The Necklace I Never Wear
In a box in my closet is a small scrimshaw necklace that I never wear. I will never give it away. I will never sell it. I hope one day one of my children will take it.
It is not that old. I bought it when I was 20, when I spent my sophomore year of college in Israel, 1974 to 1975.
Many holocaust survivors were still alive. Some of them related to me through my maternal grandparents who were both from Europe. My grandparents came to the USA in the 1920s. But most of their family remained behind. Many perished, others survived and moved to Israel.
My grandmother went to Europe in 1931 with my Mom and uncle. I have written about this before. She stayed on the farm owned by her in-laws. While she was there her mother-in-law, my great grandmother Chava, gave her some family items. Two pieces of jewelry, a pearl necklace and an opal ring; and several embroidered and handmade pieces that Chava had made. I own all but the pearl necklace. They were all given to me as the one named for Chava.
The pearl necklace disappeared in 1931. My grandmother went to use the shower at her inlaws. She took off the necklace to bathe and forgot to put it back on. When she realized it was gone, she went back to the bathroom. It was missing.
But she knew who took it. Zeisel. He was the only one who had been in the bathroom. But he denied taking it. And that was the end of the matter for 43 years, until I went to Israel for a year of college.
A month after I arrived in Israel, I received a letter from my grandmother telling me the story of the pearls. I had never heard it before. In the letter she wrote that the 'goniff,' Zeisel Feuer, my grandfather's cousin, was going to give me some money to pay her back for the necklace he stole in 1931. I was to take the money and give my great uncle, her brother, half the money. The other half was to buy myself a necklace because I should have the pearls.
What? Was my grandmother insane? I did not really want to do this.
I wrote her back saying that I thought 43 years meant the statue of limitations on a theft were over. And that she needed to let it go. And I did not need to have the necklace. But a few weeks later I received another letter instructing me how to find Zeisel in Tel Aviv. He worked at bakery on a specific street and I was to go there and speak to him. She said I had no choice. I had to do this. It was important to both of them to end this. And I would be the one to fix it. What?
Grandma ordered, so I obeyed. The next time I was in Tel Aviv, I went to the bakery. There was a man who looked so much like my grandfather, except smaller and bent. I knew it had to Zeisel. I introduced my self. He held for minute and had me sit at a table. He brought tea and a pastry. I waited while he finished working. Then we walked back to his apartment.
There he gave me Israeli lire, which in US would be worth about $100. And he told this story.
He was married with two children. He had a wonderful life. But he wanted more for his family. So when my grandmother left the pearls in the bathroom, he thought, "She lives in America. She is rich and has money. She does not need this necklace." And he took it. And he lied.
In return the Nazis came. They killed his wife. They killed his children. They tortured him. He could no longer have any children.
And he knew that taking the necklace had brought all this pain to him and his family. And before he died he had to make amends. So he gave me the money. I was to do with the money whatever my grandmother said. He had made peace.
I was stunned. I was 19. I did not know what to say but to cry. When I left him, I took the money back to my dorm in Jerusalem at Hebrew University. A few weeks later I took half the money to my Uncle Isaac. The other money I kept in my room.
Each time I went to Tel Aviv after that, I always went to the bakery to see Zeisel. He always gave me tea and a pastry. There were not many phones in Israel at the time. So I could not call in advance. I would just show up, or send him a letter telling him when I thought I would come. When my parents came to Israel that December of 1974, I took them to meet Zeisel and speak to him. It was a meeting my parents never forget as well.
In January I turned 20. I finally spent the $50 on a necklace for me. A necklace that carried so much pain. I could not wear it even though I knew my grandmother wanted me to have this jewelry from my great grandmother. So I keep it in a box in my closet. I know it is there. I know it is safe. It will not be lost. But I cannot wear it. When I see it, I always think of Zeisel and how much he lost.
It was not the pearl necklace that doomed his family. It was the rise of hatred. But he did steal it. So for him giving me the money was closure. He had repented; he had done his "tashuvah." But for me it was the beginning of truly understanding the past.
I have written about the Zeisel and the pearl necklace before. It is a story that stays in my heart and my soul. But I have never talk about what I bought with the money. In my mind it is just not enough. It does not make up for the suffering surrounding one pearl necklace. Zeisel was also the person who let my grandfather know that his entire family had perished in the Shoah. He is forever bound in our family history.
Zeisel, my grandparents and my parents have all passed away. I am the only one who can remember this story. And so I tell it again.
I will never accept money in compensation for all the precious things Dawn McSweeney stole from me and from my family. Dawn McSweeney's crimes tore apart my family. Detailed reports are open to the world at -