- Posted by Elaine Zecher
- On January 31, 2020
- 0 Comments
Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we make our way toward Shabbat.
This is a sad story but one with hope.
The city of Thessaloniki, located in the northwest part of Greece facing the Aegean Sea, has been called the Jerusalem of the Balkans. Sephardic Jews flocked there from Spain and Portugal in the 15th century, fleeing for their lives from the Inquisition but welcomed by the Ottoman Empire to settle in this land. Their presence for practically 500 years allowed the city to flourish with culture, commerce, and academia. At various times, they made up more than 50% of the population. It all came to a crashing halt in 1943 when the Nazis rounded up practically the entire Jewish community and robbed them of their humanity by crowding them into a ghetto by the train station. Ultimately, with laser-focused precision, these murderers rounded them up into the nearby square and jammed them into train cars and sent them to their deaths in Auschwitz.
As you are reading this, members of Temple Israel are standing in that square of painful memories of forced deportation, where the Holocaust memorial serves as the agonizing reminder. We offer poems of memory and prayers for their lives cut off before their time. From the Inquisition to the Nazi regime, ruthless and autocratic leaders slaughtered these Jews and their ancestors. We will be their witnesses. The Jewish community in Thessaloniki, though small, is still growing. Recently the mayor of the city, Yiannis Boutaris asserted “that before the Holocaust, Jews, Greeks, Turks, Slavs and others lived together in Thessaloniki and that this vibrant social tapestry should serve as a model for coexistence and tolerance today in a Europe which is experiencing political and social tension.” He added, “I feel very close to the Jewish community. I feel obliged to honor the survivors…Above all, I want to teach our fellow citizens what it means to live together with people who are not the same religion and do not have the same heritage.”
We visit this location at a prescient and important moment. This past Monday marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. As leaders and dignitaries gathered for the commemoration in Jerusalem, the concern of some was directed toward the rise of hate and bigotry worldwide. The disease of not knowing how to honor one another in our differences, to dislike the unlike, has led to bastions of hate worldwide. Auschwitz should serve as a stark reminder of the manifestation and result of such animosity. Eli Weisel’s assessment must remain at the forefront: the opposite of love is not hate; it is indifference. How we foster relationship with others matters. It is crucial to the work we must do together.
From one Jerusalem on the shores of the Aegean Sea to the other one nestled into the ancient hills in the Mideast, its meaning remains the same: city of peace. History may have proven otherwise and yet, the yearning for refuge from war and strife is a very human desire. We may have a long way to go but let us not stop trying.
Shabbat Shalom from Greece on our Victory Tour with Cantor Einhorn!
Join together for Qabbalat Shabbat at 6:00 p.m. Live stream HERE. Riverway Shabbat Cambridge Edition will be taking place at 7:00. Register HERE.
Torah study starts at 9:00 a.m. with a short service followed by a lively discussion. TGIS will be at 10:00 a.m.
Don’t forget to vote for the World Zionist Congress HERE. We hope that you will support the Reform ticket (Option Two, ARZA: Representing Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism). If you have any questions, please contact Amy Sherr.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts and reflections HERE.