Do you ever find that the books you’re reading—or are putting off reading—seem to be sending you a hidden message? I’m currently reading three, and I noticed, when I brought them into my office and stacked them on my desk, that together they spoke a message to me, on this Shabbat, just after Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The first book is The Triumphant Spirit, a compendium of photos and stories of Holocaust survivors. The stories were beautifully written by Renée Rockford, JEWISHcolorado’s incoming chief advancement officer, and reprinted by the Feiner Family Foundation. The second book is a biography of a dear friend and survivor, Berry Weintraub, titled A Long Way from Krylow. And the third, Outwitting History by Aaron Lansky, chronicles his effort to save Yiddish books and the establishment of the National Yiddish Book Center. These books have been whispering to me for some time. Collectively, they tell the stories of lives long past, of life long ago. They hint at a millennium of history too quickly forgotten and, in some cases, now almost entirely lost.
In much the same way, this week’s Torah reading, Shmini, elucidates the sacrificial system of worship practiced for millennia, a history not lost but rather evolving. Chronologically, our spiritual transformation went from idolatry (think Golden Calf) to sacrifices (think giving of one’s choicest possessions) to sacrifices of the heart and through action (think prayer and deed). Spiritual epochs spanning 3,500 years.
But epochs and millennia aren’t where life is lived. The message of each of these books is that life is lived in moments, in conversations, in languages and lands from which our people were torn. The linguistic roots of Yiddish are more than a thousand years old. The loss of the Holocaust is the loss of individuals whose genetic roots go back in time to the beginnings of Jewish peoplehood. Here in Colorado, many of the families in our Jewish community come from the Zhytomyr region of Western Ukraine, and they are bound by decades, even centuries of connection. This history is seldom understood even as new histories are being written, which are, in turn, reconnecting us to the past.
May all of their memories be a blessing and may all of our new experiences be an inspiration.