On this day, April 11 in 1945 my father, Naphtali, 17 years old and burning with fever, was liberated from Buchenwald by the American army. He marks the day each year as if a birthday, we raise a glass with him. In fact, I don’t even remember his actual birthday – but I wake up this morning, the waves crashing outside my window, the bed white and soft, and the first thing I think of is: this is his day.
This year is also happens to be Yom Ha’Shoah, Israel’s official Holocaust Memorial Day.
And also, right outside my window on the beach is the finish line for the Santa Cruz half marathon and excited crowds gather as one by one the runners make it back. Old, young, fat, thin, pushing strollers or wheelchairs, grinning or grimacing. The crowds cheer as each runner is handed a medal, a bottle of water. I watch one of them, a young woman, halting to walk, take her medal, scan the crowd, and, alone, walk off to the edge of the water. Has nobody shown up to share her triumph? to celebrate her breaking record? to give her a hug?
So then I’m sad, looking at these crowd, thousands of people who chose, and practiced, and ran, step by step, for whatever reason and now made it. survived. lining up for Tshirts in organized stalls marked S, M, L, XL. crowding around a wall where fresh lists are posted with running records, lining up to get half a banana each. I look at the runners lining up and I think of my father and his colleagues on the day of liberation – their finish line. I KNOW it’s nothing to compare. But I’m thinking about making it to the finish line. What it takes and who gets to make it – regardless of the circumstances or the harshness of the ordeal. The persistence factor – the will to continue whatever challenge or hardship.
I asked my father once – what made you go on? I know that April 11 is the finish line and that there is measure to the suffering, that it wasn’t forever. But on April 1, or 2 or 10th – not that you even knew the dates – what kept you going? How do you not give up? My father’s answer was simple – ‘i had a little brother and I had to protect him’. And when I ask the little brother who was protected – my uncle Yisrael, who was 7 when hell was over, what kept him going, he says: ‘jam. every once a while we children got a little lick of jam. that’s what kept me going’.
So today, walking on the beach among the tired happy runners who made it thru the finish line, alone or together, survivors of a challenge, I think of my father, and uncle and millions who didn’t make it and millions who did. I salute persistence, I honor hope, and as I make my own humble, low stakes, no suffering count up from 1-50, towards the finish line on Mt. Sinai which is my personal mythic marker of achievement and more clarity and focus in life – I vow to continue, and make it to my finish line. And thanks to all of you cheering crowds on the sidelines or running along with me, for helping me not run alone. Day 13. Yesod of Gevura: finding the core of purpose and persistence of discipline – within. 37 days left to run.