This coming week marks the commemoration of Yom Hashoah-"Holocaust Day." Jews the world over set aside time, thought and feeling to remember the the atrocity of the scientific attempt to annihilate the Jewish people from the face of our planet.Using modern technology, contemporary advances in administration and management, and the trappings of a rational legal system and a new-found philosophical framework, Nazi Germany embarked on a global effort to rid humanity of the living presence of the Jewish people and of Judaism. Six million innocent men, women and children were exterminated. This carefully deliberate and thoroughly planned and executed program of mass murder and genocide was conducted painstakingly and persistently , every day of every week, for an endless period of almost five years. The world knew , but did little, if anything ,to halt the slaughter. Feigned ignorance, rationalization, indifference, politics as usual, perhaps disguised anti-semitism, were all mustered to mask the enormity of this crime and allow for a response of inaction and inattention.
As one who is committed to the spiritual practice of gratefulness, can I respond to the Holocaust from this perspective as well, or does any spiritual response that is life enhancing and positive vanish in the smoke of the crematoria?
Is the only response to the Holocaust grief, unmitigated misery and loss, nightmarish remembrances and the determination to never allow this to happen again? Without question , if we are to preserve our humanity, we dare not ignore our capacity to mourn and grieve; to remember and try to understand is another compelling moral obligation of our confronting this tragic human horror. It can not be emphasized enough that an unrelenting lesson of the Holocaust is -"Never Again"- We are duty bound to do everything humanly possible to prevent such a blight on human history from ever happening again. Furthermore, from the vantage point of Jewish survival, never will we allow ourselves to fall into the pit of powerlessness and vulnerability that will invite others to make us the victims of human cruelty and brutality.
Sixty years after this hellish happening, can we touch any aspect of gratefulness in its aftermath?
Perhaps the answer lies in how we answer the following hypothetical question. Would you prefer to be the descendent of the Nazi perpetrators or the progeny of the victims, the son, daughter , grandchild, nephew or niece of an officer of the S.S. or a Jewish family member of a rabbi, doctor, tailor, or school child, gassed at Auschwitz?
I am grateful that I am victim rather than perpetrator. Our prayers remind us-"Ashreynu ma tov helkaynu." How fortunate we are, how good is our portion, our lot in life! In spite of the unbearable losses, suffering and inhumanity inflicted upon us, we can be spiritually and morally grateful for bearing this tragedy with honor, with a determination to persist in our loyalty to our heritage and to our people and remain faithful descendants of our illustrious ancestors, Abraham Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, and the countless thousands of students, saints and scholars upon whose shoulders we stand with the pride of a faith and history that has brought such immeasurable blessing to this world.
I am grateful for the thousands of Holocaust survivors who have taught us the lesson of how to rebuild a meaningful and successful Jewish life from the ashes of destruction and death. I am grateful for the small yet so powerfully important and inspiring act of courage and human goodness of the "Hassidei umot ha'olam"-the Righteous Gentiles who risked their lives and the lives of loved ones. to save a small remnant of Europe's Jews.
Finally, I am grateful that I belong to a people who despite being reviled and despised even today ,stubbornly refuses to surrender to the dark forces of evil, of violence, of hatred and bestiality, but who persist in learning and growing and helping and serving , defending and protecting the values of human decency and compassion wherever they may be. I am grateful that in the shadow of this most monstrous of the many calamities of the twentieth century, my people rose up to create a new civilization on a tiny, ancient, God-given strip of land known as Israel, where a vibrant democracy, not perfect but struggling , committed to improve and better the lives of so many, Jew and non-Jew alike.
"Ashreynu, ma tov helkaynu"-How grateful we should feel at this time of the year. Amidst tears of anguish and those that flow in festive celebration of Israel's sixtieth year of independence,
we can recite with hearts overflowing with gratitude-Blessed are You, the Source of the Good who has bestowed His goodness on us at this season of commemoration and celebration Amen.