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Supporting Survivors

04/20/2017 01:47:23 AM

Apr20

Parashat Shemini deals with the terrible aftermath of tragedy.   The Israelites celebrate the dedication of the Tabernacle, the culmination of months of national effort to create a place where God’s very presence is felt on earth.     On that very day, two of Aaron’s promising sons , Nadav and Avihu, are burnt by divine fire, consumed for inscrutable reasons.  God commands the Israelites to mourn the deaths, but demands that Aaron and his remaining sons, the “survivors,” not acknowledge their terrible loss.  Moses comes forward, concerned as to whether Aaron and his sons have eaten of the sacrifices that were to be offered that day, but does so in a way that Aaron finds off-putting.  Aaron responds with silence.  This portion has important implications for us as we prepare to observe Yom Hashoah, Holocaust remembrance day, in the coming week.
European Jewry, in the middle of the 20th century, was the center of the Jewish world, boasting a majority of the world Jewish population, and its greatest concentrations of culture and scholarship, the culmination of centuries.   It was, in some sense, the tabernacle in which God’s presence was felt.  And then, inexplicably, it was almost utterly consumed by Nazi destruction.   It seems inconceivable that the loss of six million, a third of our nation, could be commemorated in just one day.  The official date of observance is Monday the 24th, but many ceremonies and activities will take place on Sunday the 23rd as well.
Though these events took place less than 80 years ago, there are already many who seek to deny or downplay them, misuse them for their own political purposes, or blame the victim, as it were, by making the twisted and offensive claim that Jews or Israel are today’s Nazis.  We should under no circumstances tolerate those who seek to rewrite this history.
Shemini ultimately is about the survivors. Aaron and his remaining sons, are asked to hold back in their reaction to the tragedy.  Aaron is silent.  Many of us remember the generation of survivors, who overcame incredible odds to make new lives for themselves despite all that they had experienced.  Some, like Aaron, did not wish to speak of that which they witnessed.  
Now, fewer and fewer remain who can tell these stories first hand. As a community, we have a continued obligation to support them.  Some continue to struggle to deal with the aftermath of their experiences, compounded by the effects of increasing old age.  We can reassure them that their story will continue to be told in a world where truth is a devalued currency.   We can also ensure that their basic needs are met.  
The Holocaust Survivor Support Fund ensures that survivors living in Atlanta are able to live with the dignity that was denied them in their youth .  Please consider supporting the fund as part of your observance of Yom Hashoah.  You can learn more, and contribute,  at https://jewishatlanta.org/program/holocaust-survivor-support-fund/.  You can also bring grocery store gift cards directly to B’nai Torah, and we will ensure that they are distributed   to those in need.
There will come a day when the voices of the last survivors will be silenced by time.  We can reassure them that we will ensure that their stories never die out. In the meanwhile, we can ensure, like the Israelites in Shemini, that those who survived feel our support and live in dignity.

Sun, December 15 2019 17 Kislev 5780