On the last days of Passover I did not access technology for 48 hours. I reconnected online with curiosity. Usually it’s silly things you missed in the interim.
This time was different.
A shooting at a Chabad synagogue in Poway, California? What? Another shul under attack again? Could this be?
A blatantly anti-Semitic cartoon in the vein of Der Stürmer? At first I just thought it was some kind of sick meme. I honestly didn’t catch onto the fact that it was an actual, published cartoon, in The New York Times no less. I passed it by with horror a few times, not quite registering the journalistic horror. While I’m no fan of the paper, in my worst dreams I would not have believed the NYT would stoop to publishing something that by all definitions crossed the Rubicon so crudely.
So, a shul is shot up by a right-wing white supremacist while a newspaper representative of the left-wing bastion is purveying out and out anti-Semitism. It felt like there was no reprieve. It felt pervasive, at one and the same time coming from everywhere.
While the two events may not officially be linked. in my mind they are, primarily because of the timing of how the news hit me. But also because, make no mistake, normalizing Jew hatred in the NYT most certainly does embolden anti-Semites and potentially leads to bloodshed.
I kept reading about the many heroes in this shul attack, including Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein. Despite enduring the trauma of standing face to face with a murderer and being shot at, sffering from a torn off finger and a bleeding stub, the rabbi, like a true captain of a ship, only thought of others. Coralling kids to safety. Continuing with prayers. Most strikingly, finishing his sermon among the pandemonium, his voice rising above the terror with his piercing message to his congregation in the midst of moments of unfolding trauma, attack and pandemonium:
“We are strong! We are united! They can’t break us!”
The voice of this heroic rabbi didn’t stop. It was he who was shepherding us all. We all became Rabbi Goldstein’s congregation and looked to his inspirational leadership and response. Rabbi Goldstein’s words of strength, post-surgery, were simply stunning. I get up on a chair, and I scream out loud with my finger dangling and bleeding, and I say the most powerful words: Am Yisrael Chai!, the Jewish people Lives! Or the videos so poignant and tragic at the funeral of his dear friend and congregant, today should have been my funeral. Or the power of this rabbi’s emotional appeals and messages of love, strength and redoubling of commitment to Yiddishkeit.
You could tell, his words sprang from the well of a lifetime of love, humanity and unwavering dedication to Judaism.
While I as barely catching up and processing the post-Passover news, suddenly the next morning the face of the ethereal and other worldly, righteous, Kaliver Rebbe — whose face itself is evidence of the Nazi doctors’ experiments — keeps rising in my feed with news of his passing. Because of the tortures inflicted on him he was unable ever to grow a beard. This true tzaddik dedicated his life to the memory of the Holocaust and to cultivating unity among the Jewish people.
He was known for singing the Hungarian song “Szal a Kakos Mar,” a melancholy song about a bird yearning for its home — understood to be a metaphor of the story of the Jewish people.
It is the week of Holocaust Memorial Day. Already, even before the day itself, this year on Thursday, May 2, the week is tinged with the sadness of the Holocaust.
So many personal snippets and vignettes begin dotting my Facebook feed. “Szal a Kakos Mar” becomes the soundtrack of this sad week’s confluence of events.
Somewhere in the middle of it all, I started feeling nervous when contemplating going to shul this Shabbat. I tell myself, I must review the security procedures before I go to shul this week.
A constant flow of personal Holocaust memories pass before me every time I turn on social media. “When my Zaida was in Auschwitz . . . “ “At the selection . . . ” “The number on my grandmother’s arm . . . ” “The honey cookies my grandmother’s family baked to last them through the ghetto . . . ”
Many of these brief Holocaust stories are accompanied by haunted photos. Vintage black and white, oozing pre-WW II shtetl life. Of a time, of a family, gone by. Destroyed and severed, against its will.
Suddenly, as I shuffle through these heartbreaking tales of doom one after another, the determination and even anger begin to rise.
We are not termites! We are not dogs! We will never take this lying down again. Never! We are as strong as ever!!
Rabbi Goldstein’s words that rang through his terrorized shul reverberate over all. Am Yisrael is Chai! The Jewish peoples lives.
“We are strong! We are united! They can’t break us!!”
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