Thursday, May 5, 2016

It Is Part Of Our Past, Present, And Future

Today was one of those holidays that I wish was unnecessary… it is a day that a hundred years ago was thought, for the most part, to be an unthinkable means by which to mark a calendar. Today, on Yom HaShoah, I thought about all those whom I’ve met, those I have yet to meet, and those I will never be able to speak to. Today we honored all of their memories and hope for a future where these events become impossibilities. Today we took the time to think and pray about the Holocaust, the people lost, the lives changed, the families that will never be the same, and our faith which survived.

While I am quite removed from the tragedy being that I was raised in another faith and a family history that, most recently, immigrated to the United States in the middle of the 19th century, I am also closely tied to this time in history. At various points in my life, the Holocaust has played a prominent role in my perception of the world around me, the views that I have developed, and the faith that I have nurtured. The Holocaust, in many ways, is ingrained in who I am and the way I live my life. And it was further made an essential part of my being when my wife and I made Aliyah in 2011.

It all started when I was in college as I was trying to figure out who I was and what I believed (for the umpteenth time). When browsing through the book stacks I came across Janusz Korczak’s account of the Holocaust, Ghetto Diary. I was struck by the dedication he had to not only his children by to his faith. His words were the impetus for the Holocaust poetry I would spend the next several years writing (based on three different sources of primary material). His words changed my view of the world, focused my mind, and ignited my passion. These writings also afforded me the opportunity to speak with Holocaust survivors and former Nazi soldiers over the years… words can never compare to the knowledge gained by looking into the eyes of a witness.

A few years and many lessons later I was in the midst of my conversion to Judaism when my Rabbi (and later those Rabbi’s serving on my bet din) asked me if I was certain about my decision given the history of persecution that Jews have faced for centuries. It was at this time when I had to search in myself to find out whether I was willing to accept my fate should such an unspeakable event ever happen again. In the end, it is one thing to be knowledgeable about an event or a faith but it is a completely different matter when you accept that history and that possibility as your own. After numerous conversations and questions, I cast my lot and, from that moment forward, have been considered a Jew.

Finally, a few years ago while conducting genealogical research, my wife discovered her family’s connection to the Holocaust and found the names of those relatives who were murdered. Having no previous knowledge about this line, it was quite the shock when this discovery was made. While it was not my family line, it is a heritage to which I am now a part of and one that our son will definitely learn about as he gets older. We will ensure that he knows about our faith, our history, and our people… the trials in the past and the struggles in the present… the horrors that have happened and the hope that resides in our hearts. After all, it is our responsibility, beyond the confines of this particular day, to ensure that this part of our history is never forgotten.