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Prelude to a Poem

When my great-grandfather, Kaufmann Dreifus, was living and working in a tiny German village a century ago he could not possibly have imagined the event taking place this weekend: the Bat Mitzvah ceremony of one of his great-great-grandchildren in Columbus, Ohio. (I suspect he would have found the very concept of a “Bat Mitzvah” just as alien as a mention of “Columbus, Ohio.”)

I know little about Kaufmann Dreifus since he died when his children (my grandfather and his older sister [the Bat Mitzvah girl’s great-grandmother], by a first marriage, and Grandpa’s younger brother by the second), were still quite young, and my grandfather did not speak much about him. The good thing, if there can be a good thing about Kaufmann’s early death, is that he missed the 1930s altogether.

Had he lived, Kaufmann Dreifus would have seen all three of his children (fortunately) leave Germany before the end of that decade. He would have learned of marriages in new homelands to other German-Jewish refugees, and, eventually, of grandchildren born in what was then called Palestine, in New York, and in Iowa (another place I’m not sure he ever knew about). He might have lived long enough to know that he had 17 great-grandchildren, though it’s doubtful that he would have seen the following generation–the one including the Bat Mitzvah girl–arrive and grow up.

My grandfather’s parents and their mysterious histories have already inspired a short story (forthcoming in TriQuarterly this winter). This weekend, I sense that their descendants will prove just as inspirational. This time, I think I’ll be writing a poem. I already have the title in mind. The rest will come in Columbus.

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