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We Must Choose Sinai Over Auschwitz - Yom HaShoah Remarks

04/08/2021 11:52:55 AM


Rabbi Weinberg

To view the full Yom HaShoah program featuring Rabbi Weinberg and Kol Rina, please click here.

Thank you, Mary Pat, and thank you for all you do to represent the Jewish community as the President and CEO of the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum.  The museum and its mission to educate the next generation is needed now more than ever. 

Our world is reeling.  The pandemic has shocked us.  The political waters in which we try to maneuver seem un-navigable.  Wherever we look we find division; we discover another reason to splinter; we appear to be obsessed with rivalry and enmity for each other.  I wonder, where will this end?

This evening we remind ourselves where rhetoric can take us.  It led to a mad man’s Final Solution in Nazi Germany 75 years ago. 

Words.  They can heal and soothe as easily as they can enrage and incense an angry mass of people.  Words can console and inspire just as they can destroy life as we know it. 

No word in our Hebrew vocabulary bears more weight than the word- Zachor.  This evening we remember.  We recall the pain.  We refuse to let go of the horror that defined our lives such a few short decades ago. 

We retrace the steps of history.  We remind ourselves of the many choices that preceded the rise of the Third Reich.  We refuse to forget the role played by so many as the world our predecessors knew was transformed into something unimaginable. 

But, most importantly this evening we remember those brave, courageous, loving souls who remain with us- the living members of our community who have first-hand accounts of the atrocities they witnessed.   Tonight, we embrace the sanctity- the kedusha- of this moment, acknowledging the precious value of life. 

I, like many of you can see our survivors solemnly walking down the aisle of one of our shuls.  Year after year they sanctified this evening with their presence, their smiles, and their indomitable spirit, their dignified manner.  Lighting a candle, telling a story, and vowing to never forget they represent a link that will remain, forever imprinted on our people’s collective memory. 

A few weeks ago, I re-read the story of my mother’s experience during the war.  Living in Frankfurt, Germany- a privileged lifestyle with a nanny, butler and chauffeur, my grandfather owned Oppenheimer and Sons, a hat factory where he employed 150 people before the war.  My mother recalled the arguments had by my grandparents- should they flee or remain.  My grandfather, an eighth generation German, a decorated World War I officer with the Iron Cross we have in our possession, argued, “this is my country- why should we leave?!”  One day before Kristallnacht, he received a call from his war buddy, his commanding officer telling him- “get out, now!”  And, with that call on November 8, 1938, my mother and her family attempted to stay one step ahead of the advancing Nazi war machine.  The harrowing stories of her escape route, time in a deportation camp, and three years hiding in the Pyrenees Mountains form part of the lore of our family’s history.

Why do I share this story with you tonight?  For one reason, only.  My mother, like so many of the survivors whose stories we all would listen to, repeatedly refused to abandon her appreciation for the blessing of life.  Every time I hear another survivor’s story, detailing the progression of anti-semitism’s most horrific moment, I am overwhelmed with his or her ability to embrace the promise of life.  That, too was my mother’s gift to my sister, brother, and me.  I will never forget that message.  Furthermore, I know that is why, amongst other reasons, Rabbi David Hartman wrote in 1982 a short essay entitled, “Auschwitz or Sinai?” 

Yes, we will never forget.  But, we refuse to see the world, exclusively through the lens of Auschwitz.  We are reminded, we must never use the moral argument associated with Auschwitz to assume a superior position to our brothers and sisters with whom we share this experience we call life.  The only way we can afford to distinguish ourselves is with our actions, with our sense of morality, with an unyielding dedication to what is right, and good, and holy in this world.  

The words of Sinai, the holy texts of our people, the ethical principles that have inspired men and women across this globe throughout history must remain our anchor.  May we, the people of the book never lose sight of the rich tradition that is ours.  Our sense of justice, our sense of righteousness has been a beacon of light throughout history.  Now, we, the next generations must bear that torch with pride and passion.

May the lessons taught by our survivors remain fresh and inspirational to each and every one of us.  May their appreciation for life with all of its promise ever resound in our souls, compelling us to live our lives as a legacy, as a testimony to them- striving to heal where there is hurt, to unite where there is division, to support where there is strife, and to inspire where there is despondency, and to recognize promise and opportunity where others prefer to see failure. 

Our world needs us, every one of us.   

Yhi zichram baruch- may their memories always be for a blessing.

Wed, August 17 2022 20 Av 5782