Arts & Culture

Chevre (Friends)

I’m walking on West 90th Street talking on my cell phone when I spy my friend, Leslie, shuffling toward me in flip flops. Leslie looks up from her introspection, sees me on the phone, lifts a foot revealing chipped toenail … Read More

By / September 25, 2008

I’m walking on West 90th Street talking on my cell phone when I spy my friend, Leslie, shuffling toward me in flip flops. Leslie looks up from her introspection, sees me on the phone, lifts a foot revealing chipped toenail polish, and mouths, "Pedicure!" I nod my head up and down, and she flip flops away. We are pedi-buddies, and when we sit in those vibrating chairs – after spending an undue amount of time trying to choose the perfect red or hot pink pedi-color – our conversations veer this way and that, a little lashon ha-rah (gossip) here, a little shtuch (pointed poke) there, whose children have tutors up the wazoo, and whose kid could use a good shrink, whose spouse is clinically depressed but you’d never know it, who has cancer but pooh, pooh, pooh, will be okay, and whose child we suspect might come out as gay in a few years. The usual.

In addition to being a pedi-buddy, Leslie falls into my own personal category of "children of Holocaust survivor" friends. At times, the Upper West Side seems to be one big reunion of "2G’s" as my friend Eva would say, the second generation of the Holocaust. Many of those 2Gs are my friends, and because this is the small community that it is, I know their families’ stories. Leslie’s mother was hidden as a child in a Polish neighbor’s attic. My friend Ulrika’s father was taken in by a cold, fanatic, Calvinist family in Holland, a family who didn’t love him and forced him to show his circumcised penis to guests, not as humiliation but to re-enforce how strange Jews were, and isn’t it wonderful that we are taking care of this little Jewish boy? Eva’s mother picked cotton in below zero temperatures in Uzbekhistan, and to this day, even when it is eighty degrees outside in Miami, she will tell her daughter, "Eva, put on a sveder, a sveder, Eva, it’s cold outside!" My friend Judy’s mother improbably survived several death camps, camps where she’d been sent to be exterminated, but in being moved from one to another, she’d stayed ahead of the game. Her mother is in a home now, and she will curse at the nurses, "You’re all Nazis! Nazi bastards! You should all rot in hell!" It wasn’t until I went to college that I met any Jews or had any Jewish friends. Today, I’m hard put to scrounge up many non-Jewish friends. But one friend, Alise, dates way back. She befriended me at church when I was eleven, a few months after my older sister, Abby, had died. Alise confessed not so long ago that the dead sister, not my engaging personality, was the big draw. Luckily, after the initial morbid thrill had worn off, Alise discovered she liked me well enough on my own to continue our friendship, and now, when we see each other we slip into our giggling, girlish ways. I haven’t set out to collect 2Gs as friends, nor do I look at them and immediately see Auschwitz. But initially, I will admit, I was drawn to their stories, much as Alise was drawn to mine. Their stories of loss, of not having extended family, and of their sense of being displaced are so different from my story, for I grew up playing with my brothers and sisters and mob of cousins in the log cabin my great-great grandfather had built in 1850. I’ve found that 2Gs are tenacious about family and friendships. If I had my appendix out or screwed up my hair color, my 2Gs would come to the rescue. Perhaps they actually look for opportunities to rescue to compensate for their parents not having been rescued. When I return home several hours later from my various errands, I see Zoe on her cell phone. Zoe smiles and waves really big at me, as I did to Leslie, and then she’s on her way. I am both happy and sad to see her. Bittersweet, I guess, is the feeling. She was my daughter Anna’s best friend since they were 2 ½. Anna practically lived at Zoe’s home, eating Shabbat dinner there almost every Friday night, a proper dinner with proper plates and silverware that included vegetables and fruit. Zoe’s father is a 2G, who grew up in Europe and has an old-world, European sense of civility. Anna spent weekends at their summer home in the Hamptons, she and Zoe played dress-up and took baths together and skipped, literally, down West 90th Street hand and hand. Sunrise… Then they grew up and grew apart. Sunset… Different schools, different friends, different interests. Yet when I look at this seventeen-year-old, tall, graceful, cool-looking, lovely, 3G Zoe chatting animatedly on her cellphone, I still see the four-year-old girl in the bathtub with Anna, white soap bubbles covering their smiling faces. And I see friendship.