Dear Family and Friends:
It’s been quite a couple of weeks here at Indiana University Hillel. The weekend before last we really rocked the house with Danny Nichols in residence. The highlights included a Shabbat Rocks Friday Evening service, a Dan Nichols late night unplugged concert, Saturday evening musical Havdalah, and finally a great hootenanny with guitars, fiddles, drums, a banjo (of course) and a lot of great folk singing. Along with this, it’s been wonderful having our brother-in-law Gilson here visiting from Brazil (and, I might add that the cherry on the top was that our son, Jeremy, daughter-in-law, Melissa, and grand-kids Zoe and Maya were here for the weekend as well).
That was the beginning of a wonderful ten days. Last week we commemorated Yom Ha Shoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. I was asked to lead the Mourners' Kaddish at the end of the day’s worship service. As an introduction to the prayer, I told the IU students my story of leading Kaddish for 100 high school students at the death camp, Birkenau, in Poland last summer. As we stood in the plaza at the center of that tragic place, having conducted a Yizkor (memorial) service of sorts, I stood in front of the students and saw two groups approaching from behind them. One group moved over to our left and sat down a ways away from us. They had a boom box and played Hebrew songs loud enough for us to hear. The other was obviously a group of Israelis. They stood to our right and each of them carried an Israeli flag. I asked our students to notice both groups. Then I commented that here we sat in the center of what was the greatest horror our families ever encountered. From where we were, we could see the railroad tracks, the barracks, the gas chambers, the crematorium, and the pools of water wherein our ancestor’s ashes lie. And yet, to our left we heard Jewish music. And to our right we saw Israelis and Israeli flags. How could we not think the words, “Am Yisrael Chai…The Jewish People Lives,” and be proud that our People endures and survives?
That day I suggested that we say our Mourners' Kaddish not just as a memorial to those who died there, those who had no one to say Kaddish for them, but also as a testimony of our dedication to living on as Jews for them, and for ourselves. And lastly, that we say Kaddish as a declaration that in the face of all the evil we have witnessed, we are still people of faith; people that believe that there is good in this world; people who know that we can make a positive difference.
And so we rose at our service here at Hillel and prayed the Mourners' Kaddish with those thoughts in mind; as our memorial to those who lost their lives in the Holocaust, and our dedication to the Jewish future, and our declaration of faith.
The rest of the week underlined those very thoughts. On both Thursday and Friday I trekked up to Indianapolis to join two other rabbis in a Beit Din, a rabbinic court, as two people who had studied here at Hillel completed their conversions to Judaism. I had the honor of teaching both of them Hebrew. The other two rabbis lead the conversion class here in Bloomington and so had taught them the fundamentals of Judaism. It is quite an honor to witness a person’s actual moment of becoming Jewish. By Friday afternoon there were at least two more Jews in the world than there were on Wednesday.
Talk about trekking. Saturday I really trekked, all the way past Dayton Ohio to officiate at the wedding for one of our former campers. The groom’s family has been involved with our Goldman Union Camp for about thirty years. What a great feeling to watch those parents at their son’s wedding. When I first met the parents this, their third son, was just an infant. Last weekend he stood under the Chupah. Priceless.
So, sighs of the Shoah (Holocaust) one day, followed by two adults joyously becoming Jewish the next, and a wedding to top it all off. Man, if that wasn't the week that was. Well, the Jewish week that was. It most certainly was.