Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Survivors and Rescuers

We had an astonishing, moving and inspiring meeting today, during the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) Campaign Chairs and Directors Mission (CCD): a number of elderly Shoah (Holocaust) survivors joined us, along with Righteous Among the Nations (non-Jews who saved Jews and risked their own lives in so doing). It was an incredible privilege to introduce this session. Several people asked me for a copy of my speech, reprinted below ...

Primo Levi, describing his rescuer, Lorenzo Perrone, in his masterpiece “If This Is A Man,” said:

"I believe that it was really due to Lorenzo that I am alive today;
and not so much for his material aid, as for his having constantly reminded me by his presence…
that there still existed a just world outside our own, something and someone still pure and whole…
for which it was worth surviving"

Many were indifferent.
Many were hostile.

During the Shoah, the Holocaust, the majority watched as their former neighbors were rounded up and killed.
Some collaborated.
Many benefited.

In a world of total moral collapse … there was a small minority who mustered extraordinary courage to uphold human values.

There were survivors, several of whom bless us with their presence today.

There were Righteous Among the Nations, some of whom honor us with their participation here.

They stand in stark contrast to the indifference and hostility that prevailed during the Shoah.

Who are these rescuers?

The term “Righteous Among the Nations” (Chasidei Umot HaOlam) comes from Jewish tradition – from the literature of the Sages.
Non-Jews who help the Jewish people in times of danger.

The Yad Vashem Law in Israel, which guides the global recognition of these remarkable individuals, characterizes the Righteous Among the Nations as those who not only saved Jews but risked their lives in doing so.

Most of these rescuers were ordinary people.
Some acted from deep political or religious convictions.
Others just cared about the people around them.

They could have been killed. Their children could have been killed. Everything they had and loved would have been lost and destroyed.

For people that perhaps, probably, they didn’t even know!

Bystanders were the rule.
Rescuers were the exception.

However difficult and frightening, the fact that some found the courage to become rescuers demonstrates that some freedom of choice existed.

The Righteous Among the Nations teach us that each and every person – each one of us – can make a difference.
Each and every one of us has the ability to save, to rescue, to change lives.

This may be one of the most unique and important encounters we can give you. Here in Minsk. In the former Soviet Union. In the Jewish world.

Because there are heroes in this room.
Jewish heroes, and heroes from the Righteous Among the Nations.

Some of our honored guests here are heroic Jewish survivors of the Shoah.
Some of them were saved by the Righteous Among the Nations.

Our responsibility to care includes all those here.
With Hesed.

What is Hesed? Not just the technical name we give to our federation-supported JDC welfare program, which you’ll see tomorrow.
Hesed means kindness.
It means caring.
It means love.

It means that the Survivors and the Righteous Among the Nations are equally our clients. We have a commitment to all of them.
With food programs, and medicine, and homecare … and the warmth and love of our community.

So we are honored, and privileged, to welcome all of you here today … and I invite the young leader at each table to begin the conversation.

Thank you.

 After the discussions with the Survivors and Righteous Among the Nations, we were thrilled to have Vera Goffman sing with us. Vera was born in 1936 in Bobruisk, which is some 90 miles southeast of Minsk. During the Second World War, as a five-year old girl, she was evacuated to Uzbekistan with her mother. She graduated from Brest Music College and is the lead of our Hesed Minsk Choir. Her singing was beautiful.

If you want to receive this blog on a regular basis by email (about twice a week, depending on what else I'm up to), sign up in the top-right box where it says "follow" ...

No comments:

Post a Comment