My Father’s Father

In honor of Passover | Poetry by Sun Mee Chomet (Spring 2020 Korean Quarterly issue)

Walking through the concentration camps,
I thought of your father’s family,” he said. 
These words spoken.
These words spoken after months
of conversations
with my lover,
explaining how connected I felt to Judaism.
“I always think it odd when adoptees claim their
American family’s religion as their own,”
he said.
These comments struck me odd.
The unspoken-
my father’s family
was not my own.
Baruch Ato Ado-noi Elo-heinu Melech Ho-olom,
boray paree agohen…
I digested matzo ball soup before kimchee jigae. 
I lit candles for Passover before incense for ancestors. 
Dipped parsley in salt before kimbap in sauce.
I watched my father put on his yarmulke
before I put on my first hanbok.
My father’s family.
Why is this night different from all other nights?
On this night, for as long as I can remember,
After Every Passover Seder, I Listened.
I listened ~
hours of talk about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,
about right and wrong,
politicking and compassion,
the value of land before life.
It’s brick houses in Chicago, menorahs,
It’s social justice, it is remembering,
It’s my tendency toward humor, sarcasm
It’s my draw towards intellect, music
It’s the joy I feel knowing that the rabbi at my brother’s school
does stand-up comedy on the side.
It’s the tenderness of watching my brother carry the Torah up the aisle.
It’s knowing my father can’t fix a thing in the house.
It’s watching my brother’s plane take off for Vienna,
a gift-trip given by U.S. Jews to grandchildren
of Holocaust survivors as an act of remembering,
wishing that I could go with him.
Why is this night different from all other nights?
My grandfather said,
“I know what it is to be other. 
I know what it is to be discriminated against. 
The sadness I feel when I think of Austria. 
It’s the same that you feel for Korea. 
It is the land of my home
and the land my estrangement
in the same breath.”
We sat, as my Opa held my hand. 
I listened
as he compared the branches of the trees
to the limbs of ballet dancers,
as any great Viennese painter would do.
I listened
as he spoke to me tenderly~
“My dear Sun Mee,”
he said.
“In 1945, Austria was dubbed Europe’s Korea. 
Vienna is my Seoul.”
On this night,
my grandmother shares her escape from the concentration camp,
an expensively smuggled fake i.d.,
the blessing-curse of being a Jew born
with blonde-blue features,
and years living in hiding in Holland,
the only one of her family to escape dying. 
On this night, I am drenched
in my grandfather’s stories of
the bombing of his beloved Austria. 
A short while later, bombs were dropped
on Korea as well~
a wealth of cold war that
our parallel roads
to the United States.
On this night,
I remember my 4 year old brother
insisting that he play a violin
at my grandfather’s funeral
because he knew how much
loved music.
Inside my walls,
the heavy heart of Judaism
with the han of Korea~
echoing complexities of culture and war and survival.
Tonight, I see
the impact of history
in the eyes of my relatives
and no walls exist between us. 
Our history is the same.
“Walking through
the concentration camps,
I thought of
your father’s family,”
my lover said.
I would think
as I walked away
from him,
“Walking through the concentration camps,
I would know that my father’s family
was my own.”
By Sun Mee Chomet

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