♫ Ani ma’amin, b’emunah sh’leima, b’ viat hamashiach ….
Today was a day filled with activities of remembrance for Yom HaShoah, 2014.
Otherwise known as “Holocaust Remembrance Day” in English, today I was particularly mindful of what I heard survivor Rita Kuhn say when I heard her speak:
I don’t use that word. It means “burnt sacrifice” in Greek. I use the Hebrew, Shoah, which means “catastrophe.”
Sure enough, I looked it up and here’s what I found:
“The word Holocaust is derived from the Greek holokauston, a translation of the Hebrew word ʿolah, meaning a burnt sacrifice offered whole to God.”
It sounds strange to say “remembering” is an activity, but for Jews it most definitely is. Tonight I listened to a woman tell her own mother’s story of “survival.” In her early 20’s, she held her 13-month-old baby girl while being herded along the brief “selection process” at Auschwitz when suddenly she was put into one line and her baby was given to a stranger — a woman surrounded by her own children and forced into the “other” line. Within moments the woman and children would be gassed with Zyclon B. The speaker said she was 38-years-old before she found out she once had a sister, and her mother could never speak of it. Her mother also never felt worthy of being happy, so as soon as family moments began to approach anything “joyous”, she always did something to dampen the mood, for she was remembering.
As she spoke I thought of how God often commands the Jewish people to “remember”.
For example, here’s what God tells Moses and Aaron to tell the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob:
“This will be a day for you to remember and celebrate as a festival to ADONAI; from generation to generation you are to celebrate it by a perpetual regulation.” – Exodus 12:14
Lest you forget the story of Passover, there’s a whole lot of activity surrounding God’s commandment to “remember” it. After He tells Moses and Aaron what must be done in chapter 12, in chapter 13 Moses reveals why:
“On that day you are to tell your son, ‘It is because of what ADONAI did for me when I left Egypt.'”
My Hebrew language books tell me that Hebrew is a “verb based” language (as opposed to English which is noun based), so it actually makes sense that “remembering” in Hebrew is connected to activity. But we tend to think of “remembering” as simply a thought process that can be completely devoid of any action at all.
But, when God says He will “remember” something, there’s usually action involved. Here’s two examples:
“So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived.” — Genesis 19:28
“Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb.
– Genesis 30:22
♫…V’af al pi, sh’ yitmamei-ha, Im kol zeh achakeh lo . . .
Tonight, one of the Rabbis said:
Even in the midst of ever rising Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism, each of us have a vital role to play in the act of remembering.[...] for we cannot explain it, but for those of us who find we share a common humanity, we can bear witness to what happened, and we can remember…
Even though I haven’t been to church in a long time, I couldn’t help thinking like a non-Jewish Christian tonight. There is a distinction between us, and it doesn’t go by unnoticed. For one thing, I see so many faces that look like they could be my husband’s father, grandfather, uncle, brother, cousin, mother or sister. For another, there’s a Jewish demeanor that is so… consistent. I hadn’t experienced it prior to meeting my husband’s family, but it’s palpable, and non-Jews don’t have any idea how to deal with it; we think and act very differently. We also have very different “realities.”
For example, when Jews gather, there’s generally police on campus. Yet, I can’t think of a time I’ve ever seen a police presence at Church. But try driving into the parking lot of a Jewish Community Center or Synagogue and you’ll see a fixed structure and at least one armed officer. My daughter says she never fails to see NYPD in front of where she worships, and we both remember visiting the Jewish Ghetto and Synagogue in Rome, where there was a bulletproof booth and an armed Italian carabinieri outside. It’s “normal.”
♫ b’chol yom sheyavo.
I noticed that “others” were included tonight. There were candles lit to commemorate not only the 6 million Jews who were murdered, but also the non-Jews.
Then a priest wearing a giant cross got up to speak and I was greatly conflicted. This is another difference between us. Christians know Paul speaks of the “offense of the cross”, but what we fail to understand is that he didn’t have centuries of Church led anti-Semitism that was taught and fueled by errant, hate-filled “Church Fathers” in mind when he wrote Galatians 5:11. He could never have fathomed a “Saint” John Chrysostom the ‘filthy-mouthed’ saying what he did about Jews.
Many Jews were abused and murdered by Nazis who used “the cross” as their justification and this is what offends me about the cross. Yet, I also remember being in the paradigm where I didn’t understand that, and the cross was a powerful symbol – and still is, on a personal level. However, it’s been desecrated and perverted beyond belief by evil people misusing it to cause harm to the Crucified One’s own people; this is NOT what was in mind regarding Paul’s statement.
At least the Priest wasn’t wearing a crucifix, which was a relief.
The Priest went on to say that we must remember, indeed, the ability to remember, is part of what it is to be human, but that we shouldn’t allow our past to cripple or destroy by allowing our gaze to become fixed on the past.
I had to disagree with him here since many Christians still haven’t acknowledged, much less repented, from old ways. And now anti-Semitism is being served up “Evangelical style” and some are buying in.
Then, I wondered how many churches would ask a Jew, wearing a giant Star of David, to come and speak to them about remembering their, and our, past?
I couldn’t hear him well, but he ended by referencing a Holocaust book that had, in part, the quote, “The future of our past” which began to resonate with me as I dreamed of the day Christian hearts would be soft and open to Jewish wounds, yet I also lamented the fact that too many decades have passed by to be respectable. We’re greatly lacking in this area, and as the world seems to be revving up for the next major round of anti-Semitism, I don’t know that the Church will fare any better at protecting them this time than they did the last time.
Another presenter arose to speak about the Righteous Among The Gentiles. He seemed to be trying to make a point that many Jewish lives were saved by non-Jews who, at great peril to their own lives and the lives of their families, hid Jews in their homes or on their property, obtained false papers for them, or smuggled them out of the country.
Indeed, I think these people are heroes!
He listed off the countries where people saved Jews: He said Denmark saved 7,200 on fishing boats, Spain saved 5,000, Italy saved 4,500. All in all, he seemed to crow, he counted ¼ of a million saved Jews.
I sat reflecting on this number, and his demeanor. When you consider the number of Christians to Jews in every single county he named, there’s really nothing to be crowing about at all, rather, we should be hanging our heads in shame.
Sadly, for most, we haven’t yet learned to “remember”.
♫ I believe with perfect faith, in the coming of the Messiah.
And even if the Messiah is delayed, I will wait day by day.