Rosh Hashanah Day 2 Audio
Kol Nidre Audio
Yom Kippur Day Audio
Rosh Hashanah Day 1 5778
An Arm and A Name
A sweet new year to everyone.
When you're falling in a forest and there's nobody around
Do you ever really crash, or even make a sound?
In the spring of 1945, a Red Army doctor was rummaging around the ruins of the crematoria at Auschwitz-Birkenau. She bent down and discovered a diary among the ashes. After the war, she took it with her to her home in remote Siberia, stashed it away, and it remained with her until her death in 1983. Her son took her possessions to his apartment in Moscow, where the diary stayed with him until he died in 1992 and then it remained with his wife after that. Their daughter, who had emigrated to San Francisco, found the diary during a 1995 visit. She immediately understood its significance and brought it back with her to the States, where, after a long and convoluted process, in 2015, exactly 70 years after it was discovered, the astonishing diary of fourteen-year-old Riwka Lypszyc was published in English translation.
Now in the Hebrew, you might be able to pick out a familiar phrase:
The great memorial to Holocaust victims in Jerusalem, “Yad Vashem,” “a memorial and a name,” got its name from that verse.
In the Holocaust, Jews and other victims were denied their names, and therefore their uniqueness. Well before they were sent like sheep to the slaughter, the victims were stripped of their human dignity. Their names were replaced by numbers. Their shoes, jewelry and clothing were ripped from them. Even their hair was shorn.
Even when the dark comes crashing through
When you need a friend to carry you
You will be found
Our group rode through the forests of Poland – with the omnipresent birch trees - Birkenau means birch, in fact - where Jews fell like trees, shot by SS commandos or gassed at Belzec, Treblinka and Maidanek. When a Jew falls in the forest and no one is around – do they make a sound?
"We used to have a canary. When we learned of the law prohibiting Jews to keep pets, my husband simply could not part with the bird. (...) Maybe someone informed on him, because one day my husband was called in for questioning by the Gestapo. (...) After many weeks of agony I received a note from the police that, for the fee of 3 Reichsmark, I should pick up my husband's urn."
The People of the Rope-a-Dope
"We absolutely show atrocities," the game's senior creator Bret Robbins said to Mashable. "It's an unfortunate part of the history, but you can't tell an authentic, truthful story without going there."
And so, on July 13, 2017, 22 pilgrims from Temple Beth El stood and posed for a photo under in Hitler’s stadium and under those desecrated Olympic rings. We snapped photos of his enormous bell engraved with his damn swastikas.
The paradigm for this was the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians in 586 BCE, resulting in utter devastation in Jerusalem and the exile of a significant amount of the population. In 520, following the conquest of Babylonia by Cyrus the Great of Persia in 538, the sacrificial cult resumed in what was to become the Second Temple, whose construction was completed in 515, almost exactly 70 years after the original temple was destroyed. But Judaism underwent tremendous transformation during that generation, including, according to many scholars, the coalescing and editing of biblical sources into a written canon.
Psalm 121 enshrined that moment of return in saying, "When we returned to Zion, we were as if in a dream." Centuries later, the Talmud expanded on that verse with the story of Honi the Circle Drawer, who, while contemplating that verse, wondering how it is possible for 70 years to be "like a dream." He then slept for 70 years and when he awoke, this happened:
One day Honi was journeying on the road and he saw a man planting a carob tree. He asked, "How long does it take [for this tree] to bear fruit?" The man replied: "Seventy years." Honi then further asked him: "Are you certain that you will live another seventy years?" The man replied: "I found [already grown] carob trees in the world; as my forefathers planted those for me so I too plant these for my children.
In other words, Honi has learned that it takes time for the seeds of renewal to take root following a disruption. In Jewish history, 70 years seems to be the magic number.
Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492 and 70 years later, revolutionary Kabbalistic works were being composed in Safed.
The year 1648 was a dark one for Eastern European Jewry, as the Cossacks led by Khmelnitsky killed upwards of 100,000 Jews in Poland. Almost exactly 70 years later, the Baal Shem Tov introduced the Hasidic movement to Polish Jewry. In early Hasidic literature, his followers themselves draw a line from 1648 to their teacher’s career, claiming that he “awakened the people Israel from their long coma and brought them renewed joy in the nearness of God.” (Yitzchak Buxbaum, "The Light and Fire of the Baal Shem Tov" p.15)
When you study the folklore of the early Hasidic masters, you see that the Cossack massacres were still very real to them. Those tales are filled with the pathos of illness and poverty and loss – but they took that sadness, and, as Abraham Joshua Heschel explained, turned it into song. Only after 70 years could they do that. Otherwise, to sing and dance would have been to dance on someone’s fresh grave. They were considered radicals by the Jewish establishment, but their ability to innovate in the face of profound disruption is what enabled their form of Judaism to become the norm in all the modern Jewish movements.
In a few moments, when we continue the service, we’ll come to a poem with imagery that I find among the most evocative of the entire High Holidays liturgy, based on a verse from Jeremiah (18:6). It describes us as clay in the hands of a divine potter, and then the medieval poet expands on the theme to compare God with various artisans. One image that is particularly striking compares us to a tapestry, with God as the weaver. Ki Hinay KaYirah b’Yad ha Rokem –“As cloth in the hand of the weaver, who drapes and twists it at will, so are we in Your hand, righteous God.”
When I'm gone,
A rabbinic text specifically states that the righteous of all peoples have a share in the World to Come. No distinctions are drawn where it matters most. The rabbis lived in hard times – they could have easily fallen into the parochialism that is so prevalent in our world today. But they rejected that.
And our group responded by giving her a standing ovation, and wondering whether we would have been so heroic.
Take the “Zookeeper’s Wife,” a film many of us saw this year – and our group made it a point to see the Warsaw Zoo, which was just across the river from the ghetto. In it, Antonina Zabinski, the hero, states, simply, “I don't understand all the fuss. If any creature is in danger, you save it, human or animal.”
Compared to people like Miroslawa and Antonina, I’m a coward. If I were truly courageous, I would do much, much more - and I would ask you to do much, much more too.
Or the hundreds of volunteers who immediately showed up at emergency centers in Mexico City and the many aid groups trying to get into Puerto Rico to help now in that dire emergency. How we grieve for the people there!
And that garment is being woven - by us.
God is life....
Everything had been laid out for Yisrael Kristal – the good and the bad; he was born three months before the Wright Brothers first flight, so he had seen remarkable progress. But he had also seen the world’s darkest hours – and yet, and yet, he chose life.
Seventy-three percent of American Jews believe that remembering the Holocaust is a key to being Jewish, and nothing else even comes close. We need to embrace it, to embrace all of it, and as we do, to forge a new Jewish vision for ourselves and for the world.
Keep in mind that I use the term "Torah" with some deliberate irony - it is intended to provoke thought, not to show disrespect. For in the broadest sense, the word means "sacred teaching," and as a verb it connotes an ongoing, evolving process of discovery. I contend that that process of sacred discovery has been dramatically aroused by the epochal events of 70 years ago.
That passage is exactly 140 characters long - Maybe the most inspirational Tweet ever.
Because, you never know what you’re gonna get.