Apr 12, 2013

Washington & Treblinka: Fields of Memory

Washington & Treblinka: Fields of Memory
(c) Rabbi Menachem Creditor

I stood, twenty years ago, in Treblinka.

I will never forget that moment. In addition the approximately one million lives exterminated in Treblinka, the very site was razed by the Nazis as an attempt to hide what had happened, to keep countless murders from being remembered, to erase history itself. Today, the monuments (the picture on the right) and the blood and tears that soak its earth are all that mark the space and the lives taken, the people murdered.

I share this memory in this moment, because it has been suggested that these days between Yom HaShoah and Yom Ha'atzma'ut are a new kind of High Holy Days for the Jewish People, book-ending intense historical memory with ritualized moments of pain and loss, rebirth and homecoming. I invite you to take part in one of the many communal moments taking place in our larger Jewish community.

I also share this memory because it is precisely the willful act of memory that can reverse the physical absence of bodies. Ritual is that willful act. We are blessed to have so much Jewish Ritual in our lives, because without it, we couldn't possibly contain the vast history, good and bad, of our People. With it, we touch and experience eternity, connecting with ancestors and descendants on a regular basis.

Just yesterday I stood in the National Mall in Washington D.C., which had become a field of constructed memory, a willful ritual act calling to memory 3,365 lives lost to Gun Violence since Sandy Hook.
I stood and prayed with faith leaders in our Nation's capital, where we planted 3,300 mock-graves, with religious symbols of many traditions, and called upon our political leaders to take a moral stand and save lives by passing responsible Gun Violence laws. Jewish, Christian, Sikh, and Muslim leaders stood arm to arm, prayed soul to soul, and communed for 24 hours on that Sacred Space in our country's capital, reciting the names of all 3,365 lives that had been lost to date since the Newtown massacre

(You'll notice that the 3,300 grave markers we installed weren't enough. Even this planned willful act of memory couldn't predict the pain and loss of the very next day.)

My friends, I'm unifying in this one message our People's particular story and the story we share as part of a larger human family. Tradition teaches us that every human being is an Image of God, which means, as the great Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel z"l taught, "every act of violence is an act of desecration."

Some members of Netivot Shalom have planned a powerful event on April 21 from 2pm-4pm entitled "Our Problem to Solve: End Gun Violence in Our Community." Please come. This isn't someone else's problem. It's ours. When we stand together in solidarity, we are performing the greatest of mitzvot: Pikuach Nefesh, Saving a Life.

As Rita Kuhn, who blessed us this past Sunday by sharing her story of surviving the Shoah, said: 

"I believe it could happen again. In a way, it's happening every day in this country. I can't read the paper without seeing of needless deaths. What does it mean to never forget?"

May our People emerge ever stronger, safer, healthy, in our precious homeland Israel. May memory guide us well, even and especially when it hurts to our core. May we know more joy and peace than sadness and war.

May every person alive experience the fulfillment of the words we recite every Shabbat: "I will bring Peace to the land, and you shall lie down and no one shall terrify you."


Chag Sukkot Sameach, dear friends.