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Evil and Hope: Thoughts on Yom HaShoah

05/07/2019 11:32:57 AM

May7

Hannah Orden

This year Yom HaShoah affected me in a way that it has not in the past and I want to share a few snapshots from this week.

            Saturday – I turned on the television at the end of Shabbat and heard the news of another shooting at a synagogue.  This one hit me hard.  I spent a lot of time crying that night – crying for this broken world where people are murdered while praying in mosques in New Zealand and churches in Sri Lanka and synagogues in the United States.

            Sunday – As the Yom HaShoah service held by the three Summit synagogues began at Temple Sinai, Pastor Blake Scalet from St. John’s Lutheran Church arrived with about 30 of his congregants.  He had ended their service early so they could join us.  I cried again, this time with gratitude and hope, that we can stand together against hate.

            Wednesday – Don and I attended Joan Baez’s farewell tour concert in New York City. After the concert, we were walking toward Penn Station and a man lurched toward a woman walking in front of me and shouted “Witch!”   I was too close to avoid him and as I passed, he hurled a different word at me: “Jew!”  I wasn’t sure I’d heard correctly, so I turned around and asked: “What did you say?”  He lifted his arm in a Nazi salute and shouted “Hitler, Hitler.”

            Don pointed out that he was mentally ill, and I’m sure that is true, but nothing like this had ever happened to me before and it shook me.

            Thursday – I went to a talk at the JCC by Ariel Burger on lessons he learned as Elie Wiesel’s student.  Elie Wiesel believed that it is important not to be silent, that we have to protest.  He told a story, a kind of midrash, about a man who stood with a protest sign in the city of Sodom.  Day after day he stood with his sign, protesting the evil in the city.  Someone said the him: “Why do you do this?  It won’t change anything and everyone just laughs at you.”  The man answered: “I don’t protest to change others.  I protest so they don’t change me.”

            There is evil and hatred in the world.  And sometimes it’s hard to know what to do, how to respond.  So, I want to share two more snapshots – they are both from emails I received this week. One is a quote from the Israeli singer and peace activist David Broza.  When asked how he keeps going in the face of extremism and violence, he said: “We go on.  There is no other choice.  There probably will not be peace in our lifetimes, but it will happen.  You just keep doing your work.” 

            The other was from Jonah Steinberg, one of my rabbinical school teachers.  He wrote: “The tenth verse of our thirty-seventh Psalm says, “In just a little, there shall be no evil person – and you shall look upon such a one’s place, and that one will not be there.” Rabbi Steinberg says:  “Tempting as it may be to read that verse as a prophecy of the speedy demise or disappearance of some villain or another, one Hasidic master, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810) understands it differently: If, when looking at one another, and at ourselves, for all the faults we may find, we can also resolutely discover even “just a little” bit of human worth and sacred goodness to cherish, and if we hold onto that, and lift it up, and are uplifted by it – then we will find ourselves in an actuality in which there is no evil person.” 

Rabbi Steinberg was writing in the aftermath of the shooting in California.  And he said: “We have just witnessed yet another act of evil – there is no doubt about that. Fury is an understandable and even a reasonable response, and wrath has its place. Yet if all we increase is anger, then, ultimately, we will increase only frustration. We must also increase love – love that sees the sacred, the divine likeness in each and every other person, and which helps all to discover that likeness in themselves. If that is what we increase, resolutely, always, then eventually – all too slowly, but in some sense also in “just a little” – there will be no evil person.  May we see our way to such a time.”

Rabbi Steinberg’s words bring to mind the beautiful song – Olam chesed yibanah

I will build this world from love
And you will build this world from love
And if we build this world from love
Then God will build this world from love

Tue, October 15 2019 16 Tishrei 5780