By Marlana Fireman, 2012 NFTY in Israel Alum
In Auschwitz, our unit head, Ido, instructed us to pick up a rock from the ground. I picked up a stone, small and gray with white where it’d be kicked around and stepped on. I rolled it around in my hands and felt its blunt edges and smooth sides. I lost interest and clutched it in my hand, looking back up at Ido.
“This rock is going to symbolize…” he began. We all looked up at him with curiosity. “…a person, or people, who died in Auschwitz. Take it with you, and walk out of these gates with those who could not.” It was simple enough. I rolled the rock around between my hands for another few minutes before dropping it into my backpack.
Four weeks into my trip to Israel, I seldom thought about my rock, which remained in the bottom of my bag. Our very last day in the Holy Land, we went back to the Western Wall. I remembered my rock and knew what I had to do. I took it from my bag and looked at it, as a wave of guilt washed over me. Why didn’t I ever reflect upon this rock? It was time to say goodbye; it was now or never. I clutched it tight in my fist and approached the Western Wall. I placed it on the ground at the base of the wall, hoping it’d find its way to G-d. I prayed, kissed the wall, and left.
I eventually made my way back to my Columbus, Ohio, home. Forty-four days later, I said I’d write a blog post for NFTY about my trip to Israel. I’ve been busy and decided I’d allot myself at least two weeks to get to writing this post. I love to write, so I knew once I had time, whatever I was going to write would come easily. I had no idea it would come to me in the form of a little gray rock.
I had just gotten ready for bed and went to my nightstand to turn on the light. My wandering mind instructed me to open the bottom drawer of my nightstand, where I’d carefully placed my empty passport case. I did so. It was like opening Pandora’s Box. The drawer opened, and I gasped. Something rushed out. This can’t be real, there’s no way. Without thinking, I snatched the rock from my drawer and inspected it. This can’t be my rock, I told myself. That’s not possible. But again, my curious mind instructed me; I rolled it around between my hands and was taken back to Auschwitz, sitting on the gravel, touching a stone, small and gray with white where it’d be kicked around and stepped on. I rolled it around in my hands and felt its blunt edges and smooth sides. This was my rock. There was no longer a doubt. The skin on my hands even knew, this was too familiar to be a coincidence.
I opened my computer and opened iPhoto to find the picture I had taken of my rock. My rock has one blunt, pointy edge, many sides and another curved end. I wondered how my rock had followed me home. I sat there holding it, in awe and disbelief. I remembered a story my sister had told me about her friend who had a penny that followed him. No matter how hard he tried to get rid of it, it always ended up back with him. He eventually threw it into the sea before coming home to the States and never saw it again. But I know I can’t discard of my rock.
I’m still in awe, but I can’t deny what happened. If this rock has followed me from Poland to the Czech Republic to Israel, then back to my bedroom in Columbus, Ohio, then there’s no getting rid of it now (not that I want to). But how do I make sense of it all? How long do I carry with me the memory of my brothers and sisters who died in Auschwitz? If they’ve accompanied me through my travels and back home, perhaps it’s a sign.
Perhaps this rock – these people even – aren’t here to follow and scare me, but to live through me. These people didn’t get to do what I get to do. They didn’t get to go to Rosh HaShanah services, like I did recently. They didn’t get to laugh with their friends at a NFTY event, or feel the wave of emotion that hits you when you find yourself facing the Western Wall. Because it carried me home, this rock will forever be with me. In my travels, no matter where I go or what I learn, I will do for those who couldn’t. Maybe on my next trip to Israel, I won’t try again to leave my rock with G-d. Because as long as this rock is with me, G-d will be, too. And how long will that be? As long as I’m a Jew. Forever.