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Peter J. Rubinstein
Our Mission as Survivors (Yom HaShoah)

Peter J. Rubinstein  |  April 18, 2012

I want to thank Susan Wagner, PJ Fitzgerald, Karen Chaikin, Baker, Peter Jakes, and Linda Drollinger for having lit these memorial tapers.  And doing so helped us relight memory.

I am aware that this commemoration of remembrance, this year especially and perhaps somewhat uniquely, which always takes place in the Jewish calendar just days after the festival of Passover, this year also quickly follows the celebration of Easter.  Therefore, it is for both Christians and Jews that this is a season of renewal.  A time when nature itself blossoms forth but also when each of our religious traditions embody and retell a fundamental story of deliverance.

Deliverance, a core narrative of our religious existence.  For Jews, the Pesach/Passover narrative is not only a tale of once history long ago.  It is not only the tale of a group of slaves bereft, bewildered, and worn, who made their way out of a land of terror and brutality into the freedom of the desert.

It is not only the story of a people who there, clenched between the jaw of a vice, the chasing armies of Pharaoh, and the other jaw of the vice, the depths of the Red Sea, and as they stood there, they wondered, how could it ever be that there would be another day?  Not even a brighter day, just another day.  And so we know the end of that story: the Sea opened, our people passed through.

But you see, that tale is not only a story once told, for for the Jew, it becomes a metaphor.  A metaphor for our personal lives, each of us, in our personal lives.  A metaphor as well for the accumulated history of our people.

For it is our belief that our survival, in fact perhaps, the very reason we are still here, alive, in this synagogue, that this is an assertion that we, the Jewish people, have a mission, which though we would never have chosen it to be so, nevertheless that mission has passed us throughout our history into the cauldrons of human evil, the disastrous engulfing flames of human hatred, and the gas chambers and the fire pits of human brutality.

And yet… and yet… so much in our history that word,  “yet.”

We Jews arose from sorrow and tears to proclaim,  “We are here.” We will not forget, though we have suffered, we will never lose our dreams, never forsake our hope, never ever surrender our mission. Though we have been beaten, we will not live as victims, and forever be the prey upon which the murderer lives. Though we have suffered, we will never lose our dreams and our hope. Though we have been beaten and decimated, we will not stay silent. And that is our mission.

And it is not coincidental that those who envision this Yom HaShoah place, this Holocaust Memorial Day, in the Jewish calendar exactly between Passover, which ended just six days ago, that story of bondage and deliverance, and then on the other side Yom Ha-Atzma-ut, Israel’s Independence Day, which is eight days hence.

The passage from Holocaust to Israel, in some way the symbol from death to rebirth, the metaphor from tragedy to renewal, is not a coincidence for us.  To the contrary, it is our life story.

It is not, as Elie Wiesel warns, that the Holocaust and the creation of Israel can explain each other, for one does not explain the other.  One cannot justify the other.  Whoever connects Israel to the Holocaust as a reason moving from cause to result is doubly guilty of blasphemy.

So then what is the link between the Holocaust and the creation of Israel?  Well, we are that link.  We, the survivors.  We, the witnesses.  We are all, Christian or Jew, both survivor and witness, and even those who were born after the events took place.

So if this event this evening has meaning, I believe it is this: we were all there.  We are still all there, standing alongside all of them, in the light as well as in the darkness, in the tragedy as well as in the triumph, in the hopelessness and in the redemption.

We are here to sing and to vow that nothing, nothing will make us afraid.  We are here to raise again the banner of a better world.  We are here to tell the story of annihilation in order to protect the future from those who would dare try again.  We are here to proclaim to all Creation that all of us, we Jews and we Christians in this Sanctuary, will stand together with our hands and our hopes held high, with visions and dreams still intact and powerful.

We who have fashioned our lives even this evening to bear witness to the best of human aspirations and goodness, we with an oath once taken, now renew it: Never again.  Sometimes it will be on the wings of angels, but it will always be carried aloft by our voices and our prayers and it will give us strength.

From the core of our being, the heart of our faiths, we take measure of the words of Pastor Derr, that if not for the accident of history, some of us may have been the perpetrators of evil, some of would have been the victims.  We all stand with them.

And so, from the core of our hearts, and the heart of our faiths, together you and I have made a promise that we will repair this world this broken world of ours, and we will raise up the memories and raise up the fallen and we will free the captives and we will always believe l’shanah haba’ah b’Yerushalayim—that there will be, there is going to be, there needs to be a better day.

And despite all who would tell us otherwise, all who would beat humanity from our breast, all who would take our lives and imprison us, in the face of it all, we still say “Ani Ma’amin”— “I believe in the coming of the Messiah.”  Even though we hurt, I believe there will be a better day.

Thus it shall be.  With our strength and God’s help.  Amen.

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