For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.
(Amanda Gorman – The Hill we climb)
Landing in Rio de Janeiro is always an astonishing experience. The city, known fairly as the Marvelous City, “Cidade Maravilhosa”, indeed deserves this nickname. Surrounded by mountains and the beauty of the sea, the spectacular view from the window plane is soothing. Rio is also home of the second biggest Jewish community in Brazil, with almost 20.000 Jews, after São Paulo, the home of the biggest community in Brazil.
Last December I flew to Rio de Janeiro to take part at the opening of Rio’s Holocaust Monument.
Located at the top of the hill “Morro do Pasmado”, it reveals an amazing landscape that overlooks Guanabara Bay, Pão de Açucar and Corcovado. Despite the fact that exposition is not yet opened to the public, we got some idea of what this impactful site will represent to Rio de Janeiro’s landscape, tourism circuit and, above all, the significance for Jewish community in Brazil and the broader society.
Rio de Janeiro Holocaust Memorial is headed by my good friend and mentor, Mr. Alberto Klein who is also the President of Rio`s Jewish Federation.
It was built thanks to the efforts of late Congressman Gerson Bergher OBM and his wife, City councilwoman Theresa Bergher. It was made possible thanks to a venture between Rio de Janeiro municipality and Jewish community businessmen and companies, among them Safra Bank, Cyrela, Daycoval Bank, Multiplan and many others. The Consulate of Germany also financed this endeavor.
This is not the first Shoah’s Memorial site in Brazil. Curitiba houses the first one of its kind in Brazil. São Paulo also has a dedicated Museum to honor the victims and educate the next generations about different teachings and values we need to learn from this atrocity: discrimination, diversity, coexistence and tolerance.
I have visited different Holocaust Memorials around the World, but there is something impactful and, at some point, defiant in Rio’s Memorial experience. It is very hard to get exposed to the evil, the wickedness, the atrocity and the destruction and walk just a few meters and contemplate the view of Rio de Janeiro natural beauty.
The contrast between death and life, despair and desire, abnegation and embracement is shocking. This huge rotation of emotions paralyzes ourselves. It challenges and provokes our understanding, calling us to react and to respond against the distortion of the good and the right.
The immediate echo that comes to my mind is the voice of King Salomon: “God made men plain, but they have engaged in too much reasoning” (Ecclesiastes 7:29). In his deep and profound understanding, Shlomo haMelech is reminding us about the intrinsic good of mankind, the intimate beauty of life and the perfect harmony of Creation.
God’s ‘State of art’ work with all its perfection, beauty and balance is the default of our existence. If something is going wrong, man is called to act and to respond, to fix and to reshape, to complement and to improve.
This concept makes a clear statement and has a direct intimation to mankind: you shall take care of the World, you need to protect and preserve its purity and beauty.
As the Midrash (Kohelet Rabbah 7:13) says: “When the Blessed Holy One created the first human, He took him and led him round all the trees of the Garden of Eden and said to him: “Look at My works, how beautiful and praiseworthy they are! And all that I have created, it was for you that I created it. Pay attention that you do not corrupt and destroy My world: if you corrupt it, there is no one to repair it after you.”
From this perspective, the main question about the Shoah continues to inquire where mankind was, instead of where God was! The voice and the claim regarding men’s apathy and connivance with destruction, outraging the balance of His benevolence, sounds as a clear statement and invitation.
When we foresee death, perversity and destruction, we need to realize that this is a distortion and not the standard. We can’t come to terms with suffering, pain and grief. The beauty of the World reminds us about the vitality of life, impels us to search and to act, to revolt and to protest against the wicked and the immoral.
In my opinion, looking and contemplating nature reminds us the Heaven’s call of the purity, holiness and beauty of life. It is an ultimatum for us to care and guard the World, the existence and to struggle for the good to prevail.
The imperative of this call is similar to the oath we are commanded to assume before we come to this World “Be righteous and do not be wicked” (Talmud Bavli Niddah 30b), meaning that we need, during our lives, to guarantee that the good prevails and overcomes the evil. This is not only in the individual perspective, but also in the collective and national dimension.
Year after year, the remembrance of the Shoah invites and demands from us to look at our lives with a deeper sense of purpose and a strong commitment to partner with God, ensuring that humankind will never again forego its humanity and its Divine image.
With deep gratitude to my aunt, Rosely Strulovic Levy, for the English review.