Yesterday in Washington DC, I returned after twenty years to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum with my first cousin who serves on the museum board. As I walked through the museum with the throngs of school groups—along the narrow corridors with the names of the decimated towns of Europe etched on the walls — the world didn’t seem that different from the world of my mother as a young girl — in Hamburg Germany in the early 30s.
It struck me in a moment of laser clarity the ways in which the leveraging of economic uncertainty, propaganda, the power of personality and speaking to a nation’s fear and insecurity have an inordinate sway on the national psyche. And I thought of my father in law–from Poland to Holland to Westerbrook to Theresienstadt to Auschwitz to several labor camps throughout Germany. Only in the last couple years has he started to share his experience, part of his precious legacy to us– his children and grandchildren. He told me recently in one of those singular moments alone that he was in Auschwitz for six weeks, and 24/7 night and day during those six weeks he saw hundreds of thousands of Jews from Hungary, train after train, without stopping, coming through, all the Jews of Hungary he saw go to their deaths. Deep in my soul I thought it may have just seemed that way to him, at that time he was a 16 year old teenager—the same age as my twins. And there it was on the walls of the museum–“between May 15 and July 9, 1944, a total of 437,402 Jews were deported from Hungary. Most were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. On some days as many as 10,000 people were killed in its gas chambers.”
As AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr aptly reminded us in his remarks at the AIPAC policy conference, we are the bridge generation. We are the last direct link to first hand transmission from the witnesses of that deep dark past. As we approach Purim, perhaps it is time to stop, pay attention and think about the future, and the sense of responsibility and obligation that is our mandate. What are the contours of the reality that we seek to leave our children and grandchildren? We are living in a critical moment in history— here in America and in Europe. Don’t leave the future to chance–find a meaningful way to impact our world from a place of passion. Personally invest in our Jewish future.
Jonathan Silver writes in his article The Book of Esther as a Manual for Jewish Survival:
Philosopher Yoram “Hazony finds three categories of political strategy that together form the book [of Esther’s] core political teaching. All three are encapsulated in one of the few lines of direct speech spoken by Mordecai to Esther at a crucial inflection point in the plot, when the fate of the Persian Jews hangs in the balance. At this moment, Mordecai tells his cousin:
If you indeed remain silent, relief and rescue will come to the Jews from elsewhere, and you and your father’s house will perish. But who knows whether, for just a time like this, you have attained royalty? (4:13-14)
From this admonition and question, Hazony extrapolates three key strategies for surviving and winning out: investment, boldness, and faith.
Hilary Clinton delivered a similar message to the 18,000 AIPAC attendees when she stated that on Purim “children will learn the story of Esther, who refused to stay silent in the face of evil. It wasn’t easy. She had a good life. And by speaking out, she risked everything.” And as I chant Chapter 4 of Megillat Esther on Purim day at a women’s prayer service in New York City, my thoughts will be of Esther’s moment of decision, of my father in law’s inner strength, our collective heritage, and how each one of us has the responsibility to shape our childrens’ Jewish future.