Latest update: May 21st, 2013
My column usually focuses on guiding and advising those who have difficulty navigating the turbulent waters that challenge their personal lives. From time to time I depart from that format to comment on the issues that affect our very lives as a people. Of late this has occurred more frequently than usual. Events are unfolding so rapidly that before we can absorb one, another befalls us.
Most of us opt for the easy way out. We shut our eyes, close our ears, and just glide along. I realize some of my readers may have grown tired of my sounding the alarm through this column, but just the same I am writing again for I know we dare not remain silent and must feel the responsibility to raise our voices.
Some years ago I came across an old Jewish newspaper printed in Warsaw in the early thirties. Incredibly, there was no mention of the dangers that loomed ahead. This despite the fact that the menacing, hateful voices of anti-Semitism could be heard throughout Europe. But then as now, people chose to ignore the warning signs. They preferred to attribute them to a few “crazy fringe fanatics,” not to be taken seriously. Even as now, they assured themselves the world had changed. “It’s not like it was in the dark ages. Today, we live in an enlightened society…people are educated and cultured. No. There is nothing to worry about. There is no reason to pay heed to a few lunatics.”
Amazingly, we never learn. Despite having known the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust, we continue to follow the same pattern. We too choose to shut our eyes and ears and lull ourselves into believing catastrophes such as occurred in the past can never again befall us. After all, we live in a democracy in which the rights of every individual are protected and guaranteed. And, moreover, Israel is a close ally of America and Washington will never abandon it.
And yet I once again invite you to consider the events of the past few months. Tragic events have befallen us, but should you say this to the average Jew, he will stare at you uncomprehendingly and wonder what on earth you are talking about.
Let us open our hearts and listen carefully. In every generation, we, the Jewish people, have loyal shepherds who champion our cause and plead on our behalf in front of G-d’s Holy Throne. These shepherds are the sages and roshei yeshiva. In the past few weeks and months, many of our loyal shepherds have been called on high. These sages spanned three continents – Europe, America, and Israel.
One after the other they were taken from our midst, including the kind, warm Bubbie of our people, Rebbetzin Batsheva Esther Kanievsky of Bnei Brak. The Rebbetzin left thousands of women mourning and feeling lost. Additionally, the eminent HaRav HaGaon HaTzaddik Nosson Tzvi Finkel, rosh yeshiva of Mir in Yerushalayim where thousands upon thousands of students have received the light of Torah, was taken from our midst, as was HaRav HaGaon HaTzaddik Dov Schwartzman of Beis HaTalmud in Jerusalem.
Again, to the average Jew, these names and titles are of little consequence, but know and make no mistake about it, these are the loyal shepherds of our people – the giants in whose merit the world is sustained. And over these past few weeks and months, they have been called home, leaving us vulnerable and challenging us to assume responsibility for ourselves and take upon ourselves a Torah way of life.
But disaster continues to befall us; just last week came the tragic accident in which two outstanding yeshiva students – Doniel King, 15, and Eli Schonbrun, 16 – were killed. The boys, together with fellow students, were on their way to their yeshiva in Connecticut when their van skidded off the road. There is no way anyone can comprehend the terrible suffering of their parents.
But even as this catastrophe struck, we learned of the lamentable accidental deaths of babies and toddlers, here as well as in Jerusalem. (And all this is unfolding before we have even begun to recover from the barbaric slaughter of our precious Leiby.)
On the very same week seventy-three years ago, the Nazis set afire Jewish synagogues and homes in Germany and Austria. Jewish businesses were ransacked and destroyed, their windows shattered and the streets paved with thousands of glittering pieces of broken glass.
Some years ago, I spoke in Washington Heights, a community populated by many Jews of German descent. An elderly gentleman shared some of his Kristallnacht experiences. ”My synagogue and my home were torched by the Nazi Youth. I called the fire department, only to be told that it was against the law to put out fires on property that belonged to Jews.”
Today, 73 years later, anti-Semitism once again rears its ugly head. In the Jewish neighborhood of Midwood, Brooklyn, cars are set on fire and swastikas and anti-Jewish obscenities are sprayed on sidewalks and benches. Even a blind man would have to see it, but we continue with business as usual.
Coincidence? Accident? What possible connection can there between the barbaric events of yesterday and those that are befalling us today?
Can it be there is a message behind it all – a message we should ponder?
(To Be Continued)Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis
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