Project Preservation: Journal 5

It is hard to believe that the Cemetery appears as it does. I wish I had a photograph but they are with other students that would show you what the Cemetery looked like before and how it appears now. The transformation is nothing short of miraculous.

I can’t explain how it appears and the saying that one picture is worth a thousand words would be an understatement. Imagine having an online history that reported only 100 stones at the most being there. After you work, and clear the brush, you are able to document close to 500. Imagine only have perhaps 50 stones visible, but after clearing the brush, the weeds, the overgrowth, you discover an additional 450. As we looked over the landscape of the cemetery from on top, it was a beautiful image – it was as if we brough this Jewish Cemetery of Lutowiska to life; to a sacred remembrance.

The people who go on this trip, I refuse to call them students on this journal entry, were the best of what humanity; keeping in mind that there are individuals from very diverse non-Jewish backgrounds, as well as Jews from different denominations. I cannot explain how they formed as a team, with no complaining, no sense of drudgery, only a sense of the sacred and smiling. It is a very moving, very powerful experience to bear witness to this.

One last story – I will write more later.  At 3:15, we were truly done. These young people were raking, picking up loose sticks – stuff that would make no difference – the land is very rough – not landscaped at all, save for the steps and gate that we are installing as well as a modest wooden fence. I tried to get them to stop and they wanted to keep working. I told them what was more important was for them to stop and to appreciate what they had done. To take one moment and to look out over the beautiful Cemetery and to let sink in what they had set-forth. All of us were very moved by what had been done to remember and to honor a Jewish community that was no more but now is in the hearts and minds of all us and represented physically in the work we have done these last four days. Perhaps a great lesson for us all. Once we looked over beautiful rows upon rows of stones, we felt this sense of completion and we stopped for good.

Much has been written about Dartmouth this past year, some not so favorable. This story will not see a wide distribution, because it strives to be modest, humble, and speak to a greater truth than what could ever be reported. The truth is that there are people in this world who want to act, to feel, the depth of their humanity. Nothing could be more divine than this.

Shalom in the deepest most spiritual sense of the word,

Rabbi

Project Preservation: Journal 4

Today is our last day at the site. To give you some sense, research showed only about 100 (actually quite a good number) of headstones at the Jewish Cemetery in Lutowiska. In fact, there are most likely over four hundred. Between one student and me, we have recorded close to that many with today’s work still awaiting. I suspect that I will do another 100 today, with photographs. While some are not legible, there are a treasure trove.

Some may see little point to doing this and at times there is a certain drudgery/dullness to this type of work. At the age of 61, it is getting a little harder to do this, physically. I don’t mean in the sense of stress, but just getting up and down off the ground, because you have to move from one headstone to the next to transcribe the stones by hand. Usually, this means sitting down in front of one stone, then getting off one’s “tuches” and moving to the next the stone that is close to it. These cemeteries are not laid out with smooth rows, but rather are often on a hill and the rows have to be somewhat imagined. You do this one hundred times a day, you get a little tired – or rather the joints don’t move quite as nimbly as they did say 13 years ago. I knew I should have started Yoga when I was young enough to benefit from it. Well, I sometimes end up leaning against another headstone or even, as one student chastised me actually somewhat resting part of my body on one headstone while documenting another. This student thought it was disrespectful, and though not intended, I could see where one might think it so. One gets used to working in any situation and the task becomes chol – ordinary and you just lose the sensitive side of this aspect of work. Personally, I still don’t see anything wrong with doing this, because the work needs to get done and I imagined that if the person were alive whose headstone I am now resting on, I don’t think he/she would mind at all. He/she would be hospitable and friendly. Sounds somewhat strange, I know, but working anywhere brings a certain ordinariness to it. I don’t understand how, at least depicted on television, how physicians can do surgery while listening to music, but my impression is that some do, or sometimes engage in simple conversation while performing a procedure they do many many times a day.

Anyway, I’ve tried to be more conscious of this in going forward.

I’ve written before about student resiliency – understanding the nature of this project and yet each night enjoying themselves. Last night, I walked over to where they were staying (I stay separate from the students – they are in this beautiful home and I have a studio apartment about a half mile away. When I arrived they were celebrating the birthday of one of the students, and had downloaded “Fiddler on the Roof” – a favorite of many of our students. They also had danced Havah Nagilah, hoisting the birthday celebrant on a chair (the gentleman was not Jewish). The house dog tried to join in I am told, but didn’t quite know how to dance and kept kind of nipping at the ankles of the students.

They then tried to imitate the dance scene from the engagement celebration – l’chayim – replete with balancing empty bottles on their head – one particular student was especially adept at this – amazing really – and danced to it. They were having fun amidst this project of sacred remembrance. To me, it was healthy – true to the song – a sign of life and promise and that what one must remember at all times is the pure joy and fun of living.

I can’t fully explain why this particular project has lasted as long as it has, but I do know its voluntary nature and student attraction to it that sustains it over the years. It says a great deal about an aspect of Dartmouth students that often does not get reported on the news. But so be it. There are many half-truths that can be found in this age of massive access to information.

Time is drawing near for breakfast – the food here is rich in carbohydrates (a vast understatement), but the bread is delicious. But lots of walking,  schlepping my body off the ground over a hundred times a day, render carb counting ridiculous. It is a sunny day for a change here. It was cold and damp on Sunday and Monday was a little better, but today is beautiful – the truth is each and every day has that potential and today is no exception.

Last names that we have recovered include “Mannes” (we have two Dartmouth students who bear that name) and “Wolf” (my wife’s maiden name). Interesting, most of the male names are biblical (e.g. Joseph, Yitzchak (Isaac), while the women names tend to be Yiddish (e.g. Gitel and Fraeda).  I will write more later.  Have a wonderful day and thank you for all your support.

Project Preservation: Journal 3

On our arrival at the Jewish Cemetery of Lutowiska, Poland, we gathered and recited the Shechiyanu. This is no small thing because keep in mind that half of the group is not Jewish. It is a blessing that of thanking G-d simply for the opportunity to be present in this time and in this space. We were thanking G-d, Jew and non-Jew alike, for this opportunity to restore and to remember people, a community, for the first time in perhaps quite a while.

It seemed that everyone instinctively knew what to do because the orientation was so minimal. I had not experienced this before. Normally, it takes a morning to get oriented, divide the work tasks accordingly and being sensitive to the fact that not everyone may be sufficiently instructed to simply pick a bucket, fill it with water, and begin cleaning headstones, or begin transcribing, or begin clearing the weeds and overgrowth. Yet, I would say within a half hour at the very most, everyone was busy working.  I felt very much like Tom Sawyer. Perhaps that feeling is a sign of good management – your job being to make sure everyone else is doing the work, while you actually contribute very little. I would have been terrible on a kibbutz  – would have been kicked right out to fend for myself in the real world. Perhaps this is why I became a Rabbi – just playing around – remember this is a journal.

We worked throughout the day and made significant progress.  We were going to stop at 3:00 p.m. to get ready for Shabbat, but people actually wanted to stay and work, so we did till 4:00 p.m., except for our leader and a few others who left to go home and make Matzo ball soup for Shabbat.  Everyone worked beautifully. There was one team that actually chastised me for something I had said at one of the info sessions and that I had repeated on the first of the 10-week seminars for Project Preservation that preceded this trip. I told them that they would not be having fun – that the work was hard and that the work was not like going to a country and providing much needed material or resources for those who were impoverished.

One group of students reminded me of this and then said, “Rabbi you lied to us. You told us that we would not have fun on this trip. We are enjoying ourselves and the work is fun and meaningful.” Please understand – those who are reading this – that this was said in a most positive and respectful fashion, and not some trite comment. These young men and women were working hard, clearing brush, making huge piles of branches, grass and overgrowth to then be taken off the cemetery, washing headstones, and so forth. To have such a positive attitude after hours of working was for me remarkable. See, in this instance, it is not those who have such thoughts or feelings that I would be concerned about. It would be over the one who was so serious, so moved by it, that the actual work could not be done.  Inherently, without every saying another word, one knows it is serious.

But for these Dartmouth students, it was becoming, a labor of love. True, we have three more days of such work, but such an attitude is one of the rewards of being a Rabbi – to see such goodness of heart. They were, and I remind them of this, performing an act of g’milut hesed – an act of loving kindness which in our tradition is similar to doing something purely out of the goodness of one heart. In our tradition, we say that on three things does the world rests, and one of those areg’milut hasadim – acts of loving kindness.

I encourage students throughout the trip to bring their own faith traditions to the experience. At every service or gathering, I want to bring those things that we share in common together to help us realize that we are both different and yet the same – diversity has its inherent contradictions and appreciating both creates a sense of shalom – wholeness and holiness. One young woman who was Hindu spoke of her tradition’s burial customs. Of course, we think because Hindus believe in reincarnation, we wrongfully conclude that Hinduism and Judaism have little in common. Not so – there is a mourning period (the Talmud recounts that there were in the community “community mourners” who would come and wail – this is true in Hinduism). There is a period of mourning similar to that of Judaism as well as a remembrance on the anniversary of the death. All these things represent difference but springs from our common humanity. Beyond the theology, the beliefs and so forth, there is that element of the grieving heart when there is profound loss.

One man was so moved he suggested that on Sunday morning we sing at the start “We shall Overcome” – the hymn – indeed the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement. I was profoundly moved and said we would only do so if he thought it was appropriate. I am hoping that we will – I trust that we will – and that we would do so at the dedication of the Jewish Cemetery upon completion.

I have written enough for now. Later, perhaps in journal entry 4, I will describe a Shabbat in Lutowiska that perhaps has not been done in quite a while and what that meant to all of us.

Project Preservation: Journal 2

As perhaps many can tell, I write in a sort of stream of consciousness, unfiltered, leaving some perplexed as to what I am writing about. I was told by some early on that even though there were often misspellings and poor grammar, nonetheless this style had an impact on the reader. Hence, if there is a need for further clarity, one can always email. The writing does not stand alone as some “work of art” or “series of essays” but rather an attempt to explain the inner-world of this experience to so many who have made this journey possible – especially the students who are the essence of Project Preservation.

Project Preservation is about the past informing the hearts of each generation of students who experience it. In this regard, it is not so much about the exploration of the past, but how the past can inform our future.  What is a human being capable of doing to another human being? As a species on this earth, what is it that makes us who we are and how do we know “when to put the brakes on” when things have the potential to go bad. It is difficult to do this on an individual basis, for how many of us have had extraordinary difficulties occur because a series of choices that had we “put the brakes on”, knew when to stop, we would have spared ourselves much pain and much difficulty. But this is what it means to grow, to sacrifice, and most importantly, to learn so as to make things better for the future. Imagine a group of people or a nation whose people have been taught since childhood to respect and to obey authority – the institution of the State. How hard it must be to “stop something” when things go bad, no matter how much we desire things to be different? This is not an excuse, but rather a lesson: to know that our decisions that shape the course of our lives and those around us are based on a sensitivity, a morality as it were, that while not perfect, takes into serious account the “other” and the “thou” in our lives as sacred.

 

I wrote yesterday about the new Jewish Exhibit in one of the buildings that comprise Auschwitz I.  For those unfamiliar, Auschwitz I was first a Polish Army camp built either right before or after World War I (not important enough for me to google at this time).  It was in the Polish town of Oswiecim.  In 1939, after the German invasion, the SS took it over and gave it the German name Auschwitz. (It was later referred to as Auschwitz I after Auschwitz II (Birkenau) was built. There is an Auschwitz III which was a slave labor camp built right next to an “industrial complex” called Monowitz.)

The Germans converted it into a prisoner-of-war and political prisoner camp. It was quite brutal then as it was even more so later on. Some of the early gas experiments were done there. Prisoners were on a starvation diet, so survival lasted no more than a few months. Few were ever released from there. Mengele and others performed their hideous and vile medical experiments at Auschwitz I. The camp expanded in or around 1942, as Germans continued their march to conquer Eastern Europe and Russia. Under the directorship of Rudolf Hoess, who was under the supervision of Heinrich Himmler, the camp broke ground about .6 km away from Auschwitz I in the town of Birkenau. This became Auschwitz II and was both a labor camp and a death camp with four gas chambers and crematoria by the end of the war. 1.2 million Jews died there.

 

Yad Vashem designed a new Jewish exhibit at Auschwitz I (I believe it is in or near Block 27). It is quite moving in design and content. It showed films of Jewish life in various parts of Europe. Many of them seemed to be home movies of Jewish communities in the Netherlands, Germany, Poland and the like. These showed happier times for our people, the Jewish people, to be sure prior to the war. Men and women and children were shown dancing the Horah and becoming Zionists in the process. This was at the start of the exhibit. In another room, there was a film sequence that showed the rise of Nazism within Germany, the massive support, the speeches by Goebbels and Hitler, decrying the Jews as vermin and Bolshevists and how the world would thank them for ridding it of the Jewish people. Awful how people could hear such words and how they give ovation after ovation. Hard to watch and fathom this.

We then moved to another room where survivors recounted life in the ghettos, how they survived the death camp and the death marches.  But as I wrote in my previous journal, the printed word of over 4,000,000 names of people who perished in the Shoah was on large laminated sheets of paper. I have no idea as to how many. I can’t describe it accurately. The print on each page was quite small. Each page, in small print, contained the names of so many human beings who once lived. I found it so interesting that at the end, rather than the technology that could have easily been handled by computer and bytes of information, we were forced to manually look and see the names of so many until we found the names of potential ancestors. This is where our students, the ones who have learned in the age of computers and instant access to information and thus unused to the dictionary-like search only on a more massive scale, were brought to the tears that I wrote of in the previous journal entry. This was a strange and most moving thing to bear witness and one that I have not fully grasped as to why these young people, whom I will never fully understand what on earth would make them want to go on a journey of this kind.

And yet, though I do not understand at a deep level why anyone would want to experience such pain and such connectedness to a world that is no more – what once was is no more – finding its end in the vast emptiness of Auschwitz – nonetheless there was this moment, perhaps one of the most profound in my 14 years of coming here that I have had such a privilege to write and tell of my own eyes of their tears, of their sorrow, as they bonded with this past. Because you see, it is ultimately about sacred remembrance and testament – sacred testament – this work of 4,000,000 names alongside the other 2,000,000 who are not to be found among these pages, who perished. But they have not been forgotten – they are mourned, Kaddish is being said for them, and that is no small thing in the context of the universe, not world, that we live in. It has a meaning that only G-d fully comprehends, for we cannot. However we, who have lived for so long, know that the future rests well in their capable young hearts, minds and hands and will so long as there are people searching for even a name and a town that they know instinctively once existed and will now bear witness within the depths of our souls.

Project Preservation: Journal 1

Yesterday was Auschwitz. On the plane journey, we met up with a group of young Catholic students who were coming from Green Bay, Wisconsin.  The priest, a nice young man, explained to us the nature of their pilgrimage. Touring, hiking, learning of the life and times of Pope John Paul II were all a part of this trip. He explained further that they would most likely go to Auschwitz a few days after arriving, depending upon weather. I explained to them the nature of our visit. Seeing that we had little in common and perhaps sensing that we would go to a place in our conversation where we did not have the kind of time needed, as well as perhaps his desire not to “go there”, there was the typical uncomfortable silence; perhaps an uncomfortable silence that both of us knew (I am terribly projecting) would lead to the gulf that separated me from them.

I know about ecumenical dialogue and the need for people from all traditions to be at peace with one another. The Psalms and our tradition invoke us to, demand us, to be at peace with those around us; to love our neighbor as ourselves. In history, however, such has not been the case. Poland for me is a return to pay homage to two inescapable facts. One is the enormous influence the people who came from a world which is no longer (as one Holocaust survivor, Leon Wells, wrote in his book “Shattered Faith” – once what was is no more) has had on me. As I grow older, I realize the separation between me and the gentleness, the kindness, the love of Judaism (yiddishkeit) that they had is something that I try to emulate, but as I explained to a student who was doing a profile of me for a class, I feel that I fall far short and that is a true shame for those whom I serve as a Rabbi. The people who nurtured my Jewish n’shama – their family members, relatives, their communities from which they came that taught them no longer exist. I am more aware of what that means today for me and for the people who I serve, than when I began these journeys some 13 years ago.

This may be idealized to some extent. Their world was tough, difficult, and uncertainties that I can’t even begin to image amidst my own comfort and security in Hanover, New Hampshire. However, so be it. It does not take anything away from the truth of what I have written. I know who my teachers were and I know the world from which they came, even if I may not be able to explain just how I know this. I say it with the same level of certainty that I have with others matters that are logically inexplicable, but nevertheless are true, not in some kind of relative sense – it is my truth as a colleague once spoke about the truth that each person experiences (it is true for them) – but existential truth.

The other is the vast emptiness that comes from the experience of Auschwitz if one allows oneself to feel, as I did yesterday. One climbs the tower that looms over Birkenau (Auschwitz II), and you see the vast empty spaces defined by the barbed wire fences, the railway platform, and the burned down huts that housed 100,000 prisoners at any given time. In the distance, the far end of the platform, one can barely see – one can – the destroyed remains of Crematoria II and III. Other than people walking to the various parts of the camp, there is emptiness that somehow for me, signifies the symbolic end of a world that is no more. The Germans and their collaborators saw to this and in this succeeded – an almost bizarre word in this context. Their success produced only emptiness.

These two experiences of Poland separate me from my Catholic counter-part. His bringing high school students to Poland have created a deep sense of appreciation for the life of their Pope. Auschwitz is only a small piece of this amidst the looming cathedrals that ‘adorn’ the Polish landscape as it has been for centuries. It is celebration with a minimal emphasis on just what took place at Auschwitz. I suspect that the focus will be on those Polish Catholics who lost their lives there, an important piece to be sure. The tragedy of the Jews will be experienced by the students, and that is good, and for some, it may be overwhelming lead them to question more deeply the nature of humanity and its institutions.

But for me, and perhaps for the students on this trip, I can’t really speak for them; the journey is far less a pilgrimage. It is rather a time to mourn, a time to reflect, and it was yesterday, as we quietly walked the grounds of Auschwitz in our own solitude, recited the 23rd Psalm led by a non-Jewish student and the shema led by a Jewish student. The recitation of the Kaddish was done by everyone; all at the Pool of Ashes adjacent to Crematorium II.

The tears, however, waited until the very end. At the near conclusion of the tour of Auschwitz I, there is a new Jewish exhibit. At its end is a series of huge laminated paper that contains, in alphabetical order, the names of 4,000,000 Jews who perished. Many of our students looked up their last names and the tears flooded in such a way that I had never seen before at Auschwitz, filling the vast emptiness that was seen and felt during our time there. There, in an adjoining room, we once again said Kaddish. This was part, an essential part of our pilgrimage.

Virtues and Repentance

As a young-person, especially during my teen years, my parents would often lecture me about something I had done that they disapproved.  In the course of that the discussion, I would point out a contradiction in their lives.  The very thing that they were telling me not to do, they had done.  If they were in a decent mood (to be understood as not being punished for talking back), they would eventually grow exasperated and say, “Don’t do as I do, do as I say.” Of course there are all kinds of variants, such as “And see, I was wrong. You should learn from my mistakes which is actually saying the same thing, but in a way that lowers the risk of either door-slamming or that special know it all non-verbal response that children are so fond of using in their arsenal.

Now whenever they would say that, I would, at a minimum, say to myself and if felt particular brave say alound, “When I have children, I promise to never say use that “great teaching.”  I am not going to be a hypocrite.

Of course, now having raised two children, my yearly על חטא list includes the above as well.  Ahh – the more things change the more they stay the same.  Underlying, what I hope is this intentionally humorous introduction is the idea that what we try to live by versus how we actually live can be the tension between the dream of an ideal and the real one in which we live.

Last night, I spoke about the virtues that our ancestors held dear, such that the Community would engrave their headstones and remember them for good.  If we read those stones carefully, it was not so much about actions that the person did in his or her lifetime, but rather about the underlying sense of extraordinary character from which a life was based.  A person who has loving-kindness in his or her heart will do deeds that reflect this sensitivity to another soul.  If one is תם– pure or innocent – then he or she will do everything possible to avoid hurting another human being. A woman who is צנועה – modest – will act in ways that will always focus on the needs of other, rather than her ego.

I want to be clear.  I do not believe that these individuals lived their entire lives and never erred.  I do believe that they tried. Many days were spent living by these virtues.  However, most important is that these are the qualities that our ancestors extolled and lived by until the genocide of 1941 overtook their world and their descendants.

This leads us to the question of Jewish greatness.  What does it take to be a great human being from the vantage point of our Torah and Judaism?  Let me describe one such human being, Rafael Lemkin.

Biography

Rafael Lemkin was born on June 24, 1900 in Bezwodne, a village near the town of Grodno, Belarus.  Majoring in linguistics at the University of Lviv (now part of the Ukraine), he became interested in crimes against people, with a particular emphasis on the massacre of the Armenians.  He later became a prosecuting attorney in Warsaw and continued to pursue his interest in international crimes.  When the war broke out, he joined the Polish army, was injured, but managed to flee to Lithuania, where he secured a Sugihara visa and gained passage into Sweden and a year later, in 1941, with the help of a colleague, entered the United States, where he served on the law faculty at Duke University.

Despite his efforts, he was unable to save his family and all forty-nine of his relatives.  All of them perished in the Shoah.  He would dedicate the remainder of his life to work towards seeing to it that this would never happen again in the history of humankind.

In 1944, he wrote a monumental work entitled “Axis Rule in Occupied Europe” which became the basis for the Nuremburg Trials.  It is here, the term “genocide”- a word created by Lemkin- makes its first appearance and is defined.   Here is how he described genocide, except I am going to take the liberty of omitting the word national that appears before the word “group.”

  • Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a people.  It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of a group, with the aim of annihilating the group. The objectives of such a plan would be disintegration of the political and social institutions of culture, language, group feelings, religion, and the economic existence of the group, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to the group. Genocide is directed against the group as an entity, and the actions involved are directed against individuals, not in their individual capacity, but as members of the group.”

 

  • “Genocide has two phases: one, destruction of the pattern of the oppressed group; the other, the imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor. This imposition, in turn, may be made upon the oppressed population which is allowed to remain or upon the territory alone, after removal of the population and the colonization by the oppressor’s own group.”

 

Genocide for Lemkin was not simply about murder of a group as is commonly understood.  It included the destruction of culture, forced assimilation, destruction of social, political, and religious institutions by the dominant group that go to the heart of personal security, liberty, health and dignity of both the group and its individuals.  It was a revolutionary idea in 1943.  In 1948, the United Nations ratified the Geneva Convention on Genocide, but adopted a far more narrow definition than what Lemkin had sought.

How does this help us in understanding what it means to be a great Jew, one who lives by Torah?  Sometimes, by looking at the opposite of something, we can gain a better understanding of what it is that we want to do or to relate. Maimonides adopts this very approach in The Guide of the Perplexed where he philosophically argues that the only true way to approach an understanding of God’s essence is to focus on negative attributes – what God is not.  By eliminating the attributes of God, we come to a better understanding, apprehension, of what God is.  A psychotherapist , “Sometimes seeing the opposite in the mirror can better define who it is that we wish to be.”
Let us say, this morning that we look into this mirror of genocide and instead of seeing destruction, let us look at its antithesis. Let us change the language of Lemkin’s description from negative to positive. It might give us a better sense of how to build a better world, a better America, a better Upper Valley, a better Roth Center for Jewish Life, to enhance the beauty that awaits us.

  • Tikkun Olam refers to those actions that improve the lives of others, especially groups of people, with the intent to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aimed at nurturing the essential foundations of the life of the group and its individuals, with the aim of allowing the person or the group to grow in its collective humanity. The objective of Tikkun Olam is to encourage the political and social institutions of culture, language, group feelings, religion, and the economic existence of the group and its individuals, and the consummate protection of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such a group. Tikkun Olam is directed towards the group as an entity and its individuals, and the actions involved are directed both for the individual and as a member of the group.
  • Tikkun Olam has two phases: one is to nurture the identity of the minority group or person; the other is to avoid the imposition of the dominant cultural pattern insofar as it prevents the individual or group from being true to oneself or itself in keeping with its heritage.

Application to Our World: The Particular and the Universal

Of course, there is much to be argued with this description of Tikkun Olam and the question of individual rights and those of the majority in a democracy can be seen often as conflicting with these ideals.  Often, it is about balancing available resources.  Anyone who works in the world of providing resources for the poor, the homeless, the disadvantaged elderly among us, understand that resources are finite and we cannot always fulfill our mission by depleting our resources to fulfill the ever-growing need in a very difficult economy.  We too must compromise and that alone is very stressful.  It leads many to walk away from these most worthy endeavors just because of the burnout and the growing sense of “we’re not getting anywhere.”

However, what seems clear to me is that when there is a starving person, we do everything in our power to feed them.  When someone needs clothing, we provide.  When someone yells out “nigger” to a group of black students walking down our sidewalk, we say “no” loudly and clearly to that as well as those who are called “kike” because they are involved on the Collis lawn as part of the Occupy Dartmouth Movement. When a woman student is sexually assaulted, we stand up and provide her with every support possible.  We do everything we can to help any person and group who may not only have a different color skin, but a different culture, history, faith, so that they too can thrive.

When people enter the Roth Center, we help them find their place and do our best to turn no one away. Instead, we strive to provide them with everything possible for them to gain further experiences in leading a life of meaning, a life that bears relationship to Torah and to God. Everyone, Jew and non-Jew, is welcomed in Hanover, at Dartmouth, and especially the Roth Center.

 

Conclusion

         It almost has a messianic tone to it.  I doubt we will ever get there, though I long for the day when such a world exists, but I do believe in its possibility.  And so long as there is Yom Kippur, so long as there is the liturgy of על חטא  – for the sin- and אשמנו – we are guilty – we will never forget the obligation that we bear to respond to the suffering of  worlds past, present, and future.

We have come full circle.  The discord between what we dream of through Tikkun Olam and reality is the very thing that my parents expressed to me when, I challenged their “hypocrisy” to which they responded “Do as I say and not as I do.”

Our sin – which is really a missing of the mark – is because we are human and that we fall short of the virtues inherent in the teachings of “Do as I say.”  It is for this reason that we all need Yom Kippur – a day of atonement – so that as part of our humanity, our Jewishness, we say על חטא and we say אשמנו – we have sinned and we have transgressed.  To be  a great Jew is to live a life devoted to closing the gap between our dreams for humanity and our reality.

What the Stones Teach Us

This past year, we lost a dear congregant.  He had a generous heart, a brilliant mind, and was one of three founding members of the Upper Valley Jewish Community.  He was also a Professor of Philosophy for over 40 years at Dartmouth.  His name was Professor Bernard Gert, z’l, may his memory be for blessing.  He was a moral philosopher. Perhaps the core question to which he tried to address was the following “Is it possible for humankind to develop a morality that is grounded solely on rationality, and not either directly or indirectly derived from a theological framework?”  Could there be a universal morality that a society could adopt and work that did not involve God?  Of course, never one to shy away from an answer, he not only devoted his academic career to that question, he answered it in the affirmative in his works “Morality” and “Common Morality.”

One of the great lessons from his life’s work is that there could be two solutions to a moral quandary, each of them being equal in their sensitivity and degree of morality.  This is indeed the very essence of the Talmudic discourse.

What then should our morality be based?  Where do we turn to find those deep values upon which to return – תשוב – our hearts, as religious people, to a life of meaning?  How can we be united if moral paths differ from each other?

 

 

 

The Headstones

 

         As many of you may, our students spent 5 days in the town of Korcyna.  Laboriously, we hand copied the inscriptions of each stone we could locate.  I spent this summer engaged in the tediousness of transcribing and translating 540 headstones.  Often, I would ask myself, “What is the point of all this?  What difference does it make for many seem to contain much the same language and description of the deceased who were buried up to 1938?

One night this summer, from out of those areas of the mind where ones recieves a flash of insight that one never had before (perhaps at stone no. 375, 425), the following occurred to me. These stones are telling us something about the about the manner in which our ancestors wanted to be remembered.  They are actually teaching the way in which these Jewish communities wanted to remember those who had passed away. These stones were about virtue and character and their relationship to belief and faith.

Our remembrance of the past can be used as a basis for how to live going forward.  As descendants of these Jewish communities, these stones speak to us of Jewish virtues upon which to base a life of meaning.

So on this evening, on this Kol Nidre, a prayer about the importance of our words, about promises to God made, broken, and renewed, I want to describe two of the most common phrases; one used for men, the other for women.

 

A Pure, Upright, and God-fearing Man

 

The most common phrase for Jewish men is taken from the opening verse in the Book of Job.  It reads:

פה נקבר איש תם וישר וירא אלהים

Here lies buried a man – pure, upright and in awe of G-d

 

There is irony in the selection from Job.  He was a man who had everything taken from him that he loved in life and thus began to deeply challenge G-d on the fundamental question of why good people suffer in this world.  When we view Jewish history of Europe, even before the tragic events of the Shoah, we see enormous difficulties that include exile, poverty, violence that had government sanction, and anti-Semitism at its height.  Instead of selecting a latter passage from Job where there is anger directed at the Almighty, we see this verse on the headstone of such men as Baruch ben Mordechai – a man pure, upright, and in awe of God.

The Hebrew word תם is first discovered in describing Jacob in contrast to Esau.  It mean purity, simplicity, and innocence.  Life is complicated, to be sure.  However, Judaism teaches that each of us have a part of our heart that is always pure and can never be defiled. Like Jacob, we are innocent at the core of our being.  We know that life at its core is simple, not complicated. The purpose of these Days of Awe is to return – תשובה- to this state of simplicity, to experience yet again that sense of innocence and purity.

Let us now move to the word ישר.  According to the classic work “The Complete Hebrew-English and English-Hebrew Dictionary by Reuben Alcalay, the Hebrew “ישר” means upright, just, fair dealing, or honest.  Whenever a person receives an Aliyah (which means to ascend to the “Torah” and recite the blessings before and after the reading), the person chants these and afterwards, we say ישר כח – which colloquially means – well done! (Alcalay, 972).  It really means may you continue in the upright (manner) with strength.  ישר is related to living a moral life – a life grounded in the ethical dictates of Torah as we study its meanings and how we live  – so that we can be upright and straight in our relationship to others and to God. ישר – despite life’s complications we strive to have the ישר be our guide.

Finally, ירא אלהים”” – in awe of God or commonly translated as G-d fearing.  Most of us do not have a literal “fear” of God.  We rather rely on the commandment of Moses to “Love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might (Deuteronomy 6:4).”  We see ourselves as loving a God that is  benevolent, kind and compassionate.  The Mishneh and Talmud, the great rabbinic works of the 2nd and 5th centuries stated that Job only served God out of love, never from fear (Talmud Sotah 27b).  The sculptors of these stones knew that this passage would be understood by the children grandchildren, and their loved ones; the ones who would care and maintain these people’s final resting. The stonecutters knew that when they inscribed these words, the departed one, in good times and in bad,  would always be remembered as one who was pure, innocent, strove to be morally upright, and most of all one who loved God (Talmud Sotah 27b).

 

Sarah bat Chanah (Sarah the Daughter of Hannah)

 

The descriptive language they used on the headstones for women were distinct from those of the male counterparts. Today, those for the males could just as easily be applied to women in our world and vice versa.

There are four terms that are commonly found at the outset of these beautiful poems inscribed in sacred remembrance:

אשה חשובה וצנועה וכשרה ואשת חיל

A woman who was important, humble, kasher

And A woman of valor

 

There is paradox to some extent.  The termחשובה indicates a woman of importance standing within the community.  Because there are so many stones that bear this inscription, it suggests that women played an important role in communal affairs; and indeed as we will see with the phraseאשת חיל – a woman of valor – this has significant value.  But I think the word can also mean thoughtful.  צנועה suggests two qualities.  One is chaste.  The other is humility.  These words suggest that Sarah was humble and yet important, a recognized person who was vital to the community and thoughtful.

The term כשרה has the root kasher – which refers to purity, as the word תם does for men.  It means that she was meticulous in her concerns for leading a religious life that included keeping a Kosher home, going to Mikveh, but not simply as an end in itself.  Rather, her concern for these details was bound to her humility and to her modesty.  These attributes led her to be seen as an important woman in the eyes of her people and all who mourned her passing.

The last phrase – אשת חיל – a woman of valor (the word חיל can mean force, army and also soldier (Alcalay, p 754).  It is taken from Proverbs 31 and attempts to address the inquiry of a prince regarding the qualities that one should look for in an עזר כנגדו – a life-long helper – queen or a wife – that stands facing the other.  In the context of this passage, he is searching for a princess who one day may become queen.

The real question is what should we, as Jews, should be looking for in not only choosing a partner with whom to build a life, but also how we should .  I will simply read the poem.  I have added a few words so as to render its meaning more inclusive – that is the underlying Jewish values apply to all such relationships of love.

A woman of valor -who can find, for her price is far above rubies

The heart of her lover safely trusts in her, and so he lacks for nothing

She will do her lover good and not evil all the days of her life.

She seeks wool, and flax, and works willingly with her hands.

She rises also while it is yet night, and gives food to her household

She considers a field, and buys it

With the labor of her hands she plants a vineyard.

She girds her loins with strength, and makes her arms strong.

She perceives that her merchandise is good; her candle does not go out by night

She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle.

She stretches out her hand to the poor; she reaches forth her hands to the needy.

Strength and dignity are her clothing; and she shall rejoice at the time to come.

She opens her mouth with wisdom;

In her tongue is the Torah of loving kindness

She looks well to the ways of her household

She does not eat from the bread of idleness

Her children rise up, and call her blessed;

Her life’s partner also praises her.

Many daughters have done virtuously, but you excel them all.

 

Conclusion

 

         Let us return to what constitutes morality or the Jewish way in the modern world; especially if we hold it as truth that there can be two opposite solutions to the moral dilemmas, the moral challenges, of our time.  These stones of our ancestors give us way to think about our lives and the challenges that we face.  Moral decisions, how we wish to act in our own lives, can be centered on virtues by which our Ancestors deeply valued.  These would be purity, love of G-d, and trying to live within an upright and honest way.  A moral life, which is something I believe we all strive for, must be based on humility, kindness, concern for  one’s family and those less fortunate who live in our community.

When we act from these virtues, not only can we considered חשובה – important in the eyes of our community, but in the eyes of communities that are yet to be formed in generations the end of time.  This is immortality worthy of our consideration and reflection on this Kol Nidre. It is not so much what specifically we do that matters, but more importantly what are the virtues, the ideals upon which are actions are based and how they are then reflected in the actions that follow.

In the end, only God will know what lies deep in each heart, but on Kol Nidre, we “invite” God in to see that the תם – the purity and innocence- is still there.  And on this Kol Nidre, we promise God that from this day forward, we will strive for others to show it to others as our ancestors promised you on such a night as this.

Amen

Entrusting Memory to the Sacred

The Biblical word  “פקד”refers to God “remembrance” –  a recollection that is both sacred and a Divine action to follow.  Remembrance allows us the opportunity to reflect, to consider our past, our history, as we move through time and space.  We live dread living in a world where we are unable not remember. Thus, we cherish it more than ever in light of such dreaded diseases as Alzheimer and other forms of dementia.

Let us therefore begin by giving thanks for this gift. Despite our growing understanding of the brain, we are at a loss to describe how and why we think the way we do and just how and why we remember. It would be an infinite exercise to enumerate how much the quality of our life depends on this human attribute.

The Torah uses the word פקד to describe God’s remembrance.  There are two stories in the Torah where פקד – Divine Remembrance – is the critical term of our sacred text.  One is today’s Torah reading.  The other is Moses’s first encounter with the Children of Israel in Egypt after his encounter with God at the burning bush.

Sacred Encounter of God and Sarah

         The Torah portion of this morning began with the following description:

ויהוה פקד את שרה כאשר אמר

ויעש יהוה לשרה כאשר דבר

ותהר ותלד שרה לאברהים בין-לזקניו

למועד אשר דבר אותו אלהים

God remembered Sarah as God had stated

Moreover, God did unto Sarah as God had spoken

Sarah conceived and gave birth unto Abraham

A son unto his old age

According to the sacred time that God had spoken

 

Linked to the word פקד is “Adonai” – a designated name of God to signify compassion.  Linked to this compassion is the sacred act of conception and birth of a child who will become a patriarch of our people.  Hence, the birth of a child is the same as a birthday of an entire world, for infinite possibilities await this new life.  The birth of a child becomes a מועד –a sacred time initiated because of a Divine remembrance of God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah. It was true then and true in our time.

 

 

Sacred Encounter of God in Egypt

The Children of Israel were slaves for nearly four hundred and twenty years at the time Moses returned to Egypt to lead them out of slavery.  For centuries, the Children of Israel knew only a life of servitude. Suddenly, Moses appears and stirs their memory.  Upon his first encounter with the elders and the people, through his brother Aaron, he says the following:

יהוה אלהי אבתיכם נראה אלי אלהי אברהם אלהי יצחק ויעקב לאמר

פקד פקדתי אתכם ואת-העשוי-לכם במצרים: ואמר  אעלה אתכם מעני מצרים

…. אל-ארץ זבת חלב ודבש:

God, the God your ancestors appeared unto me

The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob and said

“I surely have remembered you

And that which is being done to you in Egypt

And I will lift you up from the affliction of Egypt to a

Flowing with milk and honey”

(Exodus 3:16)

 

The Elders and the people who had gathered to hear responded:

ויאמן העם וישמעו כי פקד יהוה את בני ישראל

וכי ראה את-ענים

ויקדו וישתחוו

The people had faith and they understood

That God remembered the Children of Israel

And because he had seen their affliction

They bowed and they worshipped

 

Let us juxtapose the 420 years of servitude with this singular message of hope that Moses and Aaron speak to the Children of Israel.  The people, despite the generations of oppression, believed.  They had faith, for they remembered their ancestral relationship to God.  Moses’s and Aaron’s message stirred a distant memory that had been passed on from one generation unto the next, despite the generations of oppression. They fulfilled the mitzvah of”שמע”. This is to understand the historic moment of the Divine.

Their response, when considering the generations of slavery, was ever the more remarkable. They could have chosen the path of pragmatism, restraint, and to continue the only life that they knew. They had faith that God was about to act, and so they bowed and they prayed.  They acted with extraordinary courage and we are here today because of them.

We are the Inheritors – Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

Our duty is to make our history פקד – something that is entrusted to our collective conscious – holy and to act with holiness on those matters that are of importance; the defining moments that give our life meaning and purpose.

Many of you belong to the Upper Valley Jewish Community that makes Jewish life grounded on Torah so vibrant and alive in this area.  Everyone cares about the greater community – I cannot tell you the number of times our people arise and help the Grafton County Senior Center, the Haven, the Listen Center, and other institutions that represent the sensitivity that lies in the human heart to take care of those less fortunate than we who are blessed so much.  There is the beautiful Jewish programming and educational opportunities that exist for us to grow in our humanity and in our divinity. Many of our congregants are part of the mitzvah each day of פקוח נפש – saving of human life.  We are blessed to be part of this Jewish community and to live here.  There is no better place in my mind to be a Rabbi than at the Roth Center for Jewish Life.

Allow me to share just a few examples.  At Tishe B’av, we had a beautiful service and minyan when an observant family from Israel walked in unexpectedly to hear the chanting of Eichah (Lamentations). When a person needs to say Kaddish for Yahrzeit, we respond with fullness of heart.  All of this is פקד because we remember our ancestors, those who taught us how live a Jewish life and we treat human activity as sacred and act thereon to comfort the hearts and souls of others. Your goodness is great.

The Sacred Act of Work – of Pakad – and Chemical Weapons

Our country – humanity – in some respects is at such a historic moment of remembrance.  Before going any further, I want to be clear.  I do not know what action is the right one regarding Syria. However, I want to invoke this mitzvah of פקד to invoke sacred memory and to awaken our consciousness.

We know how devastating chemical weapons can be, for we too were murdered in this fashion through the use of zyklon b and the world failed to speak and to act. I too am part of that failed humanity.  Today, if the reports are true, the Syrian government, under the leadership of Bashir Assad, used Saran on his own people.

I must speak up and I must remember, for each year I go to Auschwitz and Belzec bear witness to the devastation of genocide. The use of Saran is no different than the Zyklon B employed at Auschwitz. The human consciousness remembers Auschwitz, Treblinka, Maidanek.

There is a difference between death by bullets and death by poison gas. We remember the death camps, but we do not recall the thousands of killing field throughout Europe where men, women, and defenseless children were murdered by bullets.

We have a sacred obligation to remember and to act, even if at a minimum to speak loudly and clearly, for this a crime against humanity. It does not have to be my military strike.  Even if only to speak before the United Nations, to bring Assad to justice before the International Court at the Hague.  Let the evidence come forward, but we must remember and we must act.  To do nothing as a Jew is to deny our own sacred memory.

Our Mishnah teaches that every creature, human and otherwise, pass before God in judgment.  Everyone is judged, whether it is by God, history, or the collective conscious of the world. I believe with all my heart and all my soul that this is a particularly heinous crime against God and humanity to kill men, women, and children in this way. God will ultimately judge – regardless of how we understand “God” and “judge” – if these events in Syria are true.

In times of confusion, I ask myself one question.  If I was brought before God on judgment day, “and asked to account for a particular action or inaction”, would I have a good answer?”  In this instance, it would be “Why did you not speak out, even though there was no danger to you, against what happened to my children in Syria?”  If I remained silent, I would not have a good answer.

If I did not condemn this in the safe comfort of Hanover, New Hampshire, with all the gifts that I have been given, then who am I to call myself a religious person, a Jew, one made in the image of and likeness of God if I remain silent.  Therefore, I had no choice but to speak.

Conclusion

Rosh Hashanah is the time for פקד – to entrust memory to the sacred upon which our love of humanity and one another may flow.  The mission of the Jewish people is always to strive towards being ממלכת כוהנים וגוי קדוש – a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

         May we be like our ancestors Abraham, Sarah, and the newborn Isaac recognizing that today is our מועד the appointed time to turn once again to God and to become anew through our תשובה; to be reborn.  May be we like our ancestors who though enslaved for 420 years, whose only master they knew was a heartless and cruel Pharaoh, have faith in a better world, on this the הרת היום – the birthday of the world. Let us have faith when we hear the Divine word. When we hear the message of God who lies deep within our hearts, may weפקד – and שמע – remember and permit our hearts to stir recounting the righteous who preceded us unto Abraham and Sarah and Isaac. May do now as they did upon hearing the words of Moses and Aaron, ויקד וישתחוו – bow our heads and worship.

Tonight Begins the Birthday of the World

Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of the world.  Our tradition teaches that on Rosh Hashanah, the soul of each creature appears before God and accounts for its actions.  Whether metaphor or real, it is a time that calls us to look to the depth of our soul and to try to articulate who we are before God and another.  Are the principles that we articulate in words demonstrated by our actions? Do we strive to live a life of meaning and purpose, centered on the Jewish virtues of Torah, worship, and acts of loving kindness?  Our tradition commands us to do so by being in sacred relationship to one another, to ourselves, and to God.

תפלה  – sacred worship this evening

When our ancestors began the terrible exile 2000 years ago, they had only the Torah and their creativity to continue being Jewish.  Music accompanied them on this journey and thus was the means to express the yearnings, sorrows, and joy of the Jewish n’shamah (soul).  For centuries, in Eastern Europe, Hazzanut – an outcry unlike any other – was developed by the Sheliach Tzibur, the messenger of the community.  It came from pain and existential angst for life was so fragile.

Emancipation eased this pain.  Life became better, particularly in the United States.  Max Janowski and others transposed the raw music our faith into beautiful arrangements that became the “soul” of classical Reform Judaism.  It resonated in the hearts of many.

In each generation, there arose new forms of Jewish liturgical music.  For the children of these reformers, guitar and folk songs became the instrument and idiom of choice for spirituality.  Composers, such as Debbie Friedman, Dan Massey, and Josh Nelson began to set liturgy to new styles of music grounded in the folk movement. Choirs became more participatory, encouraging congregations to join in with melodies that were new and vibrant and exciting.

Tonight

         When I came here, Erev Rosh Hashanah services were poorly attended. People came during the daytime.  The evening was for families.  Perhaps 20 to 30 people at the very most came to Rollins.  The UVJC and Hillel permitted me to begin thinking about how we might create a service that might be more appealing.

One of the virtues of this Kehilah is that its approach is pluralistic.  Most of us are immigrants.  We created this service in an attempt to incorporate these disparate Jewish musical genres into a service.  Hence, we began to have a small group of wonderful sh’luchim (hazzanim as it were) along with guitarists Isaac Luxon and then Professor Larry Polansky.  Bonnie Kimmelman, our resident Hazzan, organized and worked with a Women’s “Choir” of Patsy Fisher, Karen Harris, and Kathy Parsonnet. We tried to create beautiful harmonies that were hopefully both moving and participatory.  It was strange, but no one ordered us to stop.

This year, David Hoffer, has joined us on the Bimah.  David was a NFTY song leader and a wonderful guitarist.  Jeffrey Parsonnet adds another male voice and is a member of the Handel society.

Two years ago, Evan Griffith came to Dartmouth as freshmen.  Turns out, he was the principal organist and indeed a very gifted concert organist of Temple Emmanuel in New York.  He had enormous gifts, combined with a burning passion, to bring Jewish choral music to Dartmouth Hillel and to the Upper Valley.  He organized a Hillel/UVJC Choir two years ago and members of the choir include this evening, Rusty Sachs, Jean Brown, Joan Cook, and David Thom.  They rehearse tirelessly.  Lisa Greene, a Dartmouth Graduate, is now a student cantor at the Jewish Theological Seminary and a Wexner Graduate Fellow.  She will be leading the Reform Service, chanting Kol Nidre, leading the Yom Kippur traditional Minchah service and is helping us in the choir.

This brings us to this evening.  High Holy Days have always been held at Rollins Chapel.  Yet not once, in our forty plus years have we ever used the organ.  I admit – I was not an organ fan. I did not grow up with it and to be honest, whenever I heard it, it felt like “church” – until I began to work with Evan.  For me, it feels like prayer when he plays and when the choir sings, so that in rehearsal, I sometimes lost in the words and the liturgy.  So tonight, we make history in that for the first time, we are using the Rollins Chapel Organ.

בסוף דבר At the End of the  Matter

This common, Talmudic phrase, refers to the idea that after all the debate, analysis, there is one essential point.  The Talmud often resolves a difficulty that it is wrestling by stating “At the end of the Matter” this is of ultimate importance.

So too is it this evening.  בסוף דבר, what matters is that we are gathered here tonight to begin Rosh Hashanah.  At the end of the matter, we are praying as a community.  We are lifting our voices to God.  My hope and my prayer this evening is that this service will help each of us get to that unexplainable moment when all worries, stress, and anxiety dissipate and together, we come in touch with God and ourselves.  We pray that we will appreciate all the “beauty that surrounds us” – the love of family, friends, our hearts, our souls, our lives.   Otherwise, “All is vanity.”  Thus, please pray with us, join with us in prayer, meditate on these offerings, so that we may fulfill the vision of the Psalmist.

Project Preservation: Journal 4

Dear Everyone,

I want to begin by thanking those who wrote in response to these entries. With the flood of emails that everyone receives, sometimes it’s hard to look at everything and I recognize that these entries are sometimes lengthy and beyond the realm, so to speak, of our day-to-day lives that we all lead. So, thank you for providing me this forum to simply reflect in a most immediate way, my impressions and thoughts as our students and I go on this journey.

As the work drew to a close, and the work has multiple dimensions, one idea is that of “cross cultural” – that part of Dartmouth’s original interest and support for this endeavor was so that our students could experience another people, to interact, to learn, and to share.  On this trip, and this is not true for all,  I was especially moved by some of the individuals and their experience with the sacredness of life, not just those who have lived, but those who have preceded them.

It is difficult to describe the physical layout of the cemetery.  It sits high on a hill overlooking the small town (not a village) but a quaint town, perhaps a little smaller than Hanover.  To access the cemetery, one must hike up a short, not steep per se, but enough to notice – it is a little climb on a dirt path.  I describe this for the following reason.

Many of the stones were removed from the cemetery both during and after the genocide.  Many found there way at or near the railroad station, at least a mile to a mile and half from the Cemetery.  In, I think, either the ’60s or the ’80s, a group of individuals decided to dig the stones up from the ground at the railroad station and transport them back and to re-erect them.  There were no Jews.  No connection to these stones.  The stones  are very heavy – my guess is that they weighed several hundred pounds at least.  With a cart and horse, they must have transported at least 40 to 50 stones; and then once on top, they erected them in the middle of the cemetery.

I wonder why people do this?  Would I do such a thing were I Polish, and had very little or no connection to this tragedy.  I must believe that it is more than history, more than culture, that drives us to do these things.  There is the unknown part of our soul that stirs us to do things that are not strictly of utilitarian value.

Perhaps it was part of the Ford Foundation Restoration, funded in part by a Stephen Boloty Foundation, but I must think it was more than just being provided  – perhaps (I’m not sure this was the case – that they had funding to do this).  Had those stones not been transproted, it would have been a truly neglected cemetery with only the ancient stones that we uncovered, many of them unreadable.  Perhaps in some larger scheme, they were erected there for a later generation to come, to clean, and to transcribe.  After all, our Scripture teaches
G-d’s time is not our time – a thousand years is but a flashing moment in the time of G-d.  Who knows?

Prior to the dedication, we were inivted to visit the secondary school class  – the history class I believe – that had come and worked on the cemetery with us for two days.  They had worked hard this group.  Now we were there to hear them tell us about the history they had learned about the Jewish community there.  One young girl read an essay tha she had written – in English.  The teacher, Edit, gave a brief history of the Jewish community as well.  She then sat down and showed us a series of pictures that were taken and part of a slide show.  There were two sets.  One was the restoration work in 2008.  It showed a dedicated group of students doing ver similar work to what we were doing.  It was beautiful.  Then, she opened a file on the screen (there was a projector hooked into thecomputer) that was titled “Project Preservation.”  She opened this slide show and there we were working alongside these students a day or two earlier.  We were clearly not alone.  They had joined us in this work.  At the end of the presentation, I had asked her, “Why she did this–what had motivated her work?  She responded (thank goodness for Kaj, a Dartmouth Alum who could translate from Polish to English, and who had come on this trip), “She wanted to preserve and to teach the history of their community, to teach her students the history of the town that they lived in – the different people who had lived there and that they should know this. This was important.

She then paused and thought a little further, “And perhaps just a natural instinct.”  I thought – the very best of our human instincts to extend ourselves beyond where we are in time and in space – perhaps the best part and often untouched part of our humanity – to see beyond our own limited horizon to something more.

All of this waiting for the flight to Frankfort and our journey home.  I have a six hour layover and if I can find an outlet (electrical that is) I will try to write more.
Time to board.

L’shalom
I miss you all,
Rabbi