21 Days in Paradise by Silviu George Klein

An excerpt from my fathers auto biography…he never made it to publishing. He passed on his 58th year…We were refugees from Romania…This book is written in 21 chapters. Each chapter is a “day”, signifying important events that lead him through life…Remember, english was not his primary language, certain things are lost in translation. The beauty still remains.

Day 1 Resitza* My home town
March 1962, Adar 5722*.

A powerful industrial fortress, the City of Resitza*, blowing every ten minutes, like a metronome, a cloud of gray dirty smoke from each of its four deep furnaces, over the narrow valley of Birzava. Passover was coming with a sigh of Spring to our tiny Jewish community, to our gray temple, guarded by the Main Street on the right, high bushes of prickle on the left. The other two sides were homes, old homes attached, with bay windows at the edge of the sidewalk, for the old busy bodies to who is passing by and for what.

Just a few years ago the temple functioned as a large warehouse since early 1940, with no furniture at all. Little by little, in small groups, even if it was a part of the same ethnic group, people from the community brought over whatever they could, a chair, a box of candles, a talles*, a few glasses or a table cloth. A retired carpenter came and restored the Aron Akodesh from memory, not even a picture or sketch. The outcome wasn’t that bad. The temple, day-by-day got furnished, poorly, but you could see the pride and the excitement those people never had for long painful years.

The heavy steel bars encased in a strong mortar from the windows openings were removed, the thick plywood covering the windows replaced with white painted glass and some mosaic saved also from “those days”. Mr. Aspis was in charge with the maintenance of the temple and Rabbi, we didn’t have a real Rabbi, we could not effort one and they were not too many left after the War and after the 1959 wave of emigration to Israel. Dr. Shwarz, specialized contagious disease physician was acting as substitute Rabbi, self educated and after a three weeks course in a Jerusalem, he got the confidence of taking charge. Noting was formal, sounded like a play’s first rehearsal. The closest true Rabbi was in the City of Timisoara.

Well, with less than seventy Jewish families left, the temple was open every single Friday. Attached to the temple was a long building, looking like a hangar or barn. A good half of it occupied by Mr. Aspis’s residence, the rest served as “store area”, where you could find boxes of Matzoth or cases of Carmel wines and brandy donated by the Queen of Holland and Jewish groups from Israel. Those donations were the main source of Temple’s survival. Didn’t exist a thing as “Tax exempt – No profit organization”. Money from sales were used to pay taxes, utility bills, maintenance and Mr.Aspis’s personal salary. Dr. Shwarz was a volunteer rabbi, he never accepted a dime for his contribution and time. Sometimes it was difficult to gather the minien “ten men” necessary to hold Friday night prayer for Shabat and Dr. Shwarz, when necessary, use to call my father, my brother and I, to make up the number. About understanding of what is going on during the service – unfortunately, absolutely none. When he sang, Dr. Shwarz sounded like a mule, a chronic bronchitis, or a completely aphonic one. Nobody ever laughed at his voice. Hebrew sounded to me so different than all the languages I spoke or I was familiar with, maybe like Hungarian, which has also no similarities with other tongues.

My father did his best to prepare me for each event, with some stories, or a book. Despite my ignorance in Hebrew or Torah, I took very serious, almost solemn, all Friday night had Torah’s in Hebrew and English translation, left behind by Jewish American soldiers, then the Hebrew-Yiddish, plus one single copy of a Hebrew-Romanian. Who knows how got lost in some attic, or taken bare handed straight from the fire, when the Green Legionnaires “wormed-up their spirits” in the early forties. Somehow my father was able to make me share the responsibility of those meetings. “If we don’t do this now, we’ll have nothing left tomorrow… and the day after tomorrow will be to late to save a thing. Our goal is to try to keep it alive and to hope that your children will have something unfinished from you to continue…”Not even a year before, my father with his methodical and very slow way of talking, spent a few evenings talking to me about class Judaism, Jews, Torah, traditions, Pogroms, Holocaust, the State of Israel and the history of our family.

At the beginning I was terribly bored but night-after-night I started to pick up little-by-little the meaning of his words, to understand some of the stories and I even participated with some naïve questions. June 14, 1961 – my thirteenth birthday, after a very nice dinner with fried chicken and mashed potatoes and my favorite chestnut cake coming from the delicious Mother’s cuisine, my father took me upstairs, locked the door to my room and handed to me his present. It was Thomas Mann’s “Joseph and his brothers”. Then, following a long silence, like he couldn’t find the words, came the question “You wish to be a Jew or not? It is up to you and you have to think very serious about, because a lot of trouble might come because of this, in school and the rest of your life. You might lose some friends, but you will make others. Sometimes you may find it impossible to live with, but I assure you that is very possible, if you have enough strength within yourself and you realize what is the object to struggle for, what is at stake. Can you give me an answer now?” The answer came automatically, almost like a disparate scream: “Yes Tata*. I wish to be…I am a Jew!” He embraced me for a few seconds and told me with a note of unexplained in his voice “Then this is your Bar Mitzvah… Mazal Tov! You are a man now!” and he shook my hand, then embraced me again with a warm kiss. I felt so important for those few seconds and the rest of the night. When everybody went to sleep I took my book and the morning caught me sleeping with my face laying on the “Tales of Jacob”. On the chair, next to my bed I saw a flat box. I rushed to open it. It was my mother’s present, my first pair of long pants. I tried them on. Fit perfectly! I ran to give her a hug. She kissed me “Take care of your pants and don’t rip them the first day” then yelled “Nini, don’t be late for lunch”.

Very proud I went out on the street, especially for my friends to see my pants. It was too early, nobody showed up but I didn’t go back home, I waited until the first one, Romeo Pascu appeared at the corner. I ran to him and asked with a precipitated voice “See my pants?… I am also a Jew…” the whole thing in one breath. He looked at me very little impressed of my pants and didn’t seemed that he did paid attention to the second detail. I wasn’t very sure if I have to regret what I just said, matter of fact I wasn’t even thinking but when I finally did guess, Romeo was probably a bit jealous of me being a Jew, because for me it was so enlightening. He told me “Let’s play Katchkala*”.

We played Katchkala and the other boys showed up one by one. We played together until noon. I ran home for lunch polishing the plate in a few minutes. The boys were waiting the finish the game. Next day, back on the street, I heard a voice yelling from around the corner“ Nini Jidanul!” Jidanul?!!…Nini was my nickname – being only two years old, when anyone asked “What is your name?” the answer came from nowhere “Nini” it is possible that Silviu was too hard to be pronounced by a kid who just started to talk? Yes. It is possible. Still an enigma. They where smiling, amused. Nini was my nickname since! Even adult, in Resitza only, with very few exceptions, I was known as Nini Klein, for all my friends and family. In a conversation with my cousin Agi, years later, already living in the US, Agi asked “Does somebody still calling you Nini?” My answer, with a tone of nostalgia “No. Not anymore…”

Now the only sign of “Nini” is the password to access my computer and a very sweet souvenir. I ran to the corner and saw two of my friends playing cards next to the wooden fence. I ask “What Jidan means?” Petrica raised his eyes measuring me inch-by-inch, up-down and up again “I don’t know. Try and find it out for yourself…” Still on the street, when I saw my father coming from work. I ask the same question. His face became pale in an instant, his lips had a slight tremor “Nini, it is not a very nice word by any means. I’ve told that you may have to look for new friends. Jidan is a word I don’t want you to have in your vocabulary nor to forget. The content of it is too brutal for your young ears. Who ever called you that doesn’t know… or is definitely not your friend.” The whole afternoon I stood in my room. I don’t remember if I cried. I was sad, like the whole world became so unfriendly and alien to a childish spirit who learns how to swim upstream. Next morning Petrica came to my door and asked me out to play foot-tennis. He told me, like an excuse “I didn’t call you Jidan*. It was Otto.” I tapped his shoulder “Never mind… You are still my friend.” We played tennis. Otto Torocsik was on the opposite side of the net and stud there for ever in my wounded heart. How was able my father to know it? How did he anticipated such a terrible thing?The whole summer Otto didn’t show one sign of talking to me. I did the same. Romeo’s attitude was cooling down day-by-day until, one evening, going home together “What is the matter with you?…” He looked down at his tennis shoes “You know… Otto is my best friend…” and ran home leaving the gate bouncing.

I looked at the gate bouncing for a few minutes then I shlept my feet home. We continued to play together but wasn’t the same. The two opposite teams got a real shape as my father’s prediction. For an instant I resented my father and the Judaism all together. It was a very short instant, after that I resented my thoughts. “How could you have such thoughts?” I was asking myself. It was pure frustration, also anger or some of the actions we take when the boat is rocking, ready to sink. Can not be explained. We can explain anything a little too late. Sometimes we are born a little too early or a little too late. Never at the right time. How many times we dream of being part of such or such Era, considering that a specific one would be adequate for our talent, way of thinking, artistic or romantic inclinations. The problem is probably with God, who doesn’t have same priorities when scheduling our birth. Wouldn’t be better if we could reach up there and change the scheduling or at least ask for it. Strong feeling that is a bit too late for this. I am grateful to God that I am born and I can think and ask myself this type of questions. Does everybody think like that? Yes, I am almost convinced. How many times I asked myself about infinity? I tried to be rational. If the end is somewhere, then what is after that end? It has to be round, no other logic. But what is outside the circle? Another circle. And then?… Were the circles are closing? The ends are in infinite number, so are the circles. Now what is beyond the infinity?… We are! Our mind and our will, all together. After all it has to be God who makes us think about infinity and wants us forever confused. Infinity… He created it probably when He created the chaos. What’s before chaos?

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