War Diaries, November 26, 2022

Today is November 26, 2022. This is a War Diary. I am tired of counting the days. Counting the days toward what, I wonder. Toward resolution, toward peace, toward kindness, toward tolerance, toward what? The end of a brutal war? A new civilization?

‘Ukrainian officials said Wednesday that overnight airstrikes by Russian forces hit a hospital maternity ward in southern Ukraine, killing a newborn baby and wounding its mother.’ November 23, 2022

I wasn’t yet thirty when I visited the Prado in Madrid and saw Picasso’s iconic Guernica. I didn’t know it at the time but it had just been returned to Spain under heavy guard from the MOMA in New York. I was young and unaware of what I gazed upon, despite an erudite guide who took us through each section of this massive mural-like painting structured like a modern triptych.

What did Bernard Shaw say? Something about youth being wasted on the young?

There was no victory in this painting. 1,645 people were killed on that market day morning; mostly women and children. Their men were fighting elsewhere. It was at the height of the Spanish Civil War that this bombardment by German and Italian allies of General Franco took place.

I remembered something very vivid from the painting. A woman with a dead child in the upper left-hand corner. The guide pointed to this section of the painting, indicating its resemblance to the Pieta. Our Lady. Mater Dolorosa. Our Lady of Sorrows, most often portrayed with multiple swords piercing the heart.

I consider the fate of the woman unprotected. The child encased in the holy waters of the womb seems the only place of safety. While it lasts. Society suffers from an absence of feeling which breeds alienation and apathy. In such an atmosphere, both woman and child are exposed to the threat of massacre, especially those in poverty and situations compromised by aggression, war and political barbarity. The mother and child as objects are then conspicuously faceless, expendable, deadwood, excess baggage, non-essentials. One can do with them what they please.

I just stepped away from my desk for a moment and walked past one of the rooms where a woman was heaving tears. At first, it sounded like exuberant laughter, but as I listened more carefully, in fact, it was the pain of war that I heard. She is separated from what is familiar.

We all live here together amongst broken dreams and shattered lives. The brute shock of war that is unrelenting. Trapped between despair and doubt we do our best to get through each day.

Last night at the table, our Friday gathering with wine and nuts, like a real life when people are free to move about and visit friends after a long week of work, when they have someplace to go — we sit at this table and pretend that we have normal lives too, even if it’s just for a few minutes over a glass of wine and a shared story.

The apartment blocks in Kharkiv rise to sixteen stories, someone offered. They have to take the stairs. No refrigeration. No lights, food shortages and people drinking water from the rivers. A story was told about a man who sold the contents of his freezer for money. I’m sure I didn’t understand it as the story makes no sense to me this morning.

Hope is such a fragile assumption. There’s no place to grip. Perhaps we should just capitulate to war strategies and a dictator trying to make a mother believe he cares for the son he has just murdered.  How have we become so deluded? Maybe from a century of literal bombardment have we grown weary and indifferent. Rabbi Jeffrey Newman in an article quotes from Jonathan Lear’s book, Radical Hope: ‘When the buffalo went away, the hearts of my people fell to the ground…and they could not lift them up again. After this, nothing happened.’1

Rabbi Newman goes on to say, ‘It is precisely this point — a people faced with the end of their way of life prompts the psychological, philosophical and ethical inquiry pursued in Radical Hope. How can we face the possibility that our culture or even our civilization might collapse?’

I’m intrigued by Newman’s words, ‘After this, nothing happened.’ What does that mean? ‘After this’ might mean they were no longer able to reinvent themselves as a tribe. To reorganise or to even re-enchant their lives. Hope.

I try not to expect too much from the day. I am not in control. I make an effort to be in the kitchen when the soup is being served, as it runs out quickly. I do not want to disappear into inaction, so I write. And now, with the first snow, I think I will work on my new fairy tale and see how far I get.

‘My whole life as an artist as been nothing more than a continuous struggle against reaction and the death of art. In the picture, I am painting – which I shall call Guernica – I am expressing my horror at the military caste which is now plundering Spain into an ocean of misery and death.’ Pablo Picasso

1937. 2022. We are the same violent creatures.

Here are some words by Susan Winokur Platt whose grandmother immigrated from Ukraine to America in 1900.


by Susan Winokur Platt

There were people there. Thousands and thousands of people.                      They were there for hundreds of years, although none of those years were easy.
They knew cold, they knew hunger, they knew poverty. Dirt floors.
But that is where they lived. And they did the best they could.
Eeking out a living, to feed their families.
Selling things.
Trading things.
A dollar here.
A dollar there.
They knew they were hated,
They knew it didn’t make sense.
Cheerfully getting water from the well, my great grandfather was shot in the back.
And then they were all murdered.
By the thousands.
And thousands.
And thousands.
Right in their own towns, their own villages.
They were forced to dig their own graves.
They killed everyone.
And it wasn’t the first time.
My grandmother would say “Don’t say ‘ick’ about food”
My grandmother would say “You should eat. I would have been glad to have that.”
My grandmother would say “You don’t let a pan soak! You use elbow grease!”
My grandfather, paralyzed from a stroke, would say
“Do you want something to eat?” and hand me a dollar. I would then return that dollar to my grandmother, waiting for it in the kitchen,
And she would return it to his pants pocket,
After he went to bed.
I got the same dollar hundreds of times.
I do know about the hate.
When a boy called me a “kike” in the 7th grade, I didn’t know what the word meant.
My brother had to explain.
The decision to leave
Because they knew
What was happening,
What was coming.
Hoping for better.
They did that for our family, not really knowing
How, or even if,
it would turn out.
And now, two hundred, one hundred, or maybe,
only sixty years later,
Here I am.
Never hungry. Never poor. Never cold.
So grateful to be an immigrant.





1Jeffrey Newman is Emeritus Rabbi of Finchley Reform Synagogue. Plenty Coups. The last great Chief of the Crow Nations (1848-1932