us back to a wedding feast for a cousin we'd never heard of. My uncle is a rabbi with a shul in the living room. He is the son-in-law of the Chief Rabbi of Timisoara.

My mother went to Timisoara last year, and came back to discover her long-lost favorite aunt was alive and living next door to her in a non-Chassidic apartment building in Co-op City.


The Berlin Wall is down, but the U.S. invaded Panama, because George Bush has no leaves and is afraid of being called a wimp and wants to split hairs over how to abrogate the Panama Canal treaty. He wants to stay until spring, clogging the Canal with stains of blood so he won't have to give it back.

The U.S. condemns aggression. The U.S.S.R. is out of Afghanistan. The U.S. is afraid of democracy in Nicaragua, in El Salvador, in South Africa--but not in Poland, Romania, East Berlin. Bush speaks with forked tongue, Noriega hides within the Church, and my great uncle the rabbi wouldn't understand. But he wouldn't understand Jo McMahon, because she's not Jewish and he has never grown apples or collected trinkets that have no function, only the value of being fun.


Digression 3: A new decade is dawning in three days. In the Hebrew calendar, this is the year 5750. In English, it is almost 1990. My daughter will be 12 for a week at the new Millennium. Two now, she loves Hebrew and sings the Channukah bruchas every day and night. Her favorite songs are Zum Gali Gali, Tzena Tzena, and You Can't Make a Turtle Come Out.

Will she go to East Berlin? To Israel? Rome? Northern Maine? New York?

Will she believe in magic and try to bring down governments and rejoice in her own freedom? Will she care that her great-great-grandfather Isadore Goldman was the Chief Rabbi of Timisoara, or that her grandmother lost her favorite aunt for 50 years because she married a non-Jew, and found her in her 90's living on the same block for almost 20 years, both of them in non-Jewish families?

What will be her Berlin Wall?

(1989; published in Home Planet News, 1990)

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