‘Why did it have to be blue?’
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“He turns to his Maker and, trembling, asks– ‘Why did it have to be blue?'” 

Oriyan Cohen, a 12th-grader at Midreshet Ohr Torah – the Jennie Sapirstein high school for girls in Jerusalem, shares ruminations of her educational trip to Poland through a poem

Arutz 7 (read original Hebrew) | 1 May, 2019

Much has been written lately about the project named “Eva’s Story,” which evoked public debate about how one makes the Holocaust accessible to the youth.  Opinions on the matter differ, but one thing is certain – one must remember and never forget, and one must keep on telling the story.  The question that remains is how best to do so. 

Oriyan Cohen, at 12th grade student at Ohr Torah Stone’s Jennie Sapirstein High School for girls in the neighborhood of Ramot, Jerusalem, chose to remember in a unique and creative way.  She decided to recount her educational trip to Poland by means of a poem.

Oriyan Cohen
Oriyan Cohen

She submitted her poem to a competition organized by the Ministry of Education’s Chemed Department (Religious Public Education), which bears the name Shura Rishona (literally meaning “first line”). The competition, intended for young writers, ended a few weeks ago, and Oriyan took one of the first places, but now the poem is more relevant than ever.

“I wrote the poem after visiting the Majdanek Concentration Camp in Poland,” says Cohen.  “One of the images that remained stuck in my mind throughout the trip, and in Majdanek in particular, was the blue stains of the Zyklon-B gas that left its mark on the walls of the cells.”

The protagonist of the poem is a boy named Mordechai, who carries on his shoulders the entire Jewish People.  Mordechai symbolizes all those Jews who were ripped from their families and led barefoot to their death.  These Jews lost their joy, their light and their hope in the new reality of darkness and pain. 

“At the entrance to one of the barracks in Majdanek there is an area called ‘The Square of Roses’.  Yochi, our guide for the duration of the trip, told us of the Jews who had left blood-stained footprints on the white snow that covered the square.  It is said that one of the Nazi soldiers remarked to his friend upon seeing the bloody footprints – Look at the lovely roses.  Hence the name of the square.”  Similarly, in Cohen’s poem, Mordechai enters Majdanek and painfully leaves a trail of roses.  The roses, which pierce his heart, not only symbolize Mordechai’s personal physical and emotional pain, but also the heavy yoke of the Jewish People throughout time. 

Oriyan reading her poem at the school's Yom HaShoah ceremony

In her explanation of the poem, Cohen also writes that the color blue is of deep significance in Judaism.  “The blue fringes of the tzitzit remind us that we are a part of something bigger and not alone in this world.  The tzitzit charges the wearer to do good and reminds him of the fundamentals of our faith.”  Cohen explains that she tried to describe the bond existing between the deep significance of the color blue in Judaism and the horrific loss experienced by the Jewish People during the Holocaust:  “When I thought of the color blue and the meaning it bears in Judaism, I recalled Mordechai the Jew and the royal robes of blue he wore.”

Mordechai, the poem’s protagonist, draws his roses of pain, but also carries Shoshanat Ya’akov, the Rose of the Jewish People, which blooms even among thorns.  Mordechai’s heart is pierced; he is in pain and in darkness.  He wants to grasp at the Blue, hold onto goodness and faith, and with these emotions burning in him, he enters the barracks of extermination.  His soul cries out for his family, who is no longer with him.  He removes his clothing, enters the death chamber and chokes on the lethal gas.  He cries out to the heavens, and his brothers cry out with him.  Mordechai exits from before the Throne of Heavens attired in the robes of angels.  He stands there, teary-eyed, and asks about the color Blue and the meaning behind it.  He cries for all the roses that only wished to blossom, and wants to know how it is possible that so many roses were prematurely picked between the blue-stained walls.”

School principal Michal Grushko-Taitel said:  “How fortunate we are to be living in these times of revival and rejuvenation, in a generation that remembers its past; takes its inspiration from Judaism’s holy books and knows how to connect between Man and Heaven and Earth; between past, present and future.   We are grateful to have merited students such as Oriyan in this generation.”

The Poem

Long has he forgotten the meaning of joy,

And honor and hope and light;

Painfully his feet draw roses of red,

While his heart bleeds at the sight. 

Mordechai enters and sheds all his clothes,

He wails before the Almighty;

He cries for his brothers, he cries for his mother,

And his brothers all join him in prayer.

Then suddenly Mordechai falls to a silence,

His brothers fall silent too;

Silent, as well, are the walls stained in blue,

As Mordechai takes leave of the King.

Attired is he in the garments of angels,

And teary-eyed he stands still;

He turns to his Maker and, trembling, asks –

Why did it have to be blue?

And the heavens of blue tear wide open,

As if upon cue. 

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