Israel and the World: 73 years after the Shoa.
Today is Yom Hashoa ve Hagvura – The day Jews both mourn and celebrate. They mourn the destruction of more than six million innocent men, women, and children, hunted down for the sole reason that they were Jews (the Shoa) and the Gvura (courage and heroism) the courage of all those who fought to survive. Every moment of continuing life every day required courage everywhere during this period and great courage was required and offered by all those who fought to defeat and saw the defeat of the vicious enemy - Nazi Germany.
This day always comes shortly after celebration of the Passover holiday, commemoration of the miraculous Jewish liberation from slavery three thousand years ago. Regardless of whether you believe the exodus from Egypt actually happened or not, we have to acknowledge with the reader of the Passover Hagada that “if we had not been freed, we and our children and our children’s children would still be enslaved: but tonight we celebrate as free men and women.”
Last night I attended the annual shoa commemoration project of the Montreal community. Every year, six survivor families are chosen to light a candle and to share their story. Each survivor, flanked by their families, tell their story on a short prerecorded video. No matter how often one attends these programs one is consistently awed by these stories of survival and redemption.
When I returned home I saw two programs on PBS ((Public Broadcast Station). One program (Nova) visits the city of Vilna/Vilnius to attempt to find the underground traces of the Great Synagogue of Vilna over which a school has been built. This documentary tells the story of the destruction of the culture of Vilna, also known by Jews as the New Jerusalem, and the murder of the 70,000 Jewish residents of Vilna, and the heroic survival of 8 of the 80 last Jews of Vilna – 76 men and 4 women who were tasked with burning the bodies of their brethren, over several months, before the arrival of the Russians. These 76 men and four women who realized thay would also were also marked to be executed at the end of their task, succeeded in creating a secretunderground tunnel of for their escape from the pit in which they were imprisoned. Only eight of the eighty persons survived the escape through the tunnel.which survived only as a legend told by the survivors. A group of scientists returns to the site and succeeds in uncovering the remains of the tunnel thus verifying their story. At the end of the show, we see the eight survivors, now living in various parts of the world, reunited with each other. The next program was a 90 minute production called GI-Jew, which told the story of the 500,000 Jewish American men and 20,000 Jewish American women who enlisted and fought in the American army to destroy the Nazi scourge and to save whoever could be saved from the Nazi onslaught. Among them were 1,000 Jewish American Rabbis who served as American army chaplains. Throughout the war they accompanied the troops and organized services for soldiers, and upon liberation for survivors. And victory was not at all assured over 5 long years of war in Europe and the Far East.
Whether you believe in the G-d of Israel or not, something has enabled the Jewish people to survive every attempt at destruction and to continue to thrive for the last three thousand years. I believe what has enabled them to survive and to thrive is the ideology of the Torah, which lays out a vision of justice and compassion for all living beings, individually and in community, and for the planet itself.
Yes, I was born a Jew to parents who lived through the terrible time of the Shoa in Europe. I myself was one of the first Jewish babies born in Debrecen, Hungary after the war in April 1946. I have struggled with the issues of the Shoa my whole life. What have I learned from this over the course of my lifetime? The lesson I take away from this is that the ideas of Torah are mightier than the sword. What are these ideas? First, the idea of a G-d interested in humanity, who has “an eye that sees and an ear that hears”. It is a G-d who prescribes rules for communal living, which include prohibitions against murder and theft, and also legislates that one is not to covet the goods and assets of one’s neighbor, including his wife. Also one where individuals and communities struggle with the right path that will conform to this G-d’s ideas of truth, justice, and compassion. And in this world, there is also room for human error and correction without resorting to violence. The torah prescribes economic principles as well as how to deal with murderers and those who may kiill accidentally. It prescribes a code of behavior for the common man, for the King and the priest and it tells us how to regulate time, weekly, monthly, and by the year. The laws of Sabbath and dates of the holidays are thus prescribed. And it does this whil also giving us a narrative history of the Jewish people from their beginnings as a family to the creation of the nation in the dessert following the exodus and laws for dealing with the settlement of the land of Israel, whose boundaries are also described in the Torah.
We see that those who have missed out on the precepts of truth justice and mercy described in the Torah and who revel in the power of the sword, have repeatedly been doomed to the ash bin of history. This is evident in the demise of the powerful empires that did not know G-d or mercy or justice, such as the Assyrian Empire, the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the British Empire, the Spanish Empire, The French Empire, Teh German Reich, the Soviet Empire, etc. What is the remedy to all this fighting and destruction? One thing and one thing only: for every one to lay down their arms and to acknowledge that life, liberty, and happiness can only come to those who lay down their arms and struggle to improve the lot of their human compatriots. This is the most powerful idea, and the idea of redemption prescribed by the Hebrew prophets. It is what we pray for at the end of the seder – for everyone to lay down their arms and to acknowledge the rule of the G-d of justice and compassion. It is the reason why Jews do not get stuck in vengeance, but are able to get on with their lives in a productive way. We leave vengeance to the Almighty. And this is not inconsiderable: This was published today in a blog
- “And yet, there is much to be learned from Nahum – (the prophetic book). His eloquent, impassioned writing honors the divine attribute of vengeance. In expressing satisfaction and even joy at the downfall of those who destroyed the ancient northern kingdom of Israel and nearly succeeded in destroying the southern kingdom of Judah as well, the prophet rehearses the classical Jewish teaching that even a merciful and patient God will ultimately wreak powerful, unanswerable retribution upon the enemies of His chosen people.” (emphasis mine)
This morning reviewing my daily internet mail I came across many blogs that support my idea that the ideology of peace and justice prescribed in the Torah makes more sense than Marxism and humanitarian creeds. Following Torah prescriptions would work much better than war crimes trials, and better than hollow statements often made by politicians and human rights activists regarding peace and “never again”. Only organized actual disarmament by all rulers and civilians and working towards improving the lives of all, as prescribed in the Jewish Bible (Torah) will bring us to a just world where violence is renounced and the lion can lie down with the lamb. Micah 4/ 2-3
2Many nations will come and say,
“Come and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD
And to the house of the God of Jacob,
That He may teach us about His ways
And that we may walk in His paths.”
For from Zion will go forth the law,
Even the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
3And He will judge between many peoples
And render decisions for mighty, distant nations.
Then they will hammer their swords into plowshares
And their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation will not lift up sword against nation,
And never again will they train for war.
Nothing but getting the agreement of all peoples to lay down their arms in the name of justice and compassion and the rule of the Transcendent Law will do: And I believe that the amazing thing is that this actually lies within our power today. We all simply have to start the ball rolling with the right hashtag and the right call to arms to all leaders and to all followers via the amazing instrument of the internet. What we need to do is to set the date for this to happen at the same moment all over the world. The Rabbis have said that if all the nations were to observe one Sabbath, at the same time, it would be a signal that the Messianic times have arrived.
Lets do it!! Lets do it now! I never again want to deal with the effects of war on anybody anywhere.