I have said and written this before. When things in the world seem so huge and so out of control, we as individuals can begin to feel small, inconsequential, or even helpless. But there are a few things we can do, and while we likely cannot change the world’s problems by taking to the internet in desperation, I think we can impact lives and the troubles of the world by acting “locally.”
I recently read that the most important thing that a Jewish person can do to deal with anti-Semitism is to be involved, in a positive way, with neighbors and communal affairs. In many communities this is natural. Our community in Boca has developed in such a way that our lives are pretty segregated. That may be comfortable, but it may have consequences.
In my younger years, I was particularly aware of the fact that my grandmother, a refugee from Nazi Germany who lost many family members at Auschwitz, continued positive relations with her neighbors, co-workers, and even former neighbors from Germany who were not Jewish. Her actions taught me important lessons.
I was sent the attached film about the grandson of Rudolph Hess. I recall vividly, on my two visits to Auschwitz, standing at the gate to Hess’ home. It is simply unbelievable that he raised a family on the grounds of Auschwitz. But the family was protected by a gate. And all semblances of normalcy were kept alive as Hess went off to work as an evil beast, murdering hundreds of thousands. This 18 minute film captures the power of the “gate.” It shows how the gate can keep a family protected from the suffering outside. Like so many stories of people we know, it can also breed resentment and prejudice. Nothing educates like experience.
When our opinions are shaped by the news or the latest emails we see, there develops a tendency to generalize and compartmentalize. We need critical thinking, which demands openness to all that is written, seen and said.
This week’s parshah begins with a magnificent exchange between Moses and his father-in-law, a Midianite. And we see the power of that relationship and how much they influence each other for good. Our Torah learning should be an experience that deepens our connections to our texts and values; strengthens our attachments to our community and our people; and at the same time, opens us up to a larger world. It is a great challenge. When we become more spiritual and more understanding, our hearts and minds become more open.
The attached film also speaks to the issues of corporate (group) responsibility, how we internalize and deal with the sins of our fathers, and questions of reconciliation and creating new pathways for the future. I was very moved by it. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to watch it, and then respond…
I’ll see you in shul.
Rabbi David Steinhardt
This column is dedicated to the memory of Rubin Shafran z”l