The personal is political.

August 16, 1944

Wednesday

My darling,

How does one write a letter of this kind. How does one say my sister received a wire from the War Dept. that her husband was killed in action. To write these words down — to have finally put these words of misery on paper are almost more than I can bear. The war is over for us, Hy, when we know that when the war is over, our family circle will not be complete. To know that Harold is not coming home to Annie and Susan. Oh, my darling, how hard I prayed to God to be good to us. I pushed any other thought in the background. Don’t tell me he was in the Marines on combat duty — others have returned. Why not my sister’s husband? Oh, God. Hy, to look at Susie at 17 months and think she should never know her father’s wonderful smile and the love he has for her.

I tell Annie to keep going for Susan’s sake. We give her pills, I tell her how mistakes have been made before and can be made again — But how much longer can I bear that look in her eyes. I know her soul is dead. She only thinks it can’t be true and that is why she opens her eyes at the beginning of another day.

Monday night Annie called me to say “Lillian, my husband — is dead. They told me so. But it isn’t true, is it? No, Harold can’t be dead. Not Harold. He promised to come back to me.”

Ruthie came over and stayed with Robin so Marty, Dad and I could come over here. I’ve been here since then. Mother is taking care of Robin. I can’t go back to my house when I have so much — and Annie has nothing — nothing.

All day long they sit on the couch and talk to themselves — to Harold.

Dad is gone this time. Whatever mind he had is holding on by a thread — that Harold will come back — that somewhere a mistake was made.

If ever I asked you for anything, hear me now — Work, Hy. Finish your school and then go over there. Finish your work — not for bars and a salute, but to carry on where Harold left off. They made him a first lieutenant — do you hear that — “We deeply regret to inform you that your husband 1st Lt. Harold N. LeVine was killed…”

You know how proud we were of our lieutenants in the Marine and Air Corps — they didn’t have much chance. You give them that chance. Give them that chance, Hy. You have always done what you have set out to do. Let nothing interfere with your work. Annie is proud of you, Hy. Even now Hy, when her life has fallen to pieces she tells everyone her sister’s husband is going to Officer’s School. She tells them about Artie when they come to talk about her husband. Don’t fail her, Hy.

Don’t worry about us. Put every thought out of your mind except school. That is what I need from you, Hy. That will help me bear this misery — if ever I am to have happiness, it must be because my husband brought it to me — by hitting back in the only way he can now. God will help you, Hy. I know he will. He must.

Love,

Lillian

Annie writes to Harold every day. Give her hope, Hy. She has had enough of death. The only way she can live is to keep that hope. Nobody must take it away from her.

I love you very much.

Lillian

Sisters: Annie & Lillian
Sisters: Annie & Lillian

This was the letter my grandma sent to my grandfather 73 years ago today when her sister’s husband was killed in the Second World War.

I spent a lot of time thinking about this letter today. About Harold, an American Jew who died on the beaches of Guam, 7,364 miles away from his home in Chicago. About my other great-uncle Art (“Artie”), an American Jew who was shot down in a plane by Nazis and kept as a prisoner of war at the infamous Stalag Luft III in modern-day Poland. Art and Harold went missing within weeks of one another, and three tight-knit families in Chicago were shattered with grief.

Continue reading “The personal is political.”

And justice for all.

Independence Day 1941, Chicago:
Celebrating a felt freedom, before their lives were forever changed by the war.

july 4 41
Seated: Grandpa Hy Foreman, 26 and Grandma Lillian Brodsky Foreman, 24; Standing: Great-Aunt Annie Brodsky Levine, 22

My Russian-Jewish immigrant family came to this country to escape persecution in their homeland where they were routinely massacred by Cossacks for being Jews. They came to bear and raise children in a safe harbor so their lives could bloom beyond their wildest dreams. They took jobs in factories that killed them. They left behind their parents, friends, landscapes — their entire worlds. They were so much braver than I have ever been.

This country is built on the backs of immigrants, by the forced hands of slaves, on the deaths of native people. If we forget that we do not have a RIGHT to land, if we raise country above one another’s humanity, if we privilege the health and security of one group over others, we tarnish the struggle, the suffering, the joy, the lives of all who were here on this land before us. Do not be a complacent American. Do not forget from whence you came. Do not forget what was here before you.

Inauguration Day

Protect your body. Protect your brain. Protect black lives and bodies. Protect queer and trans lives and bodies. Protect the arts. Protect due process. Protect public spaces. Protect public education. Protect federal acts of civil rights. Protect migrants and undocumented residents. Protect labor rights. Protect the right to marry who you want and the right not to marry, to create a family that fits you. Protect women’s bodies and reproductive rights. Protect environmental protection laws. Protect national parks. Protect native lands. Protect your right to affordable health care. Protect your home and the people you love.

But do not do it with guns. Do not do it by building a wall around your home, your community, your country. Do not do it with acts of violence or subjugation. Do not do it with military force. Do not do it with the language of hate and fear. Do not do it by creating laws that limit and regulate and illegalize and deride bodies and lives.

Do it by showing up, by making your voice heard, by listening to the voices that have not been heard before, by holding the hand of a stranger and singing in unison as we walk through every city in America together tomorrow. Call yourself an activist. Call yourself a citizen. Call yourself nothing but your name if you need to. But be there if you can.

This morning as he was sworn in, thunder literally struck over my house. This afternoon, there is a full rainbow stretching across the sky. This is the hope in the dark. This is the glimmer. We have each other.

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November Ninth, Twenty Sixteen

reach out women

Please reach out to women today. Make eye contact with strangers on the street, call your friends, talk to your colleagues, check in with the girls in your life who aren’t old enough to vote. The women in my life have called me today sobbing, filled with fear for merely existing as female-bodied people, because our fellow citizens would rather elect a man who admits to — no, boasts about — assaulting women than elect a woman. I have never felt so powerless about the decisions that will no doubt be made about my body and my health. I feel heartsick and vulnerable. And this is only the beginning.

I know we must band together and fight back, but right now I feel capable only of grief — and deep, heartfelt love and concern for the ones I love whose bodies, skins and sexual preferences are under attack in this country. Please be patient with me and with the others in your life who are in mourning, who have not yet found the strength to march.