Why We Remember – Reflections on Yom HaShoah

The following is the reflection and prayer I shared at the Chapman Holocaust Memorial Program:

I stood before a group of parents and students in a Junior High School in the mountains outside of Denver, Colorado.  There I stood presenting my part of our group History project about the Holocaust.  I used a film strip to illustrate the stories of terror, pain, and courage.  I shared personal accounts from two survivors I interviewed along with personal artifacts Leo and Samuel gave me to share with the class.  By the end of my presentation, the room was silent.  No one moved, no one said anything.

At the end of the evening I was astounded by what the parents said to me:  “we never knew!”

You never knew?  You, the parents, the adults, never knew! How could that be.  The students, I could understand, but you?

It was that indelible moment that I realized I needed to be an integral part of the network to ensure that no one could say, “we never knew.”

Tonight, we gather here as witnesses to a part of our history that can never be forgotten.  We are surrounded by those who personally experienced the atrocities that leave this indelible mark on our souls.  Each of you, like the two first survivors whom I met, Leo and Samuel, bear eloquent witness for each of us that these moments should never be forgotten.

We read in the Gates of Prayer:

The universe whispers that all things are intertwined.  Yet at times we hear the loud cry of discord.  To which voice shall we listen?  Although we long for harmony, we cannot close our ears to the noise of war, the rasp of hate.  How dare we speak of concord, when the fact and symbol of our age is Auschwitz?

The intelligent heart does not deny reality.  We must not forget the grief of yesterday, nor ignore the pain of today.  But yesterday is past.  It cannot tell us what tomorrow will bring.  If there is goodness at the heart of life, then its power, like the power of evil, is real.  Which shall prevail?  Moment by moment, we choose rightly, and often enough, the broken fragments of our world will be restored to wholeness.

For this we need strength and help.

It is imperative on each of us to listen to the stories, remember the history and then become the transmitters to future generations.  From the ashes, from the flames we hear the voices of our past.  They call out to us to remember.  They remind us that we must be the ones to tell their story.  We must be the ones to never forget so that they should never be forgotten.

Elie Wiesel, wrote in 1979,

The survivors advocated hope, not despair.  Their testimony contains neither rancor nor bitterness.  They knew too well that hate is self-debasing and vengeance self-defeating.  Instead of nihilism and anarchy, they chose to opt for man.  Instead of setting cities on fire, they enriched them.  Many went to rebuild an ancient dream of Israel in Israel; they all chose to remain human in an inhuman society to fight for human rights everywhere, against poverty everywhere and discrimination, for humankind always.

For we have learned certain lessons.  We have learned not to be neutral in times of crisis, for neutrality always helps the aggressor, never the victim.  We have learned that silence is never the answer.  We have learned that the opposite of love is not hatred, but indifference.  What is memory if not a response to and against indifference?

So let us remember, let us remember for their sake, and ours: memory may perhaps be our only answer, our only hope to save the world….

Together, we will remember and together, we will never let this happen again to any people.  Together, we will be strengthened because we carry in our hearts and souls the memory of all those we hold on to tonight.

May I ask that the candle lighters and the students accompanying them now join me on stage?

Sonia Berson accompanied by Andrew Paull
Harry Eisen accompanied by Erin Beyrooty
Mary Hoovestol accompanied by Case Takata
Goldie Sack accompanied by Roger Mendoza
Leon Weinstein accompanied by Porter Hahn
Mike Zelon accompanied by Angel Chang

Please Rise

We take a moment for silent meditation

Join together in singing Eli Eli

May these lights illuminate the stories of those not hear to speak them, yet may we carry their blessings and share them with the world.  Tonight, may we never forget.  Tonight let us remember and therefore, allow us to live as they live through us. May these lights inspire us and enlighten us.  And let us say…Amen

Went for a Shabbat Hike – Climbed Sinai!?!?

Shabbat morning started off as any Shabbat morning with a TBS Shabbat hike – in the parking lot of a local park in Orange County.  I was very excited because we were hiking in Santiago Oaks Regional Park.  It was looking like we were going to explore another hidden gem that many of us never knew existed in Orange County.

Usually, going to a new place, I like to hike it ahead of time, but this week, I lost all track of time and did not have a moment to hike.  But that’s OK, I thought, the other two hikes went off without a hitch, this will be just fine! (she says with sarcasm!)

A nice crowd showed up and I joked, “I can’t get you all in the sanctuary for Shabbat morning but at least I can get you into THIS sanctuary!”

And so it began.  I should have known that this might not go as smoothly when I couldn’t find the trail head and made them walk around the turn-around.  But I reassured them, “I won’t actually make you walk through the desert for 40 days and nights!” (Famous last words!)

Now, on the right trail and walking through the beautiful woods, we see our signs for Santiago Creek Trail! Whew! All is right in the world! Until, no more signs.  Great, here’s a fork in the road! At least there seems to be a nice man sitting on the bench who looks like he knows what’s what. “Excuse me sir, which way to Santiago Creek Trail?” He looks at our group and says, “that way” pointing to our left.  “Thank you!” and we’re on our way.  (Did I just see a puff of smoke as he disappeared from view?)

Off we walk noticing a slight incline in our step.  “Hey Rabbi! Will there be many hills.”

“No, according to my description and maps, this should be a nice walk today.” (more famous last words!)

The hill is getting steeper.  Some decide that this is a great time to show off their well trained legs as they decide it’s time to RUN ahead.  Yes, run up the hill! Have fun girls! Everyone else, please feel free to go at your pace. It’s not a race…this is Shabbat.

We get to the top of the hill and wait…there’s another hill! Really!?!? this was not in the description.  Ah sugar (really, that’s what I say!), I think I turned the wrong way!  Keep smiling Heidi, keep up the face that I really know which way I’m going.  Nuts, I don’t!

Just one more hill and we’re at the top. We’ve make it and are grateful to the Rangers who come up to help one of our hikers down.  But as the Rangers and I are loading her into the truck, I look over to the other hill where the group is making their way down and I notice they are going VERY slow!  I call Marla on her cell and ask, “is everything OK over there?”

“Sure, we’re doing fine.  Just don’t come this way!  It’s really steep and some of us are going down on her tushes! I have to go so I don’t fall.”

Great!  I am so in trouble when I get off this hill and they get their hands on me!

I get a text message that everyone is down, the Ranger is leaving and I’m heading down the hill.  At the bottom are – I kid you not – three deer! Haven’t I heard this story before? Maybe they are there to tell me that everything’s fine or they’re there to mock me some more.

I meet up with the group in the parking lot and I start apologizing profusely.  This is going to be a major al cheit at Yom Kippur.  But everyone really does seem fine.  They all said they had a great time and are glad that our one rescue is OK.  Marla and Juliet offer to go on early morning walks with me to check out new trails so we really know which way to turn.  And I’m on Marilyn’s list – but that’s OK, I’m practically family and everyone in the family is usually on the list at some point.

I never did see that man from the fork in the road again…

A Naming – One Breath at a Time

I officiated at a naming today!  Now that might not sound like something to excited about or even to blog about, but this was a very special naming.  It was for twin boys born last Tuesday, in Atlanta.  It was for twin boys, born last Tuesday, in Atlanta, who are still there because they are only 1 lb 9 oz and 1 lb 5 oz and they are 8 days old today.

Why do a naming for these boys over the phone and while they are still in the hospital?  Because they are 8 days old and they are truly blessings to their parents and family here in California.

Joel and Jeremy are still in critical condition and every day we pray that they will get stronger and their bodies will do what they need to do.  And every day we give thanks to God for caring for them and their parents who are praying with all their might that they will be able to take them home.  Every day we hold our breath as we ask, ‘how are Joel and Jeremy?’

Today, we took a deep breath, recited blessings for thanksgiving and for healing.  Today, we named two beautiful boys and we prayed like we never prayed before that God watch over them and allow them to grow…one breath at a time.

Where is the Pace Car?

Life moves at a very fast pace.  There are meetings to be had. People to see in the hospital. Students to study with. And sermons or articles to write. There are those moments where there seems to be too much on the to-do list and I wonder how I will ever get it all done. This weekend was one of those weekends during which there was something going on almost every minute of all three days.  I knew it would be a challenge to get it all done, but I knew I could if I just kept myself focused.

The weekend has ended and it was awesome! Shabbat was beautiful. Purim was a kick – both for the adults and the children. And we even managed to have dinner with friends.  Now here it is the middle of the week and I feel like I am stalled!

Jennifer im’d me and asked how it was going and I said, I felt like I was in a holding pattern. That’s when she told me of days without a pace car. So true! Today, just feels like a day without a pace car.

There is much to do, but honestly, I can’t get my head wrapped around it. Is this so bad? No not really. Just a little frustrating because when we are racing with the pace car, there is that momentum that we have to keep. But without it, it feels a little sluggish.

Maybe instead of trying to find the pace car right now, I should try to enjoy the more mellow moments.  After all, they are far and few between.

Pace car, come back when you’re fueled up – for now, I’m going to enjoy the meadow.

They Took My Sign!

Showed up to the temple on Sunday morning. No religious school, no meetings, no one else but those who were meeting me for our meeting. I pull into my spot and noticed, MY SIGN WAS GONE! Hello! It was clearly marked, “Reserved Rabbi.” Who would want a Rabbi sign?

Do you have any idea how long it took me to get my Reserved Rabbi sign?

11 years ago, after the shooting at the JCC in LA, the board decided that it would be best if we removed the titles of all those who have reserved parking spots. We all complied, but what did this mean? Anyone could assume that “reserved” meant reserved for them!

For 11 years, I would show up for events at the temple with great turn outs and there would be no space for me to park. And yes, sometimes I would double park behind the person who was in my spot

My favorite were those who would park in my spot and the only event going on at the temple was an Introduction to Judaism class. Sorry folks, but you have some work to do before you get my Rabbi spot. 🙂

A little over a year ago, I asked Elias to finally put my title back on the sign. His response, ‘but what about the security concern.’

My answer, ‘If someone really wants to target my car, they’re going to know which car is mine! Put the “Rabbi” back on!’

I’ve had my spot and now, someone took it!

Monday morning, the fabulous Jill started scouring the video records from the weekend and guess what…we caught him!

Turns out that it was two college looking kids. One walked around the campus looking for an open door to make sure that no one was there. Then, when he knew it was all clear, he took the sign off the post and climbed into his friend’s black SUV. The conversation inside must have gone like this:
“hey, get the post dude!”

The two climbed out of the car, got the post and put it in the back of the car. BTW, they wrapped the dirty bottom in a blanket to make sure they didn’t get any mud in the car!

The crazy thing, they did this all at 5:30 in the afternoon, bright day light!

My sign is probably hanging in some kid’s dorm room. Don’t know that it’s going to get him any good parking spots, but maybe it will get him the girl.
As for my spot – it’s still bare and I’m just waiting to show up for the next big event at the temple tonight and find that I don’t have a place to park. If you’re in my spot when I get there, don’t be surprised if you go out to your car and find you can’t leave because I’m parked behind you. Just let me know when you’re ready to leave.

Freedom of Speech or Intimidation

Monday night the Orange County Community had the opportunity to hear Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren speak about the Israel Palestinian conflict. This was an opportunity for dialogue to discuss the challenges in Israel at this time, especially in the wake of Israel’s response to the Goldstone report. (more info at http://www.jta.org )

Ambassador Oren was speaking at UCI, which is known for it’s “Week of Hate” sponsored by the Muslim Student Union. These weeks of hate include MSU students being overly confrontational toward UCI students, namely Jewish students. There have been discussions with Chancellor Drake during which he describes that we must allow for freedom of speech on campus while maintaining a level of respect for differing views. However, this has been challenged in the past and it was disturbingly apparent Monday night. ( http://www.ocregister.com/video/?videoId=65670603001&lineupId=1125901233&play=now )

When does free speech cross the line? At what point does the University take a stand and say, enough is enough. Expressing one’s views has to also be tempered with listening and entering into a dialogue. The MSU students from both UCI and Riverside crossed the line of descent conduct. From the video posted by the Register and accounts from those in the Jewish community, Monday night’s disruption was not meant to engage in dialogue, but rather insight hate.

It is time for UCI to take a stand. While academic free speech may encourage challenging programs, outright disrespect and disruptions like what took place at Ambassador Oren’s presentation crosses a line. If we truly wish to engage in a dialogue toward peace, then we have to listen to one another and actually dialogue. Shouting insults and even rude hand jestures exchanged Monday night does nothing to promote free speech. It is embarassing for not only UCI, but for all of us when such a dignitary comes to our community and has to waste 30 minutes for a crowd to come under control.

To Ambassador Oren’s credit, he stayed, finished his talk and expressed his disappointment that the MSU students could not have the patience to enter into a conversation.

Where is the line of freedom of speech and hate speech? I believe it was crossed Monday night and now we must stand up and say enough and not be afraid to confront those who only know how to speak hate.

Love from Iraq

I just got off skype with Daniel, the Captain of the unit Temple Beth Sholom adopted.  It was so wonderful to see him and spend some time catching up.

All of Daniel’s troops are doing great!  In fact, his unit was just given an accommodation for being so well run and not having had an serious incidents!  Daniel is extremely proud of all of them and the work they are doing.

Right now, the unit and everyone on the base are working toward getting things together for the Iraqi people to be able to take care of themselves.  He is so proud of all the work they are doing and the Iraqi people are gracious for the assistance they are receiving.  When Daniel first went to Iraq, they used bullets to communicate, but now, they are using words to share knowledge and strategies to allow the country to finally be under its own rule.  The possibilities are exciting for Daniel and all the troops serving.

I asked Daniel if he heard about the company citing Biblical verses on their equipment. He jumped up saying, “you have to see this!” He pulled out a very expensive gun sight that he says is top of the line.  However, he refuses to use it because it has a Biblical verse printed on the side.  It says, “Numbers 8:12” which reads, “The Levites shall now lay their hands upon the heads of the bulls; one shall be offered to God as a purgation offering and the other as a burnt offering, to make expiation for the Levites.”

While Daniel’s high powered sight has a verse from the Hebrew Bible printed on his equipment, still the idea of using it is out of the question for him.  He is appalled that someone sees fit to use their Christian Evangelical beliefs to justify printing such verses on military equipment.  There have been those from Trijicon, the equipment company, who say that our military personnel are fighting a holy war.  Is this not what the Muslim fundamentalists also say? Therefore, this high powered sight remains in its case in Daniel’s room.  Thank goodness he’s in a relatively safe place.

He is very open about his Jewish identity, with his travel mezuzah (a gift from TBS) hanging on his room door.   It gives him a closer connection to home being that he is the only Jew on his base.  He celebrates the holidays from there and I’m sure he’ll have to skype with his parents for Passover seder, for as he said, “if I’m not at my parent’s house for seder, I’ll get my tuchus kicked.”  And we can expect to see him at services at TBS.  He loved our services here last summer and then in December because it was exciting and fun.  It was not what he remembered from childhood and it lifted his spirit.

Hey, this is what I’ve been trying to remind people – Shabbat services are not your childhood Shabbat services.  They are lively and fun! They should lift our spirits so that we’re not bored.  Trust me, if their boring, then I’m bored too.  And no one wants a bored rabbi! Maybe Daniel’s enthusiasm could inspire more people to come out and try it again.

Daniel will be returning for R&R in a couple of weeks.  Hopefully, we will see him for Purim. He’s so excited to come back to see us all and we will be very excited to see him as well.

Until then, there is love coming from Iraq, and we’re sending lots of love to Iraq and all of Daniel’s troops!

The Saga Continues at the Kotel

I was sad today when I read that Anat Hoffman, director of the Israel Religious Action Center, was brought into the Jerusalem police station and interrogated for one hour for her role in the events of Rosh Chodesh Kislev.  In December, Nofrat Frenkel, an Israeli medical student and member of the Women of the Wall, was detained for wearing a talit at the Western Wall (Kotel) plaza.

The ultra Orthodox control the Kotel and plaza and are making it more difficult for women and other non-Orthodox groups to participate in any kind of activities.  Hoffman is told that she might be charged with a felony for violating the rules of conduct at this holy site.

Women have been gathering to pray together each Rosh Chodesh for the past 25 years with Women of the Wall.  And they have made concessions to not wear the traditional black and white talitot when they pray, rather, smaller and more colorful talitot that they wear under their coats so as not to create too much of a scene.  One month after the first incident, on Rosh Chodesh Tevet, 150 women came out in solidarity with Women of the Wall and to quietly pray together that morning.  While the rain prevented them from reading Torah, the energy they shared together lifted their spirits.

But today, with the announcement of Anat Hoffman’s interrogation, our hearts are downtrodden.  How is it, that this place that means so much to all of the Jewish people of the world has become a place for confrontation and anger.

I remember the first time I visited the Kotel when I was 16.  I was in awe at its size and the energy that emanated from the stones, the people, the place.  I was moved to tears when I reached for the stones for the first time and placed my lips against the wall.  I prayed that day like I never prayed before because I felt I was standing in a place where generations of Jews have stood before and were proud to be Jews.

But today, I am angered by the events of the Israeli police who bring in a distinguished woman like Anat to question her about why she wore a talit at the Wall.  Why have the police never brought in for questioning the many individuals who cursed and spit at the women, threw objects at the women, and even hurt some of the women physically?  Why are they not being taken into custody and told that they might be charged with a felony for assault?

And while Hoffman did not let this form of interrogation intimidate her, it was as she said, the act of being fingerprinted like a criminal that hurt the most.  She said, “The stains that are still on my fingers are actually a stain on the State of Israel.”

It is  these stains that will not be washed away until all Jews can be reunited in Jerusalem and throughout the world, to respect and live together as Am Echad, one people.

Read more at:
The Forward
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