In great distress I called out to you God, You answered me and brought me relief. – Psalm 118
In the period of less than 3 years, the Jewish People experienced the depths of our greatest tragedy followed by the peaks of our greatest achievement. As they say in modern Hebrew: me’shoah leetkuma: from catastrophe to resurrection…Just three years after the ovens of the death camps extinguished, the State of Israel was founded.
This past week marked two critical events that correspond to these two foundational Jewish experiences.
Monday marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
Though 75 years since this tragedy does not feel so distant, I am struck by the notion that, soon, no survivors will remain. I grew up at a time when we heard from Holocaust survivors in Religious School, at the Holocauust Museum in Washington DC, and at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Hearing their stories shaped me in profound ways, teaching me resilience, and instilling in me profound Jewish pride. What will it be like when there are no survivors left… will anyone tell their stories?
This milestone anniversary for Auschwitz comes amid a rise in Anti Semitic incidents in the United states. I believe that the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz is a chance for all of us to stand up to this disturbing phenomenon, and to imagine how this atrocity’s lessons can impact us moving forward; how do we make it part of our story without letting it define us as a People?
After all, Judaism has so many crowning moments worthy of our enduring pride. The fulfillment of 2000 years of our People’s yearning, as we founded the modern State of Israel, stands as one of these pinnacle moments. This past Tuesday, amid much pomp and circumstance, the President of the United States unveiled his long-awaited Middle East peace plan. The diverse reactions, of course, came promptly. The two biggest parties in Israel, led by Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, supported it immediately. Our own Reform movement expressed serious reservations. The Palestinians have refused to even speak to the President or Israel ever since he recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in late 2017. I challenge us all to set aside the politics and the pandering and look at the substance of the actual plan.
Wherever your opinions lie regarding these contentious issues, we can be thankful for the strong relationship between Israel and America. We can be thankful to live at a time when Israel is a vibrant reality, a lone democracy in a sea of dictatorships. And we can be thankful to vote in the ongoing WZO elections to stamp Israel with the image we would like. We can pray for the time when the biblical words become fulfilled, as each one sits under her fig tree and no one is afraid.
This week’s Torah Portion, Bo, has the shortest name and yet the strongest action as Moses confronts Pharaoh with courage and conviction. Bo means to come forward with intentionality and purpose. Let us all do the same, as we internalize the sacred history of our people, and as we let those lessons guide our future.