Saturday, August 17, 2019 -
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Stars in the sky

As the lush spring color is pushing through the ground, bursting all around us, seemingly meeting endless horizons of azure skies, these moments poised for renewal feel muted by an unsaid yet tangible feeling in the air. It might be springtime outside, but within the Jewish community we are in moments of a descending twilight on the generation of Holocaust survivors, soon to become the next stars in the sky of nightfall.

I never dreamed that last year on Holocaust Memorial Week, when I spoke with my beloved Hungarian grandmother, it would be my final telephone conversation with her on this sacred day. I never dreamed, that my conversations with Mrs. Lucie Prenzlau and Rabbi Rosenfeld, an Auschwitz survivor, throughout that very week, would be my final Holocaust Memorial Week.

By this year, all three are gone. Twilight has passed. Now they are the twinkling stars in the night.

This week is Holocaust Memorial Day.

Approaching Yom HaShoah in these waning days of the generation of Holocaust survivors, it takes on additional intensity. It is happening — they are leaving us.

Growing up in the 1970s in Israel, before I had any clue what their sinister meaning was, the numbers I saw burned into their skin was “normal.” Especially as riding buses was the norm there, even for children, I was surrounded by the numbers.

Elie Wiesel’s haunting face… those eyes! He has become the flesh face to represent the Holocaust to the world.

Each of us in our communities are still blessed to have our “Elie Wiesels.”

This week is the week to come out and humbly pay tribute with our mere presence before these men and women who were stripped of their humanity, stripped of their family, stripped of their Judaism, stripped of everything — yet overcame.

As each year passes it is painful to arrive at the memorial at the JCC and see the dwindling number of survivors disappearing before our eyes.

So, come. You must come.

And if you truly can’t be there in person, give a call to a Holocaust survivor. These conversations can be sobering and emotional. Facing a witness to one of history’s most brutal and dark chapters is not easy.

But their days are numbered.

The Holocaust museums around the world are all standing. “Never Forget” has become the mantra. You can walk the dark and silent halls of candles lit for the children. You can pass over the pits of real live human beings’ shoes — all murdered. You can learn the history and see the relics, the artifacts, the exhibits. They’re all in place, so that we never forget.

But the people! The actual real life people, the ones who are still with us — this is the time, if you haven’t already, to make the effort to connect with survivors. Whether you are old or young or in between.

It most likely won’t be a conversation about their experiences. No . . . many of those nightmares are buried deep within hidden rooms of their hearts and the chambers of their souls. They will never see the light of day or make it from their heart to their lips.

But it’s not about that.

It’s about not waiting for that chance encounter anymore. It’s about consciously making the time to meet and speak and befriend and just be with these treasures among us, the eyewitnesses to the notorious “Arbeit Macht Frei” and the other unspeakable varieties of man-made hell on this earth.

This year when you strike a match lighting a candle to burn in memory of the six million, remember the sunset is sinking faster than ever.

Who of today’s generation of sunset survivors will be next year’s stars in the sky?

Which niggun will be the last that you can close your eyes and hear and be uplifted by,  from a survivor? Which frail “Good Shabbos” to you will be the last time those words leave the lips of a survivor? Which one will be that final handshake that warms your skin?

It is sobering to think about. But each year it hits harder than the last.

Time is flowing over all of us.

That moment of departure of this Survivor Generation is fast approaching.

One day sooner than we believe it will be the last… the very last…

Come pay respects, listen to their stories… to their testimony, this year.

Sing a niggun together.


Copyright © 2015 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Tehilla R. Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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