Friday, April 30, 2010

Church Scandal

There are times when the power of theology bends reality and creates a better world for ourselves and our children.  And there are other times when theology blinds us and distorts reality.  The vision exalted by our prophets is an example of the former.  The latter describes the current situation of the Catholic Church.  Abraham Joshua Heschel and Martin Luther King are as well examples of the power of theology to transform reality for the better.  Theology and faith in God can summon us to be better, can call us to transform our world.  Faith is intended to give us strength day in and day out.  It is our source of confidence during troubling times.  This is why it saddens me to read of the growing scandal in the Catholic Church.  Today I read yet another article about the church's handling of priests accused of pedophilia.  Pope Benedict appears to have addressed this issue more forthrightly than any of his predecessors.  Yet there still appears to be a tendency to blame the crimes of priests on contemporary sexual mores rather than looking more closely within the church and in particular examining its theology of sex.  I admit I am biased.  I am of course Jewish and not Catholic.  I fail to understand celibacy.  I do not believe that sexual passion can be suppressed.  I believe it can be framed.  Judaism frames sex within the holiness of marriage.  Suppressing such a powerful drive leads to pain, confusion and…  I have no doubt that many priests are faithful to their vow of celibacy.  I also know that there are rabbis and ministers who abuse the power of their pulpit, using it primarily for the fulfillment of their own passions.  Despite this I do understand one part of the theory of celibacy.  It offers the priest the ability to be singularly devoted to his calling.  He can do what is best for his church.  His entire life can be about providing meaning for others.  His theology need not ever be compromised, in particular by the concerns of a spouse or family.  Sometimes I wonder what sacrifices my family has been called to make by my choice.  What have they lost in order that I can devote myself to this life of providing meaning for others?  I prefer of course this balancing act.  (I hope my children do as well.)  I would have it no other way.  I believe I am a better rabbi, not only because of the choices that were made for me, that I am a son and a brother, but more importantly because of the choices I made for myself, that I am a husband and a father.   There are times when I admire Catholic theology.  I admire the Catholic Church and Pope John Paul II for using the power of theology and faith to help bring down the Berlin Wall and end the tyranny of Communism.  In the cases we read about today, however, the church's theology is drawing a veil over reality.  It would be best if the Church examined itself and in this case allowed reality to bend theology.  Sometimes that makes for the more powerful faith.

Up in the Air

Up in the Air
This Etgar Keret story is wonderfully funny. A quote to tantalize: "And strangely enough, for me, those flights don’t just mean eating the heated-up TV dinner that the sardonic copywriter for the airlines decided to call a “High Altitude Delight.” They’re a kind of meditative disengagement from the world. Flights are expansive moments when the phone doesn’t ring and the Internet doesn’t work. The maxim that flying time is wasted time liberates me from my anxieties and guilt feelings, and it strips me of all ambitions, leaving room for a different sort of existence. A happy, idiotic existence, the kind that doesn’t try to make the most of time but is satisfied with merely finding the most enjoyable way to spend it." The irony of our modern connected existence is of course just this, that you have to be flying at 28,000 feet in order to be free. Keret's description of reading the inflight catalog recalls a recent experience when my son Ari and I entertained ourselves during take off and landing with a contest of who could find the most ridiculous product in the catalog. We laughed together during take off. Then the iPods were turned back on. We laughed together during landing. Then we reconnected to our wired world...

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Emor

This week’s Torah portion is Emor and describes the holiday cycle.  “These are My fixed times, the fixed times of the Lord, which you shall proclaim as sacred occasions…”  (Leviticus 23:2)

Whereas last week we delved into the ethical mitzvot, this chapter details rituals commandments.  The following holidays are described: Shabbat, Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot.  Notice that our favorites of Hanukkah and Purim are not mentioned.  These, it should be noted, are nowhere to be found in the Torah.  This is why they are accorded minor status in the tradition, despite our fondness for them and especially our children’s love for them.

Of particular note as well is the order of the holidays.  Shabbat stands at the head of the list.  Also the Jewish year began with Passover not Rosh Hashanah during biblical times.  During those times our holidays were constructed around our people’s agricultural sentiments.  For farmers the year began with the Spring and was marked by the holiday of Passover.  With the exception of Shabbat there were no holidays during the Winter in biblical times.  Sukkot marked the end of seasons, and the conclusion of the harvests, in the Fall which is why it was the most important holiday called, “he-chag,” the holiday in the Torah.  Shavuot marked the summer’s first fruits.  Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur rather than being the most important days of the year were instead a prelude to the concluding holiday of Sukkot.

As the Jewish people moved farther away from the land, and in particular from farming the land, the calendar shifted.  Rosh Hashanah became the season of personal introspection and repentance.  The holidays of Passover, Sukkot and Shavuot came to emphasize their roots in the Jewish history of slavery, wandering and receiving of the Torah over their agricultural themes.  Passover was connected in particular to the beginning of the barley harvest, Shavuot the first fruits and wheat harvest and Sukkot the conclusion of the farming season.

We of course live in a time when we are disconnected from the agricultural calendar.  Our children have little sense of connection between the foods they eat and the seasons that give rise to particular fruits and vegetables.  They have no idea that strawberries are for example a summer fruit.  In our supermarkets you can find strawberries all year round.  They are imported from other countries or grown in hothouses during the Fall, Winter and early Spring.  We can now enjoy summer fruits all year round.

My question for this Shabbat is what have we lost as a consequence of this detachment from growing our own food?  It is obvious what we have gained.  (I love strawberries!)  It is more difficult to discern what we have lost.  And so at a time when our food is wrapped in cellophane and grown in countries thousands of miles away would it serve us well to recover the distant agricultural themes of our holidays?  What would we and our children gain by reconnecting with these themes?


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Minority Report | The New Republic

Minority Report | The New Republic
This is a very interesting and informative article about the inner workings of Human Rights Watch and in particular its biased treatment of Israel. There is more to be gleaned from a full reading, but one quote should suffice. Birnbaum writes, "There are roughly as many reports on Israel as on Iran, Syria, and Libya combined."

Monday, April 26, 2010

Addendum

The video released by Hamas, and explored in my previous post, comes only two days after Israel permitted the daughter of Hamas' top security official in Gaza to pass though Israel on her way to seek urgent medical treatment in Jordan.  The daughter of Hamas Interior Minister Fathi Hamad left Gaza on Friday for an Israeli hospital, where she was airlifted to Jordan.  Hamad once headed the armed wing of Hamas that released the Shalit video. He now oversees all of Hamas' security forces.  How is that for bitter irony!  And as my friend and colleague, Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, points out in his blog, Israel has tried to negotiate for Shalit's release, offering nearly 1,000 prisoners in exchange, but Hamas changes its request over and over again, making it impossible to reach any compromise.

New Hamas Cartoon

Hamas released a cartoon depicting an aging Noam Shalit walking Israel's empty streets still waiting for Gilad, who was kidnapped by Hamas in June 2006.  The father dreams of his son returning in a flag draped coffin as happened with Goldwasser and Regev in July 2008.  The cartoon concludes with the statement "There is still hope..."  If Israel were to release thousands of prisoners and stop responding to rocket attacks then Shalit will be returned.  This appears to be the implication and intent of the sophisticated cartoon, as well as the suggestion that Israel's streets will be empty in the future.  You can watch the video here:



Let's be honest and forthright.  These are Israel's enemies.  They are people who prey on a father's feelings.  Israel by contrast always tries to minimize civilian casualties and despite Goldstone's biased report, adhere to the highest ethical standards in waging war.  Israel is engaged in what is called asymmetrical warfare (where the opposing forces hide in schools and mosques).  This involves greater civilian losses.  Golda Meir famously said, "We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children.  We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children."  Israel never intentionally targets civilians.  Hamas's strategy is based on targeting civilians (both their own and Israel's), in the past organizing homicide bombings against those drinking coffee in cafes or riding buses or shopping in malls.  Let us be thankful that Israel's forces have been successful in preventing terrorist attacks in recent years.  Here they are targeting the feelings of a young soldier's parents and family, as well as that of the entire Israeli populace.  The choices Israel faces are wrenching.  If it trades captured terrorists for Shalit will it be encouraging more terrorist acts and more kidnappings?  If it refuses to make such a deal then is it abandoning its soldiers and their families?  I remain skeptical that there can be peace with such enemies.  Despite this I will not let go of my prayers.  They are always filled with hope for peace.  Shalom is our greatest hope.  For now I will be content with sheket, quiet, although Israel's streets will never be emptied and quiet.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Captive Audience

Captive Audience
Now you can say that you read about this upcoming TV series here.

Aharei Mot-Kedoshim

This week’s Torah portion is a double portion, Aharei Mot-Kedoshim, Leviticus 16-20.  Occasionally we have to double up on portions in order to finish the reading cycle by Simhat Torah and so this week we are blessed with a reading that is filled with many different ideas.

This being Leviticus there is of course instructions about a sacrifice.  It is not any ordinary sacrifice described here but the Yom Kippur scapegoat offering.  We are also given detailed instructions about sexual mores.  Rather than saying a husband should only have sex with his wife and a wife only with her husband, Leviticus 18 provides a detailed listing enumerating with whom you should not have sex.  “Don’t have sex with your sister…  Don’t have sex with animals…”  (Thank God that was clarified!)  “Don’t have sex with your neighbor’s wife…”  In biblical parlance the chapter reads, “Do not uncover the nakedness of your sister…  Do not lie with your neighbor’s wife…”  It is in this chapter that homosexual sex is also explicitly forbidden by the Torah.  It should be noted that in all these cases Judaism legislates against actions not feelings.  (If you are interested in learning more about these sexual laws and my interpretation of them, listen to this week’s podcast.)

What is most intriguing is that the entire chapter is introduced by the phrase, “You shall not copy the practices of the land of Egypt where you dwelt, or of the land of Canaan to which I am taking you; nor shall you follow their laws.  My rules alone shall you observe…”  There is a clear and unmistakable sense in these chapters that the Jewish people must be set apart by their observance and in particular their behavior.  It is in this context that chapter 19 is introduced.  This chapter contains a fabulous collection of ethical laws.  “Love your neighbor as yourself!”  (Lest one become confused this is of course a different kind of love.  Sex and love are not the same.  They only become one within the holiness of marriage.)  There is also the command, “Love the stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

And of pressing note vis-à-vis this week’s news, “You shall not falsify measures of length, weight, or capacity.  You shall have an honest balance, honest weights…”  (Leviticus 19:35-36)    This brings me to my question for tomorrow evening’s Shabbat service.  The work week began with reports of the SEC filing charges against Goldman Sachs.  Did Goldman knowingly falsify measures?  Were their complicated financial instruments rigged to benefit those who were shorting the mortgage markets?  Did Paulson’s firm play too active a role in creating these instruments?

Some might be saying to themselves, “I can’t believe he is taking on every controversial issue in one missive!”  But such is the nature of Torah.  If the Torah is going to speak to our times, we have to allow it to tackle our most pressing problems and dilemmas.  Part of the mystery of Torah is the coincidence of its portions with contemporary events.  Let Torah speak to today’s issues!

Others might be saying that when it comes to Wall Street and the economy I am simplifying matters.  Yet for all the times my friends have tried to explain to me the idea of shorting a stock I still fail to grasp it.  I don’t understand how you can bet against anyone.  The nature of my work is to always bet for everyone, never against.  I always bet on people succeeding, and more importantly doing right.

In these verses about honest weights the Torah seems to be speaking about someone who placed their finger on the scales weighing it in his favor or about somehow who used a weight that was purposely mislabeled.  It was not speaking about complicated financial instruments.  Or was it?  Can the Torah’s laws about honest weights and measures be applied to today’s problems?  As Jews should we be guided by a higher law than the laws of the land in which we live?  Perhaps what is legal is not always ethical.

I am a simple man when it comes to matters of right and wrong.  When it comes to matters of the heart, I am, like everyone else, more complicated.  In Hebrew “honest” is rendered from tzedek which can also be translated as “just.”  And so when does “complicated” become deceitful, and unjust?

At Shabbat Services we will explore these questions further.  There, for at least that brief hour, all of the world’s controversies will be solved.  On Shabbat we taste perfection.  Shabbat Shalom!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Happy Yom Haatzmaut

Today is the celebration of 62 years of Israel's independence.  There will be plenty of time to write about the struggles and challenges, threats and worries Israel faces, but for now I wish only to focus on the positive.  For thousands of years we dreamed of a state, we prayed over and over again for our return to the land of Israel.  Our generation can touch this dream.  It is real.  Israel lives.  Israel thrives.  Our ancient prayers find modern life in the State of Israel.  What a remarkable achievement!  What an unparalleled blessing!
Today, Prime Minister Netanyahu delivered the following message to the diaspora communities:

Israel's Independence Day celebrates a double miracle in the life of the Jewish people.
The first miracle is the restoration of Jewish sovereignty. There is no other example that I know of in the history of nations in which a scattered people, practically left for dead, has been able to re-assert its national life.
The second miracle is what we've done since the establishment of the Jewish state. Israel is in fact becoming a regional economic power and one of the world's leading technological powers.
All the powers of creativity and genius in the Jewish people are bursting forth in every area: in science; in technology; in medicine; in the arts. This incredible burst of creativity promises a great future for the Jewish people and for all mankind.
This double miracle is a testament to the life-force of the Jewish people. It's a testament to the deep wells of hope we carry inside us and to the deep connection that we have both to our past and to our future. The two miracles that have already occurred are only the beginning.
If we stand together, if we remain committed to our common destiny, there's nothing we cannot achieve.
Chag Sameach!
Sincerely,
Benjamin Netanyahu
Jerusalem, Israel

What a privilege it is to live in our time!  "To be a free people in our own land."

Monday, April 19, 2010

Yom HaZikaron

Today is Yom HaZikaron, Israel's Memorial Day.  Unlike here in the United States it is not observed with family get-togethers and barbeques.  It is the most solemn of days.  Nearly everyone in Israel knows a soldier who fell in one of the country's many wars and battles.  Since the founding of the State 22,682 soldiers gave their lives in defense of the country.  To sum up Israel's pain Haaretz published a piece about Miriam Peretz who last year lost her younger son, Eliraz, in Gaza.  Now she is facing the impossible choice of having to decide by which grave to stand: the fresh grave of her younger son or that of his elder brother Uriel's, killed in Lebanon in 1998.  She says, "I am indeed not an angel. I can feel pain only in one place, to be comforted only in one place. Eliraz always came to be with me on Memorial Day, except when he was in military action."  Miriam said that after the death of her first son, she made a "deal with God" that He just not take another child from her. She remarks, "I should have made that promise to myself..."  Nationwide the day is marked by a two minute siren at 11 am.  All of Israel falls silent for these moments.  Here is a video clip of this observance.  The great Israeli poet Yehudah Amichai often wrote about war and conflict.  In Israel even poets went into battle.  Each generation goes to war thinking that the war it fights will be the last.  He writes:
My father fought their war four years or so,
and did not hate or love his enemies.
Already he was forming me, I know,
daily, out of his tranquilities;
tranquilities, so few, which he had gleaned
between the bombs and smoke, for his son's sake,
and put into his ragged knapsack with
the leftovers of my mother's hardening cake.
He gathered with his eyes the nameless dead,
the many dead for my sake unforsaken,
so that I should not die like them in dread,
but love them, seeing them as once he saw.
He filled his eyes with them; he was mistaken.
Like them, I must go out to meet my war.
Indeed!  May the deaths we mark on this day grant us peace and tranquility.  May we not know endless war and bloodshed.  Amen.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The TNR EXCHANGE: Trust Fall | The New Republic

The TNR EXCHANGE: Trust Fall | The New Republic
This is an important and insightful exchange between Yossi Klein Halevi and James Risen. I of course lean more towards Halevi's analysis, but nonetheless the debate offers insight into the current tension between the Netanyahu government and Obama administration.
I offer here one quote from Halevi.  "Israelis aren’t astonished at the president for being serious about the peace process...but because his efforts seem dangerously naïve. In demanding a cessation of building in long-standing Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, Obama created a precondition for negotiations which even the Palestinian leadership hadn’t previously insisted on. The absurd result was that Palestinian leaders refused to sit with the first Israeli government that had actually suspended building in the West Bank...  Israelis aren’t looking for unconditional support from Washington, but they do expect friendship. There was widespread acceptance here of Obama’s demand for a West Bank settlement freeze, as a way of testing the administration’s premise that such a move might result in gestures of normalization from Arab countries. But even after building was suspended, no reciprocal gestures came. Where is the administration’s anger against Arab intransigence? Frankly, Israelis are wondering whether America under Obama can be trusted any more as an ally... [I]f the administration persists in one-sided blame against Israel, its Middle East policy will implode. Israelis will not be bullied, even by friends."
And Risen responds: "While you weren't looking, the rest of the world has changed. What troubles Americans today is that Israelis don't seem to get the fact that the United States has fought two wars and fundamentally altered the dynamics of the Middle East. Yet when it comes to Israel, it might as well still be 1980, not 2010.  And so increasingly, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict looks to American eyes like Northern Ireland, an endless conflict fought over land and ethnicity and religion and half-forgotten blood feuds, with a strange immunity to influences from the outside world."
The debate continues...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Yom Haatzmaut

Why is tragedy compelling?  Why is fear motivating?  Why is mourning viewed as a greater obligation than celebrating?  These are the questions that occupy my thoughts as we approach Yom Haatzmaut, Israel Independence Day and the celebration of 62 years of Jewish sovereignty.
To garner our support for the State of Israel we are inundated with images of Hezbollah missiles, Iran’s potential nuclear weapons, suicide bombings, divestment campaigns and in the estimation of many, dwindling support from the Obama administration.  These are great worries to be sure.  Israel does indeed face numerous threats.  Some very real and some imagined.  My question on this Yom Haatzmaut is not about the dangers Israel faces, but instead about our personal connection to the Jewish state.
Why do we rally in far greater numbers when Israel is threatened rather than dance for joy each and every day that Israel continues to thrive?  We live in an unparalleled generation of Jews.   In our own day we find ourselves in a vibrant and successful diaspora community alongside a successful and vibrant Jewish state.  Never before have these two co-existed.  Either there was a thriving diaspora community as in Babylonia in the fifth century or a successful Jewish community in Israel as when King David ruled three thousand years ago.  And so we lack historic parallels.  How do we live and thrive side by side?
Of course we rise up when Israel needs us.  Each of us knows how to stand by friends when they are in mourning.  But why don’t we feel just as a great an obligation to celebrate?  We should stand by Israel and sing and dance—each and every day.  For two thousand years a Jewish state was only a dream.  We live in a time when the dream is a reality.  In a mere twelve hours (ok that is only the plane flight) you could be in Israel touching the very stones generations of Jews only dreamed of touching. 
In Jerusalem in particular the air is thick with prayers.  At first one thinks it is thick with the prayers of the thousands and thousands and thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews running to pray.  That is one’s first impression.  A lot of people do a lot of praying in Jerusalem.  I think instead that it is thick with the prayers of generations.  My great grandparents prayed that one day their people would return to the land of their ancestors.  A hundred years later their great grandson visits there regularly.  What a privilege it is to live in our generation!
In our own day our prayers have become reality.  When we celebrate Yom Haatzmaut I plan to sing (and maybe even dance—watch out party enhancers!).  On this day especially I don’t want my support for Israel to be motivated by fear, or tragedy.  I want it only to be out how fortunate we are to live during these times.  How blessed is our generation that we live alongside a vibrant and thriving State of Israel!  Chag Samayach!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Annie Bleiberg

Yesterday Annie Bleiberg, a member of our congregation, shared her remarkable story of surviving the Holocaust with our sixth graders.  I have heard her tell this story many times over the course of my ten years here at the synagogue.  I still remain in awe of Annie.  She survived against all odds.  Her entire story is amazing but here is one remarkable episode.  When her father discovered that the train the Nazis had packed her family in was headed to the death camp Belzec her father used the tools he had smuggled in to pry open the train car's small window.  He jumped off the moving train.  Annie was to be the first girl to jump, but a young boy became scared and she jumped in his place before him.  The Nazi soldiers saw him jump and shot him dead.  She survived the fall from the train and made her way back to the ghetto to find her father.  False papers were made for her so she could work as a Polish nanny in Germany.  She was quickly discovered.  A former classmate turned her in and she was taken to the police station where she was severely beaten.  She was then deported to Auschwitz where she survived for a year and a half.  In Auschwitz she would use some of her meager tea rations to add color to her face so she would appear healthier and not be sent to the gas chambers. Despite all of this the most frequent word to pass from her lips is "lucky."  Over and over again she said that she was lucky because she survived.  I would have understood if she said that she was angry or always mourning, but instead she is filled with thankfulness and hope.  She concluded her talk to our students by reminding them that you must always keep hope alive.  It is one thing when I say that you must be hopeful.  It is another thing entirely when Annie says, "Hope!  Without hope you can't survive.  You, students, can make the world a better place."  Amen Annie.  Thank you.  You can watch a brief clip of her talk here.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Yom HaShoah Remarks

What follows are my remarks from our congregation's annual Yom HaShoah observance.
This week’s Torah portion describes the death of Nadav and Avihu, Aaron’s sons.  According to the Torah they were engulfed in a heavenly fire because they offered an eish zara, an alien fire, a strange fire.  This story is part of a long list of Torah stories that I struggle to comprehend.  What was so alien about their offering that merited their deaths?  Why would God punish them for offering a sacrifice?  All explanations are inadequate.  All commentators merely scratch the surface.
So too on this day we struggle with the death by strange fire of six million of our fellow Jews.  How could God allow the death of so many millions?  How could a German culture that produced such great artists and thinkers also produce such unimaginable death and destruction?  How can rational and intelligent people be led to become horrific murderers?  All explanations are inadequate.  All commentators merely scratch the surface.
And the Torah states that Aaron could not speak after his sons’ death, “Vayidom Aharon—Aaron fell silent.”  For one year following the Holocaust Elie Wiesel, the great writer, took a vow of silence.  For ten years he refused to speak or write about his experiences in the Holocaust.  I once heard him remark that it took him that long to find any words.  He would later say that words can never truly capture or describe the Shoah.  This is perhaps why most survivors married other survivors.  There was then an unspoken truth between survivors that therefore need not be verbalized.
So how do we come to terms with the horror and loss?  How can we voice what can not be put to words but what must be remembered?  How can we fathom the magnitude of the loss?  How comprehend six million lives that are no more.  How can we understand 1.5 million children murdered before they even had a chance to grow to adulthood. 
The loss can never be adequately expressed.  Each and every time I sit down to write a eulogy I am overwhelmed by the inadequacy of words.  How is it just, how is it fair to reduce a life to mere sentences and pages?  How can any life be summarized?  That of course is the essence of a eulogy.  The hesped adds the flesh of words to the memories family members long to hold.  The eulogy gives life to their memories.  Yet it still feels inadequate and often unjust.  85 years reduced to pages.  92 years summarized in sentences.  44 years etched in a few words.   
If one life is this challenging to summarize how much more so six million lives?  How do we remember if even the remember-ers were murdered?  If you recall Elie Wiesel’s Night (first written by the way in his native Yiddish in 1955) this is part of the young boy’s struggle.  The young Wiesel’s father dies by his side and he does not mourn.  Instead he feels shamefully relieved that his father’s life will no longer be a burden to him, that his father will no longer threaten his life.  He writes:  “His last word was my name. A summons, to which I did not respond.   I did not weep, and it pained me that I could not weep. But I had no more tears. And, in the depths of my being, in the recesses of my weakened conscience, could I have searched for it, I might perhaps have found something like—free at last!”
So wrenching were Wiesel’s experiences (and every survivor’s experiences) that even a son could not mourn for a father.   Humanity had been stripped from the souls of the victims.  They were no longer sons or fathers, or mothers and daughters, or brothers and sisters, or husbands and wives.  They were during those years only numbers.  This is why Primo Levi’s book is better translated from the Italian to “Is this a Man?” rather than the English rendition “Survival in Auschwitz.”
The Nazis had reduced all to mere numbers.  And so in the end tabulating our losses, counting one after another, until six months later we reach six million, will never give more meaning to our loss.  The numbers are unfathomable and if you believe as I do and as the Talmud counsels, that each life is an entire world, then it is impossible to quantify our losses. 
I am left only with this command, the command that their sacrifice calls to me.  Yes I must remember.  Yes we must remember.  I must remember—always and with all my being.  But our remembrances must be mingled with an eternal vigilance to never treat others as mere objects, to never count another human being.  We must never behave as if a life can be quantified and tabulated in numbers.  Each life has a name.  Each life is a world.
Each and every life is sacred.  Each and every human being is created in the divine image.  If the fires of the Holocaust are going to summon us to something greater it must be this.  Like Aaron I fall silent before the enormity of our loss.  But I must not fall silent before injustice and evil.  I will have the courage to make our people’s enormous sacrifice mean something, to make it point to something greater and more meaningful.  Every human life is sacred!
We stand silent before the enormity of our loss.  But out of this silence a command emerges.  Every human life is sacred.  May we hear this command each and every day!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Yom HaShoah

Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) is the day in which we recall the Nazi genocide and the murder of six million Jewish souls.  This is the day when we remember six million of our people, 1.5 million of whom were children.  Even after years of studying this tragic and horrific event I am still struggling to come to terms with the enormity of the loss.  If I were to spend every minute of every day reading the names of those who were murdered (at a pace of 20 names per minute) it would take me more than six months to read all six million names.  If I were to read six stories of those who perished, one for each million, each and every year, and if God is good enough to grant me a full lifetime of 120 years, I would still only learn some 600 stories in the span of my adult years.  By 1944 at the height of the Nazi final solution 6,000 people were murdered in a day at Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Our nation is currently transfixed by the tragic loss of some 25 miners in West Virginia, and we hope and pray the rescue of four trapped miners. Six million is roughly equivalent to that of the Jewish population of the United States and equal to the entire Jewish population of the State of Israel.  Perhaps I cannot ever come to terms with these staggering numbers.  And so I am left unable to quantify and count and must instead remember one by one, collecting individual stories.  To that end I would like to begin collecting such stories from our congregation.  If someone in your extended family perished in the Holocaust please email me these names, and their stories, if they are known.  If someone in your family survived the Shoah please email me these stories as well.  Take a few minutes and read some individual stories on Yad VaShem’s website.  Every year Yad VaShem highlights six stories for Israel’s Yom HaShoah ceremony on Sunday evening.  One story, and one candle, for each of the million.  Watch some of the videos on this remarkable website.  If you watch only one video watch the following three minute story about a family from Amsterdam.  This particular story can be more easily accessed on YouTube. Every time I sit at my computer to write a eulogy I am reminded that each and every life is precious.  I always find it an overwhelmingly sacred task to give voice to memories, to grant renewed life to a person’s story.  For millions during the Holocaust, even those who would remember were murdered, even those who would gather to recite kaddish were lost.  This is one of the reasons why Yad VaShem’s collection of nearly all six million names is so remarkable. We cannot adequately remember or even fathom the loss of six million.  We can however tell individual stories.  Please join me in this effort.  Share stories with me and thereby with your congregation.  Perhaps in this way our congregation will take on a sacred task, for the most part lost to history, and begin remembering those who might otherwise be forgotten.