Ribbon Cutting

Once upon a time, I was fairly involved in the Dallas Holocaust Museum. With the change of leadership, my involvement with the Holocaust Museum also changed. And that was perfectly fine. I would even say propitious . Two major changes were about to occur with which I could not concur. The first change was that it would no longer solely serve as a museum of the Holocaust. It would morph into a Museum of Human rights, as well. Please understand. I will be the first to espouse human rights. I will, however, be the first to espouse that the Holocaust must stand alone – in that no catastrophe ought to be placed alongside the Holocaust. For example, I would, without any hesitation whatsoever, give my time, energy, and money to work with Ukrainians to put up a museum to commemorate the systematic starvation of close to 4 million of their people, between 1931 and 1934, by Joseph Stalin. But in no way, would I wish to have their heart wrenching story be part of a museum that depicts the annihilation of  6 million Jews by Hitler. Like the Jews, Ukrainians deserve their own space to tell their own story of man’s inhumanity to man. The second change was yesterday’s opening of their $74 million, 55,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art, copper-wrapped masterpiece in Dallas’s West End. While I possess no powers to foresee the future, I cannot feel but feel that the current, ever so strong, interest in Holocaust Museums across the continent and throughout the world, is destined to run its course, whether it be within the next decade, or sooner. Accordingly, I would have earmarked those same funds for other pursuits, that would have carried a message to the 6 million, that while their physical existence went up in smoke, our memory of them will continue to burn brightly, as it lives on in our hearts and in our souls.

As I watched the dignitaries cut the ribbon to dedicate the new building on Tuesday, I fervently prayed that they did not cut the apron strings. As Jews, we have every right – nay, we have the sacred duty to be possessive when it comes to the Holocaust. With exception of the Roma (Gypsies), anyone else who was murdered by the Nazis, perished because of either what they did or because of “collateral damage.” Jews (and Roma) perished because of who they were. Let us never forget, that our people, and no one else’s people were targeted by Hitler and his war machine. The Third Reich devised no other “rein” (clean/cleansing), other than “Judenrein!”

As I watched the dignitaries cut the ribbon to dedicate the new building on Tuesday, I fervently prayed that they did not cut short. Soon after I arrived in Dallas, I was visited by President and CEO of the Holocaust Museum. It did not take long for me to realize that one of the premises behind the museum was to depict a time when an entire world stood idly by and did nothing. However true that may have been about world leaders, it was far from the truth about ordinary Christians who were responsible for extraordinary deeds of heroism. Hardly a week passes, without a Jewish website on the internet coming out with a story about a non-Jew who placed his life in peril, by providing a hiding place for a Jew. For those who argue that such select acts of humane behavior pale in comparison to the countless others who turned a blind eye, it must be pointed out, that without these acts of kindness, we might be remembering well over 6 million Jews, whose lives were snuffed out. If Yad VaShem, the World Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem recognizes the Righteous Gentile, shouldn’t individual Holocaust Museums do the same?

As I watched the dignitaries cut the ribbon to dedicate the new building on Tuesday, I fervently prayed that they did not take a cut and dried attitude. As one who has officiated at hundreds of funerals over the years, including those whose lives were cut short, there is no greater injustice one can do to the dead, than speak solely about how they died. True tribute to the deceased, is to pay tribute to how they lived. A truly touching Holocaust Museum, would be one where the lives as well as the deaths of the victims, are remembered.

We have a right to be possessive when it comes to the Holocaust. We have a task to remember the righteous gentile. We have a duty to learn about the lives of those whose memories are ensconced in the Holocaust Museum.

MOORE AND McCAIN

It’s been close to half a century since Annie Johnson planned her own funeral. Annie Johnson was the black housekeeper played by actress Juanita Moore in the remake of the all-time tear-jerker movie “Imitation of Life.” Knowing that her death was imminent, Annie – much to the chagrin of Miss Lora (played by Lana Turner) – leaves no stone unturned, as she prepares for her final journey. I thought about Annie Johnson ever since I learned that for the last several months, John McCain, two-time presidential aspirant has been doing precisely the same in anticipation of his own demise. Senator McCain’s penchant for details is both understandable, as well as justified, given the fact that for five years he was a P.O.W. where he had no control over his own life as he suffered under the most inhumane conditions, including torture. I therefore begrudge neither the fictitious Annie Johnson, nor the true to life John McCain for attending to such arrangements. In fact, their doing so has provided me with much insight and understanding.
For every Annie Johnson and John McCain who were so very particular about their own death, there are innumerable individuals who are so very carefree about their own life. Despite a culture that is built around career choice, independent of the fact that our society seems to be saturated with planners urging that we look out for our financial future, there are a goodly number in our country who prefer to cast their fate to the wind. How ironic, that one’s send off from this world, one’s farewell from the land of the living which typically lasts but a few short hours, merits such time and effort and meticulous planning, yet a life which will hopefully continue for years, if not decades, is guided by the attitude of que sera, sera!
Yes, it is true that more often than not, life is filled with the unexpected, as well as the unknown. But it is also true that playing life’s cards that are dealt us, requires forethought, as well as contingencies. Neither ought to be relegated to decisions that are made on the spur of the moment. “Every hand’s a winner and every hand’s a loser” are quite likely among the most misunderstood lyrics. Rather than refer to the five cards dealt us, “every hand” refers to our own five-fingered hand and how we use it to respond to that which life hands us. Those of us who have taken the time to plan and prepare will come off as winners; those of us who fail to take the time to plan and prepare will come off as losers.
In less than a week, we pray that the heavenly hand will be inscribing and ultimately sealing our names in the heavenly Book of Life. Both the inscribing, as well as the sealing, ought to serve as a sign that our prayers have been answered. Yet, before HaShem affixes His imprimatur, He has every right to ask us about our plans for the future. It makes perfect sense for HaShem to turn to each of us and ask what plans, if any, we have for the year that He has granted us. It’s totally understandable for HaShem to want to know whether the plans we have are general in nature or have been thought ought to the minutest detail.  For those of you who take the exact opposite approach and cite the Yiddish aphorism “a mentsch tracht un Gott lacht” or “HaShem chuckles as we plan and prepare,” I would add yet one more component. As much as HaShem might chuckle at our planning, HaShem cries at those who fail to plan, in that it shows that they fail to take life seriously.
Let’s applaud the fictitious Annie Johnson played by Juanita Moore and the very real John McCain for planning their funerals. Despite the twists, turns and detours on the paths we take during our years here on earth, despite the unexpected pockets of turbulence that jolt us along the way, let’s laud those who plan their lives.