PREPENT DAY 17
Elul 17 5775 – September 1 2015
On this day in 1939 the Second World War started. My father, Naphtali, who survived that war, has gone on to another world during this past year, not before making sure we who knew him know and remember this date. ‘Never forget’ has indeed become a hallmark of Jewish reality in the decades since those years of horror but today I want to pause not only to remember the ravages of war and hatred but also to repent for how little I’ve done to prevent other wars and genocides from happening, or from being more present to the suffering and needs of those whose lives more modern wars now claim.
In his book Balaam’s Prophecy my father describes that day – he was thirteen years old, on his way to his first day of a new school in his hometown in Poland, when it all started: “We were just about to cross over to the schoolhouse when the blasting of sirens pierced the air. We froze on the spot, not knowing what was happening. The sign of two trucks racing down the street in the direction of our house, headed from the front, with soldiers shouting ‘Wojna!” (war!) soon hit us with grim reality… This marked the end of schoolboy days.”
I was up last night, couldn’t sleep, thinking about this day, about my father, about the traumatic baggage so many of us still carry, worldwide, three generations later, and about so much war and suffering still going on today. What are we doing about it? Choose your battles, we are often told, in much more mundane context, but today I’m thinking – yes – which battle do I choose to join, support, rise up as helpful agent?
On September 1 1939 and in the six years that followed, many millions suffered and many millions, far away or nearby, carried on as usual. Life, for good or bad, goes on, and the sun shines equally on corpses and new babies.
What about the wars that ravage lives today? Check out this website listing every war that’s in ‘active status’ in our world: wars in the world. Some are known, many obscure, and no this does not list the war on racism, homophobia and transphobia, climate change, domestic violence, or even the Occupation.
What am I doing, are we doing, beyond the occasional worry and catching up on the news, to do something about the plight of refugees from Africa and Syria, to know more about at least one cause that needs our voice, our heart, our cash and caring?
Natalie Portman got into hot water last week when she was interviewed about her recent film on Israel, and, as a third generation child of Holocaust survivor said this:
“I think a really big question the Jewish community needs to ask itself, is how much at the forefront we put Holocaust education. Which is, of course, an important question to remember and to respect, but not over other things.We need to be reminded that hatred exists at all times and reminds us to be empathetic to other people that have experienced hatred also. Not used as a paranoid way of thinking that we are victims.”
I think she’s right. So much fear holds us down and so little love motivates us to look beyond it.
Today, Prepent day 17, 23 days to go until the Day of Atonement, our dress rehearsal for the day of death, I pause to honor the memory of my father and the millions who like him survived the Holocaust to leave us with a legacy of the courage to survive hatred, the call to be standing up to justice, doing what we can to prevent war, lessen suffering, and across the so called borders of faith, or race, or nationality – do what we can to help and change our world for good.
Choose your battle. Take on a cause worth fighting for, local or remote. I’ll spend the rest of this day, amid my many tasks and to-do’s, lofty and tiny alike, thinking about this charge, listening to what comes my way, never forgetting, always remembering to breath, and be grateful, for every day on which I have my freedom, taking on the divine commandment to make sure this privilege is not my own alone.