Remembering and Living

As the sun set tonight, we came out of Holocaust Remembrance Day where Israel remembers the horrors that were done to our people in the holocaust. We  remember the 6 million individuals who were murdered in the midst of this gruesome attempt to wipe our people off the face of the earth.

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Every year anew we hear new stories from the ones who survived this killing-machine, and you look at them and try to fathom how they have been able to keep on living after what they have gone through.

The children have been learning about this for the last couple of days at school. They come home and retell the stories they have been told, and I look at their eyes and see what an impact these experiences, this knowledge, this common memory as a people, is having on them.

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Every year they are told stories that are age-appropriate. Already in preschool and kindergarten they learn to stand in silence for the two minutes we hear the siren wail over our whole country, and everyone wherever they are stop what they are doing and stand still and remember.

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Little ones standing in silence and taking part in remembering. (Photo: Stand With Us.)

As three year olds I remember our children learnt stories of little children who were hidden by kind people, and made it our alive at the end. Now that they are 11 and 13 they hear more difficult stories. This evening, I was told a story that had been told at school today, of a kind family who had hidden Jews, and the nazis found them and shot first the Jews, and then starting from the youngest they shot each member of the family. This all happened in front of the other people in the village. The next morning 24 dead Jewish bodies were found in the fields. The other families were not willing to take the risk any longer…

I kind of wish our children did not have to be exposed to this part of our history. Yet others had to experience it. And we want to respect them by remembering them. I hope the stories are told also outside of Israel, – because I believe that the more they are remembered, the more we can ensure that this will NEVER happen again.

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We always watch the ceremony from Yad Vashem that marks the beginning of the eve of the Day of Remembrance. There are six survivors lighting the six big torches in memory of the six million Jews that were killed. Six million individuals.

One of the survivors’ story made an especially deep impression on us. He told of how he had been there as a child, with his father and other Jews, all of them stripped naked and lined up next to a mass grave ready to fall into it once they were shot. The moment before he would have been shot, his father pushed him into the grave and then fell on top of him himself. Many hours later, after the nazis were done shooting on moving bodies in the grave, Max was able to dig his way up and climb out from among the dead. He was 11 years old at the time. He went back to the ghetto, where he watched his baby brother be killed and ripped to pieces, and then his mother being hanged in front of his eyes. He himself became a very young soldier and spy, and worked for the freedom of his people, and this he has kept on doing.  As he came to light this torch, he wore a uniform fully covered with medals! His father had told him; – if you come out of this alive, tell people what they did to us just because we are Jews. This he has done. And he has kept on living, and like many other survivors, established a new family, and named his children after the family he had lost way too early.

In Israel we remember the holocaust on a different day than the rest of the world. There is a date in the end of January that is the international day for remembering the holocaust. This spring-date, the 27th of Nissan, which is the Israeli remembrance day, is during the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto. We remember both the horrors and the ones who were killed, and we remember the heroic acts of those who stood up and fought against this evilness. In the case of the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto, they were able to hold their stand for four weeks, which is nothing short of miraculous!

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Yesterday our son and I had an errand downtown, and on our way there he was telling me about what he had learnt about the holocaust that day at school, specifically about the Crystal Night. And as we walked on Jaffa road, he shared how encouraging it was to be there and see the flourishing life our people has today! There are successful Jewish shops and businesses, and nobody is stopping us! I smiled and said, yes, “Am Yisrael Chai.” (The People of Israel Lives.) He looked back at me and said with excitement “Am Yisrael Chai Kol Kach!!!” (The People of Israel Lives So Very Much!!!) 

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It truly is good to be here in Israel at this time, and be a part of the answer to the hatred of Jews then and now. Our answer is to keep on living. We are here. We are thriving. And we are here to stay.

Singing of His Faithfulness

It was been another blessed and wonderful Pesach. In certain ways the week-long holiday flies by, but in other ways it feels like it has been a relatively long season, as we spend several weeks preparing for the holiday. I find that the preparations add real depth and meaning to the holiday. We prepare both ourselves and our homes to the best of our abilities, so that we are ready for the holiday when it comes.

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One of the evening during Pesach we went to an exhibition of some very special Hagadot, and this is an illustration from one of them.

I have come to the conclusion that for the time being my favorite holiday is Pesach. Like, – what would all the other holidays be if we did not have Pesach?! Pesach builds the base for everything else! We became a People! Our God brought us out of slavery, – to freedom! He delivered us, so that we can live for Him, the lives He meant for us to live when He created us! He has good plans for us, and He brings them about! He is faithful, and we can trust Him as we walk in His ways for us!

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Getting ready for another holiday meal. This one is for the night of the seventh day of Pesach. Fitting with the Psagot-wine from the seventh (Shmita/Sabbsatical) year, don’t you think? 😉

Some of the definite highlights for me from the celebrations have been moments of singing. I absolutely LOVE the Halel part from the hagada and the services during Pesach. It connects with my heart! And as I join in these songs, my soul connects with those of Jews all over the world singing those same songs at this time, and with generations and generations that have sung them before us! We are part of a great chain, and we get to join in building the part that is for our generation to build, – and what a time to be alive!! And what a privilege to live in Jerusalem at this time!

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On one of the days of Pesach we made a trip to Psagot in the Binyamin region. This is text from Amos 9: “Behold the days are coming… And I will bring back the captives of My people Israel; They shall build cities and inhabit them. They shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them. I will plant them in their land, and no longer shall they be pulled up…”

There certainly are many gems among the halel and the various prayers that we sing and pray during the holidays, but the ones that I connect with the very most at this time, I think are these:

Eli ata ve odecha! Elokai, aromemecha!

Hodu le Hashem ki tov! Ki le olam chasdo!

You are my God and I will thank you! My God, I will exalt You!

Give thanks to the Lord for He is good! For His loving-kindness is forever!

The way the melody helps build up these words, adds a lot to the depth of meaning, and it is just wonderful to lift your voice together with those around you and proclaim these truths!

I find that whatever I am going through, good or bad, somehow these words fit the situation. They bring stability and perspective when times are challenging, and they add joyful thankfulness to times of celebration. I find these words to be great reminders of God’s faithfulness! We belong to Him! He has brought us this far, and He has good plans for us! Whatever the future holds, He will be there with us! We can trust in Him and do not have to worry.

I have read and heard a lot of interesting teachings during this season, and the one I want to share here is part of one that I heard at the synagogue on the last day of Pesach. We celebrated that God brought us through the Reed Sea on that day, and the one who taught on this pointed out that on the one side of the sea we were crying to God to save us. We were desperate. On the other side of the sea, we were singing to Him! This can also be a picture of a maturing faith. On the one side we believed in God, in His existence. On the other side, we had experienced His faithfulness. When our belief is in God’s faithfulness, we can trust Him fully. We know who He is, so we can sing to Him from the depth of our hearts!