The Number One

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I had just walked into Shul on Simchat Torah morning and was immediately enveloped in numbers. One hundred. Two Hundred. Hundreds. Several Hundred.

Now, not even a month later, though we have more clarity on these figures, sadly, they keep climbing. Almost a thousand. Over a thousand. Fourteen Hundred.

Then there’s the other set of numbers. Hundreds. Two Hundred. Over Two Hundred. Two Hundred Plus. Two Hundred Thirty Nine. Two Hundred Forty. Plus.

If you’re anything like me, the numbers are difficult to internalize.

I realized many years ago that numbers are complex for me because I don’t entirely understand their significance. 200 and 100 are different – one is twice the other. But 1400 and 1401? They’re practically the same.

But they’re not.

Not at all.

This is the message that I’ve shared with every group I’ve led through Auschwitz. Birkenau. Treblinka. Majdanek. Belzec. Plascow. Terezin. Every ghetto and every cattle car.

The numbers can sometimes be so staggering that they’re incomprehensible. Six million? How much is six million? Is it the same as six million minus one?

Every single number matters because every number is a person. A mother. A father. A son. A daughter. A neighbor. A friend. A pharmacist. A mail carrier. A person you pass in the street. A human being.

I beg of you – don’t marginalize a single number.

Focus on the most important number of all – The Number One.

One Victim. One Hostage.

Stop scrolling. Read each profile. Stare into each person’s eyes. Learn their names.

One. Plus One. Plus One. Plus Another. Plus More. Plus Many. Plus Too Many… But still, one at a time. Every single One matters.

Statistics are essential, but numbers are not. We’ve already learned what happens when people are stripped of their identities and assigned numbers instead.

About the Author
Yitzy Spinner is the Cantor at Great Neck Synagogue. He travels the world to teach about our prayer traditions, Nusach, and its history.
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