So, I should be working on the millions of things I have to do before my upcoming Birthright and guiding trips, but I heard a story tonite that needs to be told. It so urgently needs to be told, that I am putting all else on hold. It is a story about patience – but, wait, I am getting ahead of myself.
Tonite and tomorrow, Israel celebrates Holocaust Remembrance Day. Our community, like many around Israel, holds a ceremony in the evening to mark this day. The ceremony is organized and run by the 12th grade class and features a skit with readings, music, an introduction by the local Rabbi, and the lighting of torches. The 12th graders have all had the opportunity to go on their high school trip to Poland and spent time learning about the Holocaust and generally do a pretty decent job at choosing appropriate readings and music. The local Rabbi speaks, usually about the importance of living and building the state of Israel after the Holocaust, and what a fabulous community we live in that takes in so many immigrants to strengthen the Jewish state. The other parts of the ceremony usually run without surprise or incident.
More of a wildcard is the lighting of the 6 torches which represent the 6 million Jews who were killed. Traditionally, torches would be lit by the survivors to remember their family members who were lost, individuals representing masses. It has been almost 70 years since the Holocaust.
70 years is a long time.
Think how hard it is to find people who themselves survived the holocaust. So, generally, we get one or two survivors and then we fill in with people whose parents, relatives, aunts, uncles, etc. survived. The survivors who light a torch, are often frail, or not native Hebrew speakers, and are helped by their children and grandchildren who read a memorial passage written by someone in the family. It is nice, but sometimes lacks passion.
This year, there was a family led by an elderly woman who went to light their candle. The grandchild, Elisheva, started reading about the family, telling their story. Her grandmother, Mindy, came from a small town. When the Germans came into the town, they carted off the Jewish population to a concentration camp in Poland. There, Mindy’s entire family was killed; her parents, her siblings, her grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. She alone survived. All in total, 31 of her relatives were killed.
After the war, Mindy came to Israel. Mindy only had one child, Chana, Elisheva’s mother and Chana had raised children and grandchildren. Mindy’s granddaughter continued that they were lighting this torch to remember their entire family who was killed. Elisheva handed the torch to her grandmother and Mindy started speaking.
“I am lighting this torch to remember my family who died in the Holocaust at the hands of the Germans: Shlomi, Moishe, Freidel, Sarahleh, Dovid….” She paused slightly before each of their names and did not use their proper names but rather their nicknames. You could hear in her voice, that as she recited the names, she revisited their faces. Name after name. 31 people. Her entire family.
Then, her voice cracking, Mindy continued. “Two days ago, another great-grandchild was born for me. Two days ago, my 31st descendent came into the world. 31 descendents for 31 of my family members who were killed. This is my revenge. This is my answer to the Nazis who wanted to eliminate the Jewish people. The revenge of life and not of death.”
70 years is a long time.
MIndy had to wait almost 70 years for those 31 relatives to come back into her life.
70 years of hope.
70 years of yearning.
70 years of patience.
70 years of belief in the Jewish promise.
“Know that your children will be strangers in a land not their own. They will be oppressed, but I will execute judgement on the nation which oppresses them, and in the end, they will go free with great wealth….They will return to their land.”
Patience and promise. And if anyone asks about the survival of the Jewish people throughout the ages, throughout the hardships, I would have to say that the belief in the promise and the willingness to wait for it, are a big part of the answer. Come to Israel for a visit and let me help you discover your part in the promise.