view from central park

They can’t break us


Over the last days of Pesach, I did not access technology for 48 hours. Afterward, I went online with curiosity. Usually it’s silly things you missed in the interim. This time was different.

A shooting at a Chabad synagogue in Poway, California? Another shul under attack? Could this be?

A blatantly anti-Semitic cartoon in the vein of Der Stürmer? At first I thought it was some kind of sick meme; I honestly didn’t register that it was an actual, published cartoon, in the New York Times no less. While I’m no fan of the paper, in my worst dreams I would not have believed the Times would stoop to publishing something that so crudely crossed the Rubicon by all definitions.

So, a shul is shot up by a right-wing white supremacist, while a left-wing bastion is purveying out-and-out anti-Semitism. There was no reprieve. It felt pervasive, coming from everywhere at the same time.

While the two events may not officially be linked, in my mind they are, primarily because of the timing. But also because — make no mistake — normalizing Jew hatred in the Times most certainly does embolden anti-Semitism and potentially lead to bloodshed.

I kept reading about the many heroes of this shul attack, including Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein. Having stood face to face with the murderer, shot at, suffering from a torn-off finger and a bleeding stub, the rabbi, like a true captain of a ship, only thought of others. Corralling kids to safety. Continuing with prayers. Most strikingly, finishing his sermon among the pandemonium, his voice rising above the terror with a piercing message to his congregation in the midst of unfolding trauma:

“We are strong! We are united! They can’t break us!”

The voice of this heroic rabbi did not stop; it was he who was shepherding us all. We all became Rabbi Goldstein’s congregation.

His words of strength, post-surgery, were simply stunning. I get up on a chair, and I scream out loud with my finger dangling and bleeding, and I say the most powerful words: Am Yisrael Chai! The Jewish people lives! The videos so poignant and tragic at the funeral of his dear friend and congregant: Today should have been my funeral. The power of his emotional appeal and message of love, strength and commitment to Yiddishkeit.

You could tell his words sprang from the well of a lifetime of love, humanity and unwavering dedication to Judaism.

I had barely caught up and processed the post-Pesach news, when suddenly the next morning the ethereal and otherworldly face of the righteous Kaliver Rebbe rose in my feed with the news of his passing. Because of the Nazi doctors’ experiments, he was unable to grow a beard. This tzaddik dedicated his life to the memory of the Holocaust and to cultivating unity among the Jewish people.

He was known for singing the Hungarian song “Szól a Kakas Már,” a melancholy song about a bird yearning for its home, understood to be a metaphor for the Jewish people.

It was the week of Holocaust Memorial Day. Already, even before the day itself, the week was tinged with sadness. So many personal snippets and vignettes began dotting my Facebook feed. “Szól a Kakas Már” became the soundtrack to the week’s sad confluence of events.

Somewhere in the middle of it all, I contemplated going to shul on Shabbat and felt nervous. I told myself, I must review the security procedures before I go.

A constant flow of personal Holocaust memories pass before me every time I turn on social media. “When my zaide was in Auschwitz…” “At the selection…” “The number on my grandmother’s arm…” “The honey cookies my grandmother’s family baked to last them through the ghetto…”

Many of these vignettes are accompanied by haunted photos, vintage black-and-white, exuding pre-World War II shtetl life. Of a time, of a family, gone by. Destroyed and severed against its will.

But as I shuffle through these heartbreaking tales of doom, one after another, the determination and anger begin to rise. We are not termites. We are not dogs. We will never take this lying down again. Never! We are as strong as ever!

Rabbi Goldstein’s words, that rang through his terrorized shul, reverberate over all. Am Yisrael is chai! The Jewish peoples lives!

“We are strong! We are united! They can’t break us!”

Copyright Intermountain Jewish News