NO MORE TEARSJuly, 2012
Dear Friends and Family:
We had the good fortune to be in Jerusalem last week and the further good fortune to be invited to Eve Lustig’s Bat Mitzvah at Beit Shmuel. The service was held out on a terrace overlooking the Old City. Magnificent. Everything about that Shabbat morning was beautiful. Eve gave a powerful extrapolation of her Torah portion, which she had read without a flaw. It was great being with old friends Amy and Bruce, celebrating Shabbat in Jerusalem, walking the streets where Juca and I met forty-three years ago. Priceless!
At the luncheon following the Bat Mitzvah, Marcus, Eve’s older brother, sat down next to me and asked me a question. Knowing that Juca and I had just come from seven days of trekking around the Czech Republic and Poland with eighty North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) high school students, he asked me if I thought it was really so important for us to visit places like Auschwitz. I had a lot to say in response.
First of all, I told Marcus that I could only answer for myself. I said that I had read extensively about the Holocaust and seen almost every movie and documentary possible. Maybe when I was just finishing college I was a little obsessed with it. I told him that I had taught a course to Hebrew High kids in Chicago on the Holocaust, using the book “Mila Eighteen” as our text. I knew the facts. I had seen “Night and Fog,” which graphically presented the atrocities. I had it all in my head.
When I first actually saw the train tracks going through the brick building at the entrance to Birkenau, and the cattle car which brought 400,000 Rumanian Jews to be murdered in that place, and the barracks, and the crematorium, thoughts, words and images became reality and it seared my soul and hammered my heart. The pages of the books and the movie screen could no longer filter the depth of the tragedy from me. I was there.
I told Marcus that this was my third trip, second with NFTY kids, to the ghettos and the camps, and that each time tears came at various moments along the way. He asked why we return if the trip is so difficult? I had asked the same question to David Solomon our incredible educator and director of our particular NFTY Eastern European program. We sat at an outdoor café in Warsaw. He said that he felt it was (traffic was great and I missed the next word) a Mitzvah/mission to educate our children regarding the Holocaust. He also stated that we need to teach our kids about how heroic our people were in trying to maintain their humanity under the horrid conditions they experienced. Resistance came in all shapes and sizes. He also told us that he had no more tears to shed. That he had shed enough and now it was time to teach. No more tears.
It is uplifting to travel from the depths to the heights, from the ghetto to Jerusalem. It is inspiring to walk the Tyelet in Talpiot and look down on the ancient and the new, to sense the life of our People. It is heartwarming to hear one of our children chant Torah across the valley from the Jaffa Gate. If we can, Juca and I will take the Eastern Europe NFTY trip again next summer. At each stop along the way I’ll think, Am Yisrael Chai, the People of Israel Lives! And, no more tears.