Where the Oranges Grow By Tad Wojnicki

"Go to the land where the oranges grow," my Mama often said, starting when I was 13. "And then, bring us over!" I took it upon myself, making her dream come true. But the harder I tried, the harder it got, just like for my Tata, who had tried to become a kosher butcher but turned a pig-killer. Survival was self-denial, I saw.

summit snows
over the orange groves
California, California

The Soviet totalitarianism I came to live under sometimes wasn't any less brutal than Nazi totalitarianism. As a teen, I craved knowledge. I wished to write, study, dig--become another Yigael Yadin, doing archeological digs in the Holy Land--but no Polish college would accept me. Why? I wasn't quite Polish. I was too wiry, too Jewish. Finally, the Catholic University of Lublin took me. I was free to take Hebrew, rake responsa, dig yiddishkeit, be who I was. I was assigned the library pass assigned before to another Jew, Seweryn Blumsztajn, a dissident banned from all colleges. Professor Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope, taught me Ethics.

After I graduated, during a rare ideological thaw, I was accepted to the doctoral program at the Institute of Philosophy, but then, my promoter, may his name be erased, requested I join the Communist Party. I refused. "I'll do my best you never get a doctorate," he said. When I brought the manuscript ofdoctoral dissertation, he confiscated it--my only copy, since copying machines were illegal. I wrote another dissertation, went back to the Catholic University of Lublin, and received my Ph.D. in 1977, just days before I left Poland forever.

I had gotten married, had a daughter, all the while keeping my Mama's dream alive. It had taken me 20 years to make it happen. Finally, I headed for the land where the oranges grow. Only my Mama had meant Israel, and I was headed for California. It didn't matter. She was already dead.

sucking in air
this morning
I breathe oranges