My initial idea for a topic for today didn't originally have to do with women who chose to not have children. Originally, I was thinking about today's date. Although Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Rememberence Day) is officially on May 2, because it falls on Shabbat, it is being observed today in Israel. Thus I decided that it would be a good time to write about what women are doing to stop genocide around the world now. This is a very important issue to me as the grandchild of Holocaust survivors. It is crucial to me that the saying, "Never Again," apply not only to Jews, but to anyone who is persecuted for religious, ethnic, or cultural reasons. As Rabbi Rachel Barenblat wrote three years ago on The Velveteen Rabbi:
The obligation to remember the Shoah has two components: memory, and action. If our memory of the Shoah is to have any meaning, it must impel us to act against other attempted genocides. We respond to the Shoah with devastation, and outrage, and sorrow: and we must also respond by wiping genocide from the face of the earth. To me, that means the best way to observe Yom HaShoah is to make a donation to one of the organizations working to end the genocide happening today in Darfur, Sudan.
While I was contemplating the rabbi's words, I began thinking about what it meant to be the survivor of genocide. What was it like for my grandfather, who fled Warsaw at the urging of his elderly mother and older sisters (each of whom was married with children of their own), to return "home" from Russia in 1946, only to discover that every single person he loved was gone? How could he continue living? How does anyone go on under such horrific circumstances? And yet, people do continue. People have survived the genocides perpetuated against Armenians, Rwandans, Bosnians, Sudanese, gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, and countless other persecuted peoples. Many, like my grandpa, even somehow manage to live relatively normal lives, although who knows what demons they are haunted by in secret.
My bubbe (that's Yiddish for grandmother) knows the answer. "Only with the children is the life worth living," she told me in her thick Eastern European accent over the phone one day recently while we were discussing something that had nothing to do with genocide and the human will to survive. I'm sure this is in large part what propelled my grandfather (and my bubbe, who left her entire family behind in Russia when she went with my grandpa to find his family in Poland) to go on. He had a wife, and he had a son. He had to go on, and create a new life for his family. Otherwise, his mother, sisters, brothers-in-laws, nieces, nephews, cousins, and friends would have no one to remember them.
As Lisa Stone, one of BlogHer's founding mothers, says, "the only thing harder than being a mother in this culture is being a woman who chose not to be a mother." (This is one of the reasons why there will be a panel at July's BlogHer conference on being childless in the blogosphere.) It is never more difficult for me - as a Jewish woman, married to a Jewish man, possessing the resources we need to care for a child or more - than at this time of year to deal with my decision to not have children. The normal social pressure to have kids, so aptly described by Tracey at Bear Traps and Road Maps, barely weighs me down, but the enormous, abstract guilt I feel at not doing my part to replace any of the six million Jews obliterated from the earth is overwhelming. It's bad enough that I don't want children and will thus contribute toward the slow end of our family line (my sister wants kids, so there is some hope), but I took a very fine Jewish man off the market, thus stopping him from contributing his excellent genes to continue our cultural heritage. I don't know if I feel this more acutely because I am a woman and subject to more pressure in general to have children, but my husband certainly doesn't think twice about it.
This line of thinking derailed my plan to author a coherent and stirring piece highlighting brave women, like those at The Feminist Majority Foundation, who are fighting against genocide and for women's rights in Darfur, but it opened up another path to thinking about my role and responsibilities in the world as a Jewish woman. For her post about meeting a Holocaust survivor in Athens, Theresa at Spargel uses the Talmudic phrase, "He who saves one life, saves the world entire," as her title. That ancient wisdom gives me slight comfort. One of the many reasons I have for my decision to not have children is because I want to focus on helping other families. Perhaps if it is enough of a reason for me to forgive myself for what I perceive as failing my grandfather's family.
Whether you have children or not, one way to help save a life and the world entire is to take action. Sigh a petition, volunteer at a social services agency, or donate money. One easy way to raise funds to help other women is to follow the example of Bonnie at Christian Feminist, who "just placed a widget on my sidebar from BlogHer. The goal of this widget is for women bloggers to work together in improving other womens' lives around the world." Some day, I hope to be able to face Yom Hashoah without feeling guilty about not reproducing. I hope whatever work I do over the course of my life to bring about social justice will be good enough to perpetuate our family name instead.
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