My friend Walt used to tell a story. He’d tell people of an Anishanaabe elder who spoke of the fire at the beginning of the world, “No” he’d say ,”before the beginning.” All the people sat together around that fire with the creator. One by one we went off to populate the world. The Anishanaabe were the last to leave. They liked it there by that fire, telling stories, swapping jokes, and just having a good time with the creator. Finally, the creator had to chase them away. That time by the fire has left a memory, a connection that others have forgotten.
The elder in Walt’s story was approached by people from all over world; African, Asian, Latino, Caucasian all asking for their stories. The elder always responded the same. “I don’t your story. I can only tell my own. But, if it’s true that we all come from around the same fire, our stories must be similar.”
I think about that often. It’s told me who I am.
I grew up a Catholic, white, farm girl in southeastern Wisconsin. I always wanted to see the homeland of my ancestors. A little over a month ago that dream came true. Some of my family and I went on a tour of Luxembourg. That’s where my understanding of who I am got a reworking.
It turns out that it’s likely my ancestors were Jewish. Quite a thing to find out during a week of touring WWII museums and cemeteries!
I am left now to wonder who they were. Jews were first recorded in Luxembourg in the 13th century. They were largely wiped out and returned several times over the upcoming centuries. By the time my family left in the mid-1800’s there were several hundred in the country.
What happened? What made this group so persecuted so consistently throughout the centuries? What pushed my family to deciding to leave behind their identity and claim something new when others didn’t? What does that identity mean for me?
These are all questions that have just begun to float in my mind. I don’t know yet what to do with them or where to seek answers. It is probably enough for now to simply name the questions.
It is my walk back to that fire to find out who I am. That is where we find ourselves, in the journey back to the fire, in that time to sit and visit and come to know each other, ourselves, the created, and the creator.