White Sand – “In The Beginning” By Danny Fisher
I sat on a record, and it broke. Everyone in the room laughed and I felt humiliated. That is my earliest memory. In Haifa, Israel, where I was born. I was three.
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When I was a kid, I thought that when you grew up, you had to move to another country and learn another language. I wondered where I was going to go when I grew up, and what language I would learn, and why one couldn’t just stay in the country they were from. My parents, my relatives, and all of my parents’ friends were from someplace else.
When we arrived in the South Bronx in 1958, I was four years old. My brother Jack was six. There was a great snowstorm that year, and everyone in my family says, to this day, that when I saw snow for the first time, I cried out in Hebrew that white sand was falling from the sky. I don’t remember speaking Hebrew.
The South Bronx
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My uncle bought me a Timex watch. It cost six dollars. I lost my watch soon enough. While walking in the park near our house, I was approached by two Puerto Rican kids. They asked me the time. I was scared. I said it was a quarter to three. One held my trembling arm, as the other stripped me of my watch.
My father was a tailor. When we lived in Israel, he made suits for Ben Gurion and Moshe Dayan. In the Bronx, he made some of our own clothes. I wore a bathing suit made of thick wool at Orchard Beach that itched like hell.
David Ben Gurion, 1948
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Food was different. I can no longer taste what I tasted then. At Orchard Beach in the summer, my mother would make sandwiches of buttered, freshly baked rye bread, with sliced fresh green peppers sprinkled with salt. We ate the sandwiches, along with hardboiled eggs. The salty ocean air mixed with the aroma of our picnic lunch. I have been unable to recapture this taste. At home in the Bronx , I ate from a bowl of sour cream, into which I crumbled pieces of bread – there was nothing more delicious in the whole world. My mother made a dish I loved that I haven’t eaten since – mashed potatoes, mixed with flaked pieces of fried chicken skin.
The Bronx was sloped, and that made for great sledding in the winter and roller-skating in the summer. Roller skates would fit onto the bottom of your sneaker, and you would tighten them with a key. It was important not to lose your key. We would roll fast down the steep hill of Topping Avenue. In the snow-covered winter, the sledding was exhilarating. We were disappointed when our sleds were stolen.
Some kids next door had a set of plastic army figures, which we would line up on the sidewalk into great armies that faced each other at battle in a great big war.
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A cousin of mine once told me that everyone would, at one time in his life, experience a very bad event. That worried me for years – decades actually. Every time I slid down the sliding pond in the park, I wondered if I would fall off, and whether that would be my bad event. I feared it, yet, in some ways, I wanted to be over it so I wouldn’t have to worry about it anymore. Some bad kids threw a rock at my brother Jack in the park, and it cut his ear badly. There was blood, and in the hospital, Jack had to have his ear stapled. I couldn’t imagine how you could have your ear stapled back on to your head, the way you would staple together two pieces of paper. I felt really bad for him. But I thought this might have counted as his bad event, and so, in a way, I also felt he was lucky to be over it. I imagined that my bad event would produce blood and that was scary.
* * *
One day a big box arrived at our apartment. It was our first television set, with a rounded black and white picture tube and rabbit ear antennas you adjusted to get good reception. Someone told me that there were little people inside the television that acted in the shows, and I used to try to look inside the television from the back to see if I could find them.
The first television show I remember watching as a family was the Eichmann trial. Eichmann was in a glass booth, and I didn’t understand anything about the trial. I just knew that it was very important. And that it somehow had something to do with my parents, but I didn’t really know what.
Eichmann in Jerusalem
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It is amazing to me now how many years it was before I realized that I was a child of parents who survived Hitler’s concentration camps. It wasn’t as if I never knew about it. It’s just that I never consciously thought about it. It was after I graduated college, when I was about twenty-two, and I was experiencing bouts of anxiety that I decided to see a therapist. I had been in therapy for months, when one session the therapist asked me if there was anything about my upbringing that differentiated me from others. I thought and thought, but did not come up with anything. The therapist told me I was a child of concentration camp survivors. My first thought was, so, what the hell does that have to do with anything? And then it hit me hard, and very deep, and I thought for a long time, for every day and every year since, that this heritage was at the core of my being.
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Excerpt from an autobiographical novel I have been writing called “White Sand Falling.”