At Dachau

On the infamous “Night of Broken Glass” November 9, 1938, the Nazis unleashed a savage against the Jews of Germany. Leo Fuchs, my father was one of the 30,000 Jewish men arrested in Germany that night and among the 500 arrested in his home city of Leipzig.

Historians called that night, Kristallnacht, or in Germany Reichspogromnacht, the clear boundary in time after which no one could any longer doubt Hitler’s ultimate plan for Europe’s Jews.

That ultimate plan condemned one-third of all the Jews in the world to death. Two-thirds of Europe’s Jews and three-fourths of Europe’s Rabbis Cantors, Jewish educators and communal leaders perished.

Out of the 18,000 Jews who lived in Leipzig in 1935, Hitler killed 14,000, seven out of every nine.

Upon their arrest on Kristallnacht, Leipzig’s captives had to stand in the stream that flows through the city zoo. There Nazi soldiers commanded citizens to spit on them, curse at them and throw mud on them.

Then they took my father to Dachau where they shaved his head and beat him.

But my father was one of the very fortunate ones. He had an older brother and an uncle already established in the United States. They petitioned Governor Herbert Lehman of New York, a Jew with German roots, and on December 3, 1938, my father was able to sail for New York City.

There he met and married my mother, and my sister Rochelle and I were born. I am very grateful.

I have never visited Dachau, but Dachau visits me often. My father’s two older brothers lived into their 80’s; my father died at 57.

Yes, I blame Dachau.

If someday I physically go there, these are the words I shall say:

 

Sometimes silence is the only appropriate response.

When we confront the depths of depravity to which humans can descend,

And the depths of despair that humans can inflict on others, Slack-jawed silence is the only response that is not flawed.

Entering Dachau is such a time.

The questions, “Why? And “How?” are all we can utter.

But there are no answers.

But if we believe,

In spite of what this place represents,

That there is a God, or a force within us that bids us to do what is

       just and right,

Then we must act—

     as God’s eyes that see the pain around us,

     as God’s ears, that hear the anguished cries,

     as God’s hands that reach out to comfort

           those who suffer

     and as God’s feet that run to those

     Whom life has wounded—

To walk with them

Away from the shattered past

       Of yesterday

Toward tomorrow

       And the promise of hope!

Amen

A Long Deferred Visit: AUSCHWITZ

Finding Ourselves In Biblical Narratives

arbeit-macht-freiTo commemorate Yom Ha Shoah, I share the following reflection of my visit to Auschwitz.

It should always be cold, it seems to me, at Auschwitz, and the sky should always be a dreary gray.

Unless it is a very hot day, I am always cold. It has been that way it, it seems to me, since the frigid night in February when my Hamilton College Hockey team played MIT in Boston outdoors.

I was not one of the team’s better players (an understatement), and I spent much of the game on the bench. Since then, I have been cold.

And so, as much as any of the horrible sufferings people endured or succumbed to at Auschwitz, I think of the cold.

The thin pieces of rag that inmates wore, and their often bare feet provided no shield at all against the brutal Polish winter.

It was not cold by…

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Six Women Made Passover Possible

We cannot really appreciate the meaning and message of Passover without recognizing the importance of these six women!

Passover will soon be here, and sociologists tell us that more Jews will participate in some form of Passover Seder than will participate in any other religious event during the year!

From a religious perspective, the Exodus from Egypt enabled all subsequent Jewish history to unfold. Without Passover we would still be slaves in Egypt! Moses, of course is God’s agent in the liberation and the story’s foremost hero. The Book of Exodus, however, makes it clear that the role women play in that event is crucial. Without the actions of no fewer than six women heroes, Moses never would have gotten so far as to say to Pharaoh, “Let my people go!” Without these six women the Exodus could not have taken place, and we would have no Passover to celebrate!

Shipphrah and Puah

Shiphrah and Puah were humble midwives. Pharaoh ordered them to kill every baby boy that emerged from his mother’s womb. The most powerful man on earth – one worshipped as a god — gave them a direct order! The midwives, though, answered to a higher authority than Pharaoh. Their bravery rings across the millennia as an answer to those Nazis’ who claimed they had no choice but to kill Jews. They were only following orders. Shiphrah and Puah teach us we always have a choice.

Yocheved

Yocheved, Moses’ mother, hid her baby in defiance of Pharaoh’s decree. Then she placed him in a wicker basket and floated him among the reeds of the Nile. What courage that took, but her gamble paid off!

Miriam

Miriam, Moses’ sister watched the basket from afar. When Pharaoh’s daughter drew it out of the water, Miriam runs to her and suggests the baby’s own mother as its nurse. In so doing she saved her brother’s life.

Pharaoh’s Daughter

The heroic role of Pharaoh’s daughter also should not escape our attention. She defied her father’s decree and saved Moses.   For this she received the privilege of giving Moses’ his name, and she herself received the name Bit-yah, which means “daughter of the Lord.” (Va-yikra Rabbah 1:3; B, Megillah 13A).

Zipporah

The final female hero of Passover is Zipporah, Moses’ wife. She circumcised their son Eleazar when apparently Moses had neglected to do so (Exodus 4:24-26). The passage really does not fit into the flow of the story, so the rabbis could have interpreted it any way they wished. They could have deemed it crucial or inconsequential. The chose to to teach us that God would have killed Moses had Zipporah not intervened and circumcised their son!

The heroism of the women who made Passover possible is a strong and accurate answer to those who claim that women always play a secondary or subordinate role in Jewish thinking.

(My book, What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives discusses the role of these six women in greater detail)