FROM ASHES TO DIAMONDS

I have no idea whatsoever how many in our country are aware that ashes can be transformed into diamonds. With the surge in cremations in  this country, companies have opened that will extract the carbon from the ashes of loved ones and turn those ashes into diamonds to be worn as jewelry by the spouses, children, relatives, and friends of the dearly departed. Having been sensitized to the Holocaust during my formative years, I have witnessed the ashes of Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen,Treblinka et al being metaphorically transformed into diamonds for decades. Accordingly, I see it as a sacred task to sensitize others to three diamonds that have emerged from the ashes of those murdered by Hitler’s Third Reich for the crime of being a Jew.

Museums have been built throughout the world over this past half century. No longer did Yad Vashem have to serve as a solitary memorial to the Six Million. No longer would those who managed to defy Hitler and his war machine, attempt to put the past out of mind, as they looked ahead to a brighter future. Holocaust museums abound, albeit some have made the choice to widen their scope and focus on tolerance of other (non-Jewish) groups as well. Seventy-five years ago, quotas were very much on the minds of those somehow managed to survive Hitler’s hell. At best countries were opening their gates of immigration to trickles of Jews with no place to go. Half a century later, quotas  were still connected to the Holocaust. When the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum opened in Washington, tickets had to be purchased months in advance, because the museum simply could not accommodate all who wished to visit. Those who once closed their eyes to the ashes produced by the  Holocaust, could hardly believe their eyes by the diamonds crafted by those who established Holocaust Museums.

Any city in this country that saw a sizable influx of survivors after World War II, also saw a group unto themselves. True, local Jewish leadership helped in trying to find housing and employment for the survivors who arrived, but rarely, if ever, were survivors absorbed by those Jews, who were long settled, and Americanized. It was not in any way unheard of, for the survivors to be referred to as “greeneh” (Yiddish for greenhorns) – especially, when they began to seize the many opportunities afforded them, by the “land of the free and the home of the brave”, and in doing so financially surpass many other Jews who had already laid stakes in that very same community decades earlier. And yet, those survivors also rose from the ashes. Business acumen and financial success aside, the increasingly few survivors still among us – octogenarians and nonagenarians – are  now venerated by the rest of the Jewish community, as they appear at events connected to Holocaust museums. They are now regarded as diamonds in our midst.

One of the greatest concerns, nay fears, of those about to die, is that they will be soon forgotten. Those concerns, nay fears, were especially well founded by those whose very lives were in the hands of the Nazis. If nobody cared about them while they were alive, why should anyone care about them once their lives were snuffed out? In all too many cases, no cemetery plot has ever held their remains, no kaddish has ever been said in their memory, and no yahrzeit has ever been observed on their behalf. Tragically, so many who perished have been forgotten. As an entity however, as a group of six million, we have allayed their concerns and fears of being forgotten. They have been included in our prayers. Less than a week ago, as we offered up the Yizkor service, we included a paragraph specifically prepared for those murdered by the Nazis. Outside the synagogue, we have included them as well. Throughout this country, Holocaust education has been included in the curriculum of Public education. Students in this country who have never met a Jew, are now being introduced to Jews of European countries whose very existence was so problematic to the Third Reich, that a “final solution” was sought. When it comes to the Holocaust, our elected officials also seek solutions. Whereas the solution sought by German elected officials were inextricably linked to ashes, the solution sought by our elected officials in the field of education is such a shining example that it is inextricably linked to diamonds.

As we observe the 75th yahrzeit of the Holocaust, let us never forget a world turned to ashes. Let us also remember the ubiquitous museums constructed in their memory, the venerated survivors who speak for those who were denied life, as well as those responsible for Holocaust curriculum in our Public Schools. Each one, a diamond in a different setting.

A SMILE ON HASHEM’S FACE

Unknowingly, those of us in Dallas County are responsible for a one of a kind Father’s Day gift, that is both memorable and priceless. Last Sunday’s microburst afforded us the opportunity to present our heavenly father with a Father’s Day gift that will surely bring a smile to His heart.

For those of us living in Dallas, it took hours of a massive power outage for us to realize how dependent our lives on electricity. Food started going bad because our refrigerators and freezers were cut off from electricity, our homes began to take on heat and humidity, now that they were no longer thermostatically controlled, because our air conditioners ceased to function, our cell phones could no longer receive their daily electrical charge and fuel for our vehicles remained trapped in the underground storage tanks at gas stations, because electrically controlled pumps had gone dead. Imagine if you will, that instead of being painfully reminded of how dependent we have become on electricity, we suddenly realized how very dependent we are on HaShem. Plug in the digestive system instead of refrigerators and freezers, replace air conditioning with a properly functioning heart, substitute kidneys for cell phones and hearts for gas pumps, and one hopefully realizes that how totally dependent we are on HaShem. If we take our life style for granted, only to be reminded how very grateful  and beholden we ought to be to our electric provider, then how much more so ought we, who take the daily functioning of our bodies for granted, be grateful and beholden to HaShem, provider of life! Give the next utility truck you see  a thumbs up and put a smile on the face of those inside; offer up a prayer of gratitude to HaShem and put a smile on His face as well.

The early part of this week, reinforced my faith in the human race, at least those living in western culture.  When confronted by crisis, humans go out of their way to help humans, even total strangers. A little over four decades ago, New York City was paralyzed by a blizzard of epic proportions. A pregnant woman living in a neighborhood in Queens was dangerously close to going into labor. Knowing that they could not count on snowplows to respond some two-dozen able bodied men showed up with snow shovel in hand and began to clear a path for the family car to make it to a major roadway that led to the hospital. A few days ago, I witnessed similar outpouring of care and concern, as strangers were there with chain saws to help others out of harm’s way, when fallen trees were leaning on power lines leading into homes, when trees fell onto cars parked in driveways and when fallen trees completely blocked entrances to homes. What I was unable to witness, but knew in my heart, were any number of situations, where those with electricity offered freezer and refrigerator space and even lodging to others who were left without electricity. As one who firmly maintains that nothing escapes HaShem’s notice, I have every reason to believe that these many acts of kindness, care and concern put a smile on HaShem’s face as well.

It is said that there is a silver lining for every cloud. Here at Tiferet, last Monday morning, the lining was platinum. Shavuot festival services were held in the parking lot, rather than in the darkened chapel, because sunlight afforded those in attendance the ability to read from the siddur. Conservatively speaking, there were at least fifty in attendance, as we raised our voices in prayer. Given the comfortable temperatures, along with a most pleasant breeze, many in attendance were able to experience being closer to HaShem, not unlike our ancestors who stood at Mount Sinai. There were even those who suggested that we consider holding services outside again sometime, independent of any power outage.

Personally speaking, Yizkor services took on special meaning. Typically, the term “Yizkor” is a request that HaShem remember the souls of the departed, whom we have come to memorialize. But “Yizkor” can also mean: “He will remember.”  I cannot help but feel that HaShem will long remember the three-fold Father’s Day gift of our realizing how dependent we are upon Him, of kindness, concern and kindness shown toward others and the most beautiful sight of us davening in Tiferet’s parking lot. And each time HaShem remembers this three-fold Father’s Day gift, it will bring a smile to His face.