Wednesday, June 9, 2010

say something about veils...

Here's something I'm actually pretty angry about. There, I said it out loud. I'm angry about my great-grandmother's veils.

My dad spent decades scouring the earth for Judaica. To rescue it and give it a home. Not our home, mind you. But something more permanent. A place where these fragmented treasures of our People would be (or might be) preserved this time forever.

I come from a museum family, in which no object —excuse me, artifact— is really personal. History has taken so much from us, my mother would say. We were robbed by the Expulsion, the Inquisition, the Holocaust. And so, my sibling, the museum, got all the attention. History was not our own to be kept, held or savored just in our tiny fragment of a family (or anyone else's family either). It must be preserved — institutionalized — as yet another symbol of the heritage that we collectively lost. Preserved for all to treasure equally. Not for any of us to keep for ourselves.

And so, my great-grandmother's veils, when they were eventually uncovered in my nona's house, went straight to the museum. I only got to wear them once, but I remember how beautiful they were, how delicate, and exactly how complicated it was to wear them. Somewhere, I know there is a picture of me in her veils. But clearly I was not to be entrusted with them beyond that momentary loan.

Besides, my research interests were primarily among Muslim populations (or nominally Muslim, anyway). I keep thinking that perhaps I wasn't worthy of keeping the family veils. I was studying, perhaps, the wrong tradition! The Bukharan veils were all that was left from that particular line of the family. Maybe my parents were right to have them incarcerated. So they could be put on display on a mannequin every five or ten years for little Jewish school children to gawk at for a second or two before moving on to the next exhibit.

My dad collected everything. But he wasn't materialistic about any of the stuff he 'rescued.' What he treasured were the stories they could help uncover. Each object, each bit of junk held a piece of the puzzle. And if you were a good researcher, you could find enough bits of junk to be able to see the whole picture. He was, in his way, an archaeologist of of our fragmented history. And when he died, his apartment became my own excavation site. And it's now my job to find homes for all the remaining orphaned bits of unclaimed culture. And I became the curator of my dad's leftover homeless treasures.

At some point along the way, I started to collect some pretty nifty veils. My travel-veils, I call them. My favorites are the Egyptian ones with all the beaded sparklies on them. They're the closest thing I've found that feel like my noni's veils, though nothing's very close. And when I wear my veils, I feel at home, and safe, and linked up to a line that goes back through time, a thousand years, or two, or three, or longer.

"History is always now," my mom always said. And wearing those veils, well, I can feel it. But truth be told, I really don't like museums very much. It's not just the sibling rivalry. I'd just rather wear my history than stare at it through glass.


  1. " . . . his apartment became my own excavation site and it's now my job to find homes for all the remaining orphaned bits of unclaimed culture . . . "

    You know how much I relate to this journey.

  2. I felt guilty writing that, actually. I may be running the expedition, but you've been the foreman and have provided most of the labor! My gratitude is quite literally eternal!

  3. I'm so glad I read this. Here you have helped me make another leap in my thinking about endings and beginnings, finitude, and Time, toward the humanness of connections across generations through time. It is a more recent and intimate version of what I was saying about how evolution becomes the narrative that connects us to all living things. Here, archeology and story connect us to all the humans who have lived, and to those from whom we have come.