Perel / Perla / Pola / Paula
“JEWS HAVE SIX SENSES
Touch, taste, sight, smell, hearing . . . memory. While Gentiles experience and process the world through the traditional senses, and use memory only as a second-order means of interpreting events, for Jews memory is not less primary than the prick of a pin, or its silver glimmer, or the taste of the blood it pulls from the finger. The Jew is pricked by a pin and remembers other pins. It is only by tracing the pinprick back to other pinpricks—when his mother tried to fix his sleeve while his arm was still in it, when his grandfather’s fingers fell asleep from stroking his great-grandfather’s damp forehead, when Abraham tested the knife point to be sure Isaac would feel no pain—that the Jew is able to know why it hurts.
When a Jew encounters a pin, he asks: What does it remember like?”
—Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything Is Illuminated
This series attempts to tell the complex story of my grandmother’s life. The recurring subjects represented in these photographs are my grandparents, Paula and Gershon, and my father, Ruby, their son. The title of the series is comprised of all the different variations of names my grandmother had during her lifetime. For me, “Perel/Perla/Pola/Paula” sums up her entire life story.
Paula Taub was a stubborn and indestructible woman, with iron flowing through her veins despite her small, fragile-looking appearance. While the series is focused on my grandmother, I also tried to shed some light on my father’s childhood growing up with parents who were Holocaust survivors. After tales of his childhood are told, it becomes easier to understand where his impatience and sharp gallows humor stem from.
Memory was hard on Paula. She was plagued by memories of loss and suffering for most of her life. From the time her mind began to slowly deteriorate due to Alzheimer’s, I’ve felt a strong obligation not to let a single day go by without thinking about what my grandmother endured. Since her death on my 20th birthday at the age of 95, I’ve struggled with how to keep her memory alive. By telling my grandmother’s story, I am honoring her and all the people whose stories may have been forgotten.