- Posted by Elaine Zecher
- On April 28, 2017
- 0 Comments
Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we make our way toward Shabbat.
I was struck this week by the overlap of the commemoration of two terribly sad moments in history: Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day and Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. Both occurred this past Monday. Between 1915 to 1945, the Armenian and Jewish communities suffered horrific massacres, intentional plans to murder and commit genocide by the Turks starting in 1915 and then with the Nazis in the following decades. We remember because we never want to forget. Why would we?
What leads people to believe that a human life has no value? What allows a country to determine that an entire community should cease to exist? How do others watch and not act? These are questions that are incomprehensible but also crucial to consider.
When Hitler came to power, he posed this question: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” He relied on humanity’s inhumanity. What might have happened if the world paid attention differently?
We share a sad history with the Armenians even as each genocide has its distinctions and specific details unique to the particular circumstances. Misery prevails and transcends difference, however. It is what leads us toward a path of perseverance and the significance of memory. Memory does not immobilize; it summons us to attentiveness to the consequence of actions, good and bad.
From Passover to Shavuot, we read from Pirkei Avot, the Ethical Teachings of the Rabbis from the Mishnah. One saying from chapter 2, verse 5 calls to us this week:
In a place where there is no humanity, strive to be human.
The key word is “strive.” A 13th century Spanish commentator, Rabbeinu Yonah explained that this means to straighten yourself up so that you do what which is good and upright in the eyes of the Eternal. Another commentator interpreted it to mean a matter of training and thought. Both ideas take effort and good intention. It is a reminder of personal responsibility within each and every community. We might retranslate the passage like this:
In a place where there is so much inhumanity, strive to lift up the best of what each of us has the power and ability to do.
For so many Armenians and Jews, that would have made all the difference.
As we enter into Shabbat, we continue to remember and realize the potential of our own humanity in the face of so much inhumanity in the world.
I look forward to greeting you at Qabbalat Shabbat at 6 p.m. Live stream HERE.
Torah Study begins at 9 a.m. with a short service followed by a lively discussion.
I welcome your reflections and thoughts HERE.