Loneliness - A Short Story Based on the Life of My Grandfather

January 3, 2010
By , Tulsa, OK
Samuel Jacobski sat and stared out of the window of his Brooklyn, New York apartment. Even though he was in a city of 10 million people, he felt lonely. His wife Rachel was visiting their son who lived in Oklahoma. Samuel was unable to go on the trip and at this moment felt utterly alone. As he stared out the window, he tried to analyze his loneliness and in doing so, felt a flood of painful memories rush into his head. He remembered when, as a fourteen year old boy in Poland during World War II, he had somehow managed to escape the Nazis when they closed the gates of the Lodz Ghetto imprisoning the Jews and Gypsies who lived there including his family and friends. Alone, he managed to survive the forest, enduring hunger and cold, until the Nazis eventually captured him and sent him to a concentration camp – one of several that he would survive. What nearly killed his heart and soul was the news that his parents and siblings had all perished in the horror of the Holocaust. He had never felt as alone as did as he tried to digest the fact that, while only a teenager, he was utterly alone in the world and that his own chances to survive were slim.

At that moment, something in Samuel happened. It was an overwhelming desire to survive and fight back! He would not descend into depression and die of a broken heart. He would be so strong that even fire could not burn him! In fact, before the war ended and he was rescued by American soldiers, Samuel had managed to escape from a concentration camp and survived two bullets which still rested in his right leg.

After the war, as a refugee in Israel, Sam felt the isolation and loneliness of culture shock and of not speaking the language. He coped with his personal pain and bitterness by fighting in Israel’s War of Independence in 1948. While in the army, he met a beautiful dark female Israeli soldier who Samuel was convinced could save him from utter loneliness and despair. Her name was Rachel and she offered to teach him Hebrew. Blue eyed and blond Samuel spoke Polish, Russian and German but without knowing Hebrew, he could never really adapt to his new homeland. Rachel was born in Palestine which had recently become the State of Israel. Her parents were Jews who had immigrated to Palestine from Yemen – hence her exotic dark beauty. Sam knew that he would one day marry her.

One day Samuel heard the exciting news that one of his relatives had actually survived the Holocaust! It was his first cousin, Miriam. Samuel praised God that there was a living relative who could shower him with the unconditional love and affection that this orphan longed for – like a dessert longs for rain! Ironically, the greatly anticipated reunion did not turn out as hoped. Perhaps it was because Miriam also suffered during the war that she could no longer love. In any case, upon meeting Rachel, Miriam told Samuel that she did not approve of him marrying a “nigger”. Samuel then decided to never speak to Miriam again. Samuel and Rachel later told their children that Samuel had no surviving relatives.

It turned out that most of Israeli society at the time regarded the marriage of an Ashkenazi Jew (from Eastern Europe) and a Sephardic Jew (from countries such as Yemen, Morocco, and Spain) as a “mixed marriage” and they felt prejudice everywhere. Perhaps this is what pushed them to emigrate to America. This and the hope that their sons would not have to fight in another war (Samuel especially could not bear another premature death of a family member) and the rumor that the streets of America were “paved in gold”.

Coming to America, Brooklyn, New York to be exact, presented new challenges including the learning of yet another language. Samuel never really learned English well. Words and phrases in Yiddish, Polish, Russian, German and Hebrew mingled with his broken English without his even realizing it.
Difficulty with communication was an isolating factor and didn’t help in the job market. The living he eeked out at the corner grocery store was modest. His motivation was to put his two sons and daughter through school so that, through education, they could achieve the American dream. He shared Cooper’s American Ideals of sacrificing to make life better for the next generation, fighting to rid the world of evil and living frugally. But he also shared Cooper’s American weaknesses of overindulging in pleasures such as excess food, alcohol and cigarettes which temporarily dulled his pain and wasted money on lottery tickets hoping that he come strike it rich fast. Deep down Samuel knew his indulgences were killing him but he didn’t seem to care. After all, the haunting memories of the wars were enormously painful and he didn’t share these memories with anyone – especially not his own family. Not being able to share his experiences with someone who could understand was perhaps the most isolating thing of all.

As Samuel sat looking out of the window of his Brooklyn apartment, alone in a crowd of millions, his chest began to hurt like a two ton elephant was sitting on it and a cold sweat broke out on his forehead. He was dying of a heart attack and he was dying alone at the age of 56. Not until the next day would he be discovered by his neighbor and news of the terrible event would reach his family by telephone.

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