Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Yom Ha Shoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day ) Thoughts by Paul Kovacs

Picture Copyright by Cougar

Tomorrow night is Thursday night. It will be Yom HaShoah, a day chosen to commemorate both the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis.
Tomorrow is Thursday night of parshas Kedoshim. Had I followed the will of my parents, the names of the Jewish months would be unknown to me. Although my father was Jewish, he and my mother did their best to raise me as Catholic. When I would ask my father about Judaism, he would tell me the truth as he saw it, that there was no joy in it for him and it was a burden he had left behind.
Stories of Jewish resistance brought a smile of Jewish pride to my father's face. Against a childhood that was measured by the passing of Christian holidays, I remember my father's pride in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the capture of Adolf Eichmann and the Six Day War. As a child, the nuns taught us something about Jesus saying that he would tear down the temple and rebuild it in three days. Not having been adept at metaphorical speech, I took the statement literally. When I heard the breathless news that Jerusalem was again in Jewish hands I also absorbed the news that the temple had been and remained destroyed. I felt the nuns had deceived me.
It was a blessing that I was sent to Catholic school. The nuns were civil and unapologetic in teaching Catholic doctrine. When my fourth grade teacher taught us one morning in religion class that one had to be baptised, I asked her point blank about my Jewish family, and if those killed by the Nazis could get into heaven. She told me truthfully of church teachings at that time that the unbaptised would go to a place short of heaven that was devoid of suffering called limbo. It was that morning that I recused myself from the Christian heaven and set my sights on camping out in the mezzanine of the hereafter.The hideous irony of a veteran of the Einsatzgruppen goose stepping into a Judenrein heaven was apparent to me even then.
The honesty of the nuns took years off of my search for a spiritual home. I am also grateful to my mother who spoke with respect for my Jewish ancestors. I remain grateful to the nuns for being honest about their beliefs and not deceiving me like the Jews for Jesus.
Along with the nuns, I have to thank my father's parents for their kindness to me as a child, and their tolerance of me as a teenager. Long before my attraction to the Jewish people had a reason, the fondness of their memory drew me to the faith of their ancestors. I can say from first hand experience that the warmth of a kind word and a smile can do more than the most finely crafted argument in lighting a spiritual path.
I was told on more than one occasion that having a Jewish father did not make me Jewish. It bothered me. It angered me. I did not know that conversion was an option until I was in my late teens. The calming thought occurred to me that a people has a right to define itself. The only way to become a Jew was to admit that I was not a Jew. Even as I debated with myself,the sight of an open door had a calming effect on me.
The thought that Judaism should be left and forgotten was and remains unbearable to me. I am married thank G-d to a woman who wrote "shabbos candles" on this Thursday's grocery list. For each member of the family a candle is lit every week. Each daughter living at home lights her own candle. Some of my children are named after people who were killed by the Nazis. Some are named after those who died peacefully. Some are named for an awaited redemption.For each one that has been born, for each that has married and in turn brought life to the world I have shed tears. I have shed tears of joy that our enemies have failed. And I shed tears for those who should have lived to bless another generation.
It is fortuitous (hashgocha pratis) that the name of this week's Torah reading is Kedoshim. In context it translates as "you should be holy" but also translates in contemporary usage as "the holy ones" which is also a term used to refer to those murdered by the Nazis.
My father had no trouble talking about Jewish fighters. Yom HaShoah is a day that I think about Jewish partisans, Israeli soldiers and heroes of Jewish survival such as the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, who was imprisoned and almost killed by the communists.Yom HaShoah is a day I share with my father. It is our common ground. It is during the three weeks that occur in the summer between the 17th of Tammuz and the ninth of Av(starting on July 20th this year) that I reflect on the connection between the martyrs of our time and those of past generations. A single day could not put to rest the questions I have of G-d about his troubled world. Three weeks imposes upon my questioning a merciful brevity.
I had a recurring dream in which I was included in a deportation. Other people standing in line were telling me , "Go Away. You're not Jewish." In the dream I would tell them,"Shut Up, I want to stay here."
The thought of living among Jew haters and looking at other Jews as one would a stranger always troubled me. I got a small taste of what that would have felt like when I was a teenager, out drinking with my friends. As we were walking home, one of the girls said made an anti Jewish remark to a woman she assumed to be Jewish. Although the rest of us told her to be quiet, I felt the sweep of the woman's disdainful stare as she looked first at the girl and then the rest of us. It was a moment of shame that remains with me years later. The thought of a life with more such moments was and remains more than I could ever bear.
In Jewish teaching, everyone is created with a mission. Each nation also has a purpose. In the Haggaddah for Passover it says, "in every generation they rise against us to destroy us; and G-d, blessed be He, saves us from their hand!"
This passage from the Haggaddah, that was read in so many Jewish homes twelve days ago on Passover has a special resonance when reading about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the Six Day War and other times when we were threatened with collective destruction.
In a miracle, people are called upon to do something to participate. Moses had to raise his staff over the Nile. The Jews had to put lamb's blood on the door posts of their homes. Jewish survival is a miracle from one generation to the next. It is not a miracle that is given to us.To be partners in this miracle we are called upon to participate with the powers allotted by Providence to us.
In observing Shabbos Parshas Kedoshim right after Yom HaShoah, we will be celebrating the miracle of our survival. It is a gift to us from G-d to be trasured and maintained by us.For our sake and that of this troubled world, may the miracles multiply and continue.
Copyright 2008 by Magdeburger Joe Sphere: Related Content


Binalala said...

Hey it's a real good article!

Ellea said...

"I can say from first hand experience that the warmth of a kind word and a smile can do more than the most finely crafted argument in lighting a spiritual path."

This line really hit home with me.
Having been raised as a religious Jew I all that you saught I took for granted. Not only did I take it for granted but at times I despised it. There are mean people everywhere and when the mean people try to show you something beautiful you don't want to see it. At least I didn't. And the arguments to convince me to appreciate Judaism did not help. But the kind teacher or the loving friend, when they spoke up I listened. What you said is very true.

modehani said...

Amen to the blessing! Your journey to and with Judaism is inspiring. In the day to day grind of life it is easy to forget the responsibility each person has in this world. Your message is truly an awakening.