Why Wait for Tragedy?

Newtown, Connecticut, December 14, 2012.  The massacre of schoolchildren and teachers is an act for which there are no words in human vocabulary, a day which will remain an open wound in those directly involved but also a day of pain and shame for all of us.  The only bright spot was an interfaith service held the following Sunday in memory of the victims.  Representatives of all faiths took part in the mourning.

How sad it is that we can mourn together, but cannot seem to come together to make peace.

Higher Than Heaven

For this time of the year, I would like to share with you a classic story of Jewish folklore. There were two Jewish neighbors, one very pious and recognizable by his beard and long coat as a Chassid, the other more progressive who wore ordinary clothes. Pious Jews have a leader, the Rebbe of the community, who is revered and admired. The Chassid was always telling his neighbor that his Rebbe could do miracles. According to his story, before the Jewish new year, the Rebbe went up to heaven to plead directly with God for the poor and needy. The neighbor pooh-poohed the whole story. After hearing it repeated for many years, he decided to verify this story for himself. Early one morning before New Year’s, he hid hid near the Rebbe’s house. The Rebbe walked out of the house with a sack on his back, carrying an axe, and headed for the nearest forest. The neighbor followed him, and saw the Rebbe stop to chop some wood, put it in a sack, and then turn around and head back to the village. The Rebbe went directly to the last little house in the village where a sick widow lived with her children. He put the sack of wood at the steps to her house.

The neighbor, seeing this, was completely overwhelmed. He went back home and told his friend the Chassid “You said that the Rebbe was going up to heaven to plead with God for the poor and needy. But what I saw him doing was higher than heaven…”

In November, I was invited to speak to a high school in Greensburg, Indiana, population 10,000, a small town one hour away from Indianapolis. The event was dedicated to the history of the second world war and the Holocaust and titled “Courage, Tolerance, Diversity, and Respect.” The lineup of speakers included war veterans, Holocaust survivors, and the teacher who initiated a project of collecting six million paperclips followed by a documentary on the same subject.

The program contained greetings from world-renowned personalities, with the US Secretary of Education on the top. The day-long sessions were attended by several hundred students. I was deeply impressed with the seriousness of the atmosphere in the large auditorium; the dignified behavior of the students was exemplary. The staff of the school, headed by history teacher John Pratt did a tremendous job in the preparation and the execution of the program. I have to emphasize that the idea and the program initiated by a small staff was a tremendous undertaking and will put Greensburg on the map of Holocaust remembrance. The town’s claim to fame is a growing tree on the tower of the city hall. The remembrance tree is much higher than this tree in Greensburg. It touches symbolically the heavens.

Chanukah musings

As my Chanukah greeting to you, I am forwarding this photo and its story which I implore you to read.  Nothing can be more symbolic than this picture with the menorah in the window and across the street the Nazi headquarters with the swastika.  The story and the image at the end tells the rest.

This story reminds me of the statement of our sages “Sinat olam, l’am olam” (eternal hate to eternal people). We persist on the principle that the law is above man, and that no human power structure should override that basic truth. Our mission of light unto the nations is anathema to dictatorships, theocracies and to all those who prefer to keep people in the darkness.

In the season of light let us pray and hope that light will prevail.