Operation Magic Carpet
By Debbie Herman
Operation Magic Carpet was launched at the 13th (Bar Mitzvah year) IAYC Conference held just outside of the San Francisco Airport. It is a 6’ x 9’ cotton cloth large enough for nearly 200 people to leave something of themselves behind.
It is somewhat like the Tree of Life found near the entrance of many Temples. These commemorate relatives who have passed on and for a fee are inscribed on small metal plate. A stranger does the inscription and all you need do is give the name and pay the fee. The idea of the Magic Carpet was to leave a part of you behind even after the conference was over and to bring it to the next conference in Michigan next year. It will be a reminder of those who attended and of some who may not be with us.
I arrived at the hotel with a pocketful of meshugas, and since I worked on the registration, I met many of you on paper, before I encountered your face or even your voice. I noticed some registrations were marked with scribbles of requests, others lovingly stained with their childhood nickname for their registration badge and still others arrived crisply starched with specific instructions on what equipment they would need for their presentation.
My job was to unfold each of the registrations that Gerald Gerger sent me in the mail, sort them into attendees, presenters and vendors and put them away into their respective drawer s in my database. One day soon, I said to myself, I will open a drawer, take out a registrant and try them on for size. Would they feel comfortable, like soft, worn cotton or would they feel uncomfortably stiff. How would I settle in?
Well, finally April 22nd arrived and the conference was poised to begin. Suddenly, I looked up from the computer and there was a forever-long line. I am sure some of you felt like you were on perma-hold. Rest assured, we reeled each of you in, and shook out a few checks that had been stuffed in the pockets.
Thankfully, among the long line, there were soft, smiling and familiar faces that had been hung up in the back of my memory, stored away by permanent impressions (oh, how I pressed to remember when you spoke to me over the years and shared stories that left noticeable creases on my sense of history), and during the conference so many others who caught me by the collar and tagged me with your very own personal brand of old-fashioned wit and yiddishkayt.
There was no remedy for the static in the air, as everyone was abuzz previewing which sessions they would tumble into. For all the hard work that is done in preparation for the conference, when it is over, there is little left in a tangible way to show for it. This year would be different, I thought. What if we unhinged the closet door and the very emotions that everyone was wearing on their sleevse could be set-in for the writing and dedication for the continuity of Yiddish.
Way at the back of the closet, were those who had to be coaxed out, unsure of the chore being asked of them. Others were off the rack and magically appeared at the cloth, commemorating loved ones who had perished in the Holocaust. There were names that will forever be inscribed that never walked out of Auschwitz, or Majdanek. They have been given an extra blessing and memory of their life on this Yiddish Magic Carpet. There were sisters and brothers who will travel amidst bobes and zeydes, tates and mames, once carefree, frolicking friends and shtetlekh and shtiblekh that have been commemorated all together. In some places, distant relatives touch others from across the Pale of Settlement and all over Eastern Europe. Entire towns that were obliterated and with them all the souls that vanished without a trace are remembered on this Bar Mitzvah year quilt as we stood witness.
Diana Scott e-mailed me, asking how I was going to finish this quilt off? What artistic touches would I add? I have been an art quilter for two decades, and have done commemorative quilts for B’nai Mitzvoth in Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino and English. I too wondered, what would become of this quilt and how would so many memories be honored. I looked over some of the tear-stained hands on the quilt and noticed quite a bit of Russian writing amidst the Yiddish. Others, as far away as Canada and Japan had left wishes for the continuity of Yiddish for the ensuing generations. Surely, I had no corner of creativity more compelling than the idea that I have just met.
My father, Fishl, was the last to sign the quilt…. or so I thought. My first idea was to start the quilt in San Francisco area (in the lobby of the Westin Hotel in Millbrae, CA), and then bring it to Florida with me, add a binding and then stuff it into my suitcase for the next conference in Detroit, MI. We would start it at this conference for those wishing to honor those who had never had the chance to have a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Soon it became apparent, that so many people traced the outline of their hands and filled them with tears of love and precious memories of what stood out about them. Still others decorated their hands with music and verse.
I thought about adding verses of Yiddish poetry in between the hands, as the voices of the Yiddish poets who have interrupted my life. This happened on a visit to Hilda Rubin, whom I met years ago at another IAYC conference. I sat on the couch in her living room as she related stories of these great poet’s lives, as if they were her long, lost friends. I listened for hours, long into the night. She had barely scratched the surface. I learned that Yiddish poetry was used as a voice for political expression.
I thank Prof. Chaim Berman, who didn’t flinch when I asked him to autograph a book entitled Sparks Amidst the Ashes: The Legacy of Polish Jewry. I promised to hear his lecture and missed it, so I took his email and told him I would read it with his presence. I often play this game that the author is in the room talking to me, especially when studying and the book is dry. I wanted to attend his lecture, because I always considered history to be about memorizing facts and then regurgitating them on the next test. Someone had told me he makes history come alive. This is what I love about conferences—everyone’s meshugas is indulged. Prof. Berman is more important to me than the author, for I shall never meet the author.
I turned my back on my roommate, Lori Cahan-Simon, and while my back was turned she did a very artistic hand. So, my idea is to have this follow the fate of the Stanley Cup in Ice Hockey. My family (husband, daughter and son), except me, are all ice hockey referees. I plan to send the Magic Carpet on its journey with the promise that the people and cities to which it travels will sign it on the back, along with the date, and then have it on display August 26, 2011 at the 14th IAYC Conference in Detroit, Michigan. See you there.
For those of you who did not make it to the conference, all you need do is come to the next conference. While the quilt is light in weight, it is heavy in our emotions. I am sure it will bring a tear to your eyes when you read what others have written.
Editor’s note: Every father should have a daughter or daughters just like our president Paul Melrood and I have.Debbie took over at the last minute last year at the conference in La Jolla when I was unable to attend. She has taken over the task of registration for the IAYC conferences and will do this task for the Michigan conference, August 2011.