Our rabbi, my mother had said, came to the Bronx from Shanghai after the war. It was as if she had said our rabbi had dropped from the moon.
Where Rabbi Gorelick had been before Shanghai was still off-limits to the fragile parameters of my child's mind. I tried to understand the Holocaust as a horror confined to the Jews of Europe. I did not want to think it could endure residually inside a black jacket that sometimes brushed against me in shul.
Vehicles now whiz eternally through the space that was once the pulpit where the rabbi railed against the softness of Jews in America. North of the Cross-Bronx Expressway, by Kingsbridge Road, I find myself walking with my 18-year-old friend, Rathanak Choun, whose shock of black hair is buried beneath his turned-around baseball cap.
I have returned to the Bronx to interview Cambodian emigres, most of whom, like Rathanak's mother, are survivors of Poi Pot's Killing Fields. Rathanak came to the Bronx from a Thai refugee camp as an infant.
He remembers hearing about the Holocaust in grade school. (He will soon be entering City College.) He remembers thinking, "That's a great atrocity, what happened to the Jews. My family never went through anything like that, forgetting that we came here because of the Khmer Rouge."
He laughs at himself for thinking such a thing, for such blatant denying.
The Cambodian patch of the Bronx is a kind of dislocating dream surface. Everything is familiar to me, but nothing is the …