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Lech Lecha and Respect

Compass Rose by Laya Crust

The Torah reading For “Lech Lecha” begins, “Gd said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your land, your birthplace, and your father’s house, to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation’…” (Gen. 12:1)

Three weeks ago we read about the creation of the world and the creation of humanity. There were problems. Adam and Eve, the first people, did not listen to Gd’s instructions and were punished. The first children were Cain and Abel. From feelings of anger, jealousy, and shame Cain killed his brother. The negative behaviours of humanity increased until Gd decided to wash the world clean and start again.

Noah, a righteous man was chosen to restart the community of mankind. But once again murder and disrespect became rampant in the civilization. Rather than destroy the world again Gd chose Abraham and Sarah to become the ancestors of a new and righteous nation.

“Turn your gaze towards the heavens and number the stars. if you can count them. And Gd promised him, and so shall your seed be.” (Genesis 15:5)

In Genesis chapter 13 there is a description of a quarrel between Abraham’s herdsmen and the herdsmen of Lot, Abraham’s nephew. The men were arguing over the grazing fields for their cattle. The situation could easily have gotten out of hand but Abraham used calm and wisdom to find a solution. “There should be no quarrel between you and me, and your herdsman and mine, for we are close kin. The whole land lies before you! Please, part from me. If you go north I will turn south and if you turn south, I will turn north.” (Gen. 13:8,9)

Abraham was the patriarch and Lot’s uncle. It would have been acceptable for him to choose the best land for himself. Alternatively, there could have been a skirmish over ownership of the grazing lands. Abraham’s approach was an example of insight and sympathy delivered with respect, attributes of a good leader.

In Toronto the week leading up to November 11, Remembrance Day, is Holocaust Education Week. There are hundreds of films, talks and presentations throughout the city and neighbouring communities. Millions and millions of people were exterminated because of horrible arrogance and the lack of respect or acceptance of difference. The presentations address heroism, compassion, anger, and resolution.

The understanding and calm Abraham displayed is a model we can take forward to our interactions. If everyone looked at the person across from him/her and said: “What is on their mind? How can I understand them and communicate my position respectfully?”, maybe strikes, fights, and wars could be avoided.

I guess the lesson we can learn is very basic. Everyone has their own story. Everyone has their own approach. By explaining ourselves and listening to others, problems can be solved respectfully, without anger or bloodshed.

May you have a week of joy, peace and understanding.

Laya

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Lech Lecha 5777

Image result for remembrance day poppy

Remembrance Day and the remembrance poppy

Parsha- Lech Lecha (Genesis 12- 17)

Haftarah: Isaiah  40:27 – 41: 16

This year the parsha of Lech Lecha coincides with Remembrance Day/Armistice Day (11 November) in  Canada and the United Kingdom and with Toronto’s Holocaust Education Week. Toronto’s Holocaust Education Week is scheduled to correspond to the anniversary of Kristallnacht, also known as the “Night of Broken Glass” (November 9-10, 1938). Kristallnacht was seen as the beginning of the Holocaust.

There are over 100 educational programs during Holocaust Education Week. This year I attended a number of lectures and movies. They related the stories of some of the heroes who sheltered, protected and fought to save  Jews and other peoples being liquidated by the Nazi regime. It was humbling and emotional to watch the stories of teens who put their lives at risk because they were horrified by Nazi actions and philosophies. People of all ages risked death to help others.

The partisans, the spies, the messengers thought not of themselves. They knew the Jews were caged in and marked for death. Those heroes were determined to fight the evil around them and save as many people as possible.

pesach-rishon-sig Jewish partisans from Vilna,      art by Laya Crust

It is fitting that “Avraham avinu” (Abraham our father) is featured in our Torah reading this week.

We have read about the chaos and evil that prompted Gd to flood the world and start a new group of people through Noah. Unfortunately it didn’t seem that the new people who populated the earth were much better. In this week’s parsha we read that Abraham saved his nephew Lot from the men of Sodom who had captured him and his family.

Gd chose Abraham to become the leader of a new nation, a nation that would model morality to the rest of the world.  He was told that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the heavens. Those descendants, through his son Isaac, were to be the models of morality in the world. .

Lech Lecha sig

 art by Laya Crust

 There are a number of qualities that separated Abraham from the people around him and indicated that he had a humanitarian and caring personality. Abraham and his wife Sarah are seen as the exemplars of hosting and caring for strangers. This is based on the narrative we will read next week when they entertain three men who, it turns out, are angels sent by Gd.  Next week we also read the story of Abraham’s argument/ negotiation with Gd. Abraham was told that Sodom and Gemorrah were two cities so corrupt and evil that Gd was going to destroy everyone in them. Abraham was horrified. He argued with Gd, begging Him to reconsider. He negotiated with Gd to the point that Gd agreed that if He could find as few as ten righteous people within the city the entire population would be saved.

Until that incident the people profiled in the Torah had, at best, thought only of themselves and had, at the worst, murdered others. This was the first time we saw someone willing to risk his life to save a relative.We see someone having the boldness to challenge Gd’s will. In addition we see the generosity towards strangers and a yearning from Abraham and Sarah for family.

Those are qualities that the heroes profiled during  Holocaust Education Week shared with Abraham. We can learn  so much from holocaust survivors and from their stories. Their strength and experiences are not to be ignored or forgotten. Unfortunately, as we all know, atrocities against humanity and genocide continue to this day. It has to be fought on many fronts in a variety of ways. We have to make ourselves aware of what is happening in the world and fight evil, fight for freedom, each in our own way.

If you are interested in watching some of the movies and programs that were showcased this past week I would suggest you look at the HEW program: http://holocaustcentre.com/HEW

You can see the list of movies they showed.. Many are available on you tube, in libraries, or in Holocaust Education Centres.

May this be a week of peace and memory.

Have a Shabbat Shalom,

Laya

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Holocaust Education Week

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This year is the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. For the past 35 years Toronto has hosted “Holocaust Education Week”- a week of lectures, performances, and discussions. Some of the presentations are given by survivors of the Holocaust- Jews who survived unimaginable misery- persecution, labour camps, death marches, death camps, and witnessed the murders/ executions of friends family and neighbours.

This year’s theme is “Liberation: Aftermath & Rebirth”. The title is promising, after all rebirth is something positive. However the pain and trauma continues even when there is rebirth.

The presentations have been extraordinary. (for the list of programmes go to http://holocaustcentre.com/HEW)  On Wednesday night, November 4, I attended a panel discussion entitled, “Holocaust Legacies: Born in Bergen -Belsen”. The four panelists, all of whom are Jewish, were born either in Bergen Belsen before the liberation or in the Bergen Belsen DP Camp (Displaced Persons Camp) after the liberation. They immigrated to Canada as small children. At the presentation they shared their experiences of being raised by parents traumatized by the Holocaust.

photograph of young children at the Bergen Belsen DP camp, from the JDC (American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee archives.  http://archives.jdc.org/history-of-jdc/?s=archivestopnav

Their parents didn’t have families to support them emotionally. They had to process their trauma by themselves without guidance or mentors. It wasn’t until the very public Eichmann trial in 1961  (http://remember.org/eichmann/intro ) that the extent of the Nazi atrocities became public knowledge. Until the trial survivors usually kept their stories to themselves. Often the stories were too atrocious to be believed or the survivors couldn’t bear to tell their stories. Although the blanket of silence was lifted by the trial in 1961, a majority of survivors continued to keep their pain and scars secret, causing emotional hardship for themselves and their children.

In a film clip shown at the lecture one “Bergen Belsen baby” related how people don’t understand the depth of horror of the Shoah (Holocaust). People say,  “There have been other genocides and mass murders- Hiroshima, Rwanda, Cambodia, and more…” Pondering the difference between those genocides and the Shoah are clear. The Shoah was the only genocide that was carefully planned to be the international destruction of an entire religion. It was the only genocide that degraded people to the level of a commodity to be killed and resold- reusing the clothing of victims, using hair as cushion stuffing, bones as soap, skin as lampshades, human beings as science experiments. Unbelievable, yet that was the depth of the depravity.

HEW is an amazing and important programme. We are given the opportunity to hear stories and witness history. We see before us heroism, strength, courage, optimism and growth.

With the cruelty being enacted in the world around us we can learn from the victories of those who survived. The lesson is: be strong. Do good things. Don’t stand idly by. And I think we also have to endeavour to look at the world and see the beauty around us every day.P1140276

And this is one of the best times of the year to enjoy the beauty around us.

Have a Shabbat Shalom and remember to appreciate your family, friends, freedom and the beauty of nature.

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