I’ve just read an autobiographical summary of R’ Yisroel Meir Lau, former chief rabbi of Israel. He speaks about the childhood of which he was robbed, growing up during the Holocaust.
I read how he was orphaned from his parents in his tender years. How, as a five-year old boy, he witnessed a member of the Gestapo rain down one murderous blow after another on his father.
He describes the anger, the humiliation, and the pain in seeing his father and hero beaten with a club, kicked by hobnailed boots and degraded while mustering the inhumane strength to stand upright and not beg for mercy.
I read the description of his last memory of his mother, in November 1944.
At the last second before she boarded the train leading to her death, she shoved her young son hard, over to the men’s cart, into the arms of his 18-year-old brother. Hoping that the men would be used for labor, rather than liquidated like the women and children, she shouted out her goodbyes, while instructing his older brother to take care of “Lulek,” Rabbi Lau’s childhood nickname.
Young Lulek cried pitifully and wouldn’t be comforted. He hammered his little fists on his brother’s chest giving vent to his fit of rage at being separated from his mother. Only much later would he realize that this painful separation was what saved him.
I read further his description of temporarily being separated from his older brother, his only living relative, at the age of eight. His brother’s parting words to him were to tell him that there was a land called Israel, a land “where Jews would live in peace without persecution.” He made Lulek repeat the word Israel in order to remember to make this land his eventual destination, if he survived.
As I read, I find tears stinging my eyes. I find myself crying for Lulek, crying for his father and crying for his mother, who agonizingly shoved him to the train of his freedom.
But most of all, I cry because Lulek’s story is not exceptional at all.
It is the story of so many survivors. It is “just” another Holocaust story just another one of the many, many stories of horror, terror, evil and unimaginable suffering.
And I cry because I realize that the Holocaust, though colossal in its scope, was only one saga in the many heartrending sagas of Jewish history. It is just one link in the continuing long chain of our people’s persecution, anguish and misery from tyrannical regimes.
I cry, too, out of sheer wonder how little Lulek transformed his circumstances. Rather than become filled with bitterness, skepticism, apathy or hatred, this young orphan grew up to live a life replete with meaning and optimism, dedicated to helping others, bringing goodness, spirituality and liberation to mankind.
This is not the story of Lulek. This is the story of our People.
It is the story of so many survivors − people who transformed their pain and outrage, their inhumane suffering, their eye witness accounts of scenes that no human eye should ever observe − to building a better life for themselves, for their children and for our world.
A few pages later, in this same magazine where I just read such a heroic account, I read of Hassan Nasrallah’s childhood.
I am intrigued how he, too, transformed his life from his impoverished origins in his small, poor village in Lebanon. He, too, altered his circumstances from an unsociable young child, who would escape into his own dreamworld of religious texts, to become a leader enjoying the admiration of millions in the Muslim world.
Nasrallah explains that he still enjoys reading. Nowadays, he reads biographies of Israeli leaders in order to learn about the “Zionist enemy.”
Nasrallah diligently and craftily worked his way up to the prak of leadership. However, Nasrallah’s remarkable rise to power involves recruiting and setting up terrorist cells and setting up schools for terror in Beirut. It means bombarding his “Zionist enemy” with whatever means of destruction he can muster. It means kidnapping soldiers who were walking their nightly border patrol, young boys who barely have tasted adult life.
His ascent is by wreaking havoc and destruction on the lives of thousands of peace-loving husbands, fathers, sons and daughters who just want to go about leading regular lives.
With every indiscriminate murder of a Jewish child or the Jewish elderly through his deadly Katyushas, Nasrallah further establishes his position.
Sometimes it takes a contrast to appreciate just how special, what you have is.
As this war rages in our Land, with yet another enemy in our long chain of enemies rising up to destroy us, let us take a moment to reflect on the astounding grandeur of our People.
Chana Weisberg is the author of several books, including the best-selling Divine Whispers-Stories that Speak to the Heart and Soul and the soon-to-be released book, Tending the Garden: The Role of the Jewish Woman, Past, Present and Future. She is a columnist for www.chabad.org and she lectures worldwide on a wide array of issues. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org