25 Nisan 5777 B’SD
I just don’t understand why humanity is cursed with unhappiness. It seems we are are lucky to be living in a great time and have everything going for us. Modern medicine is superb and lifespans are nearing the age of Methuselah. Innovations in health, science, and technology are improving the lives of those living in third world countries. Despite this, the news is full of gloom and doom without a glimmer of hope for the future. International terrorism wreaks havoc and fear in an unrelenting and systematic fashion. Churches, synagogues and mosques are no longer safe havens and entire regions are held hostage by the fanaticism of a few.
I have reached an age where I have a newfound respect for life. Gone are the carefree years of imagining that my body will serve me well, regardless of how I treat it. I live in a world where death is not an anomaly, it is a daily occurrence. But nonetheless, I revere life. As a rabbi I witness an abundance of natural tragedies and question why humanity seems determined to foster unnatural tragedies.
This week we commemorate Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day. It is a day to remember the souls of six millions Jews who were persecuted and murdered for being Jewish. We remember one and a half million children who never had the luxury of childhood nor the anxieties of adulthood. We look into the hearts of the survivors and we can begin to comprehend what true hardship looks like. I see the names of Armin Weiss’s mother, father, ten brothers and sisters, as well as scores of their children memorialized on our Ark’s curtain and I begin to understand the scope of depravity. I see the souls of their future descendents languishing in limbo and cry over the millions of Jewish children that were never born. If ever a generation had reason to feel depressed and anxious, it was those who somehow managed to survive the holocaust.
For many, survival wasn’t enough. They didn’t want pity or handouts; they wanted to re-engage with the living. They wanted to put the past behind them and forge a future for their family. They were the chalutzim in Israel and the founders of Yeshivot and Day Schools in America. They were the benefactors of hospitals and synagogues and they looked out for the welfare and needs of others. However, the scars remained and often new ones emerged. Some were unable to smile or be sympathetic to the trivial nonsenses of their children. Some were so focused on success that they failed to adapt to their newly found freedoms. They are to be admired and cherished for in living they succeeded way beyond anything we could have hoped for.
Yet their time is nearing an end. The youngest survivor, miraculously born in 1945, is seventy two years old. Their lives are a legacy that we should all cherish and it behooves every single caring Jew to attend a Yom Hashoah commemoration. Every survivor is our family member and as much as they deserve to be honored, we are the ones who receive the greatest honor.
The day may be short but the work is still plentiful. You owe it to yourself and your children and maybe, just maybe, the world will also see and learn. I hope they will understand that all lives are precious and valuable and we should all be thankful for whatever we have. They should realize that even if their life is less than perfect it is so much better than the generations that preceded them. They should realize that ultimately hate and prejudice are a futile exercise that has little chance of success. They should realize that God created multiple hues and shades and racism of any kind is an offense to the artist.
Rabbi Jack Engel