- In The New Year: Glimpses of the Future at Auburn Rd Shul
- In The New Year 2: Thoughts After Yom Kippur
One of my grandparents never set foot in a concentration camp.
All four went through the Holocaust and all four lost most of the people they ever knew; but one – my paternal grandmother – managed to spend the war in Poland without being captured by the Nazis.
All such stories are intricate, complicated tales of foresight, luck, and almost always, involve the righteousness of Gentiles.
Nana’s father was an observant Jew in a very small town. From what I know, he was not an urban sophisticate whose social circle involved many non-Jews. But he was a businessman, and consequently had to venture beyond the confines of his community.
The short version of how Nana survived is: one of her father’s friends was a local Catholic priest. When the Jews were being rounded up, this priest somehow found the identification papers of a Polish girl my Nana’s age, who had died. Nana assumed the dead girl’s identity, and the priest took her to an aristocratic Polish family whose servants “adopted” her for the duration of the war.
The daughter of the aristocratic family was my grandmother’s age and they became inseparable. They are still in contact to this day, as are our families.
Many of us in Melbourne exist today because of such righteous Gentiles.
My other three grandparents went through the camps. Their survival – and the survival of others – depended on solidarity. They helped – and were themselves helped by – other Jews.
None of the four could have survived alone. A number of others could not have survived without them.
As Yom Kippur concluded last night, once again, I found myself in Auburn Rd Shul.
Once again, I delighted in the sincerity of Rabbi Gottlieb, and the gracious good humour of Rabbi Link.
Once again, I had no urge to flee.
As important, was the atmosphere generated by the congregation. There was no sense of insularity, no women forensically examining each others’ fashions – only smiles and friendly greetings. Jews whom I did not know greeted me.
Some prayed, others dealt with cute kids who were doing the High Holiday Vilde Chaya (Yiddish: Wild Animal) routine, some occasionally chatted.
I was there with my mother.
She boycotted my childhood shul long before I did, and neither of us could remember the last time we had been in Shul together on Yom Kippur. Every time I lost my place during tfilla (prayer), I had Mum there to point me in the right direction.
One woman walked in with a small child. My mother adores kids and grinned at them. The woman brought the little boy over to us and told him to “high five” Mum. They played around a bit before the woman and child resumed their seat.
“Have you ever seen anything like that in a shul?” I asked Mum. “A complete stranger! Smiling! Bringing a kid to you!”
Before Yom Kippur – the Jewish Day of Atonement – it is customary to apologise to others for having offended them over the past year.
Like any religious tradition, when done sincerely and in good faith, it is quite a lovely fusion of humanity and piety.
Sometimes, however, the fetid stench of hypocrisy lingers in the air long after the words are uttered.
There are so many Jews of good will and good faith in our community. It has been a pleasure to be among them during these High Holidays.
A few others, however, sully themselves and perhaps the name of God, by cloaking their nastiness in pious garb. They speak ill of non-Jews, they speak ill of fellow Jews.
We all know such people: those who claim they observe the minutiae of Jewish law, but who nevertheless indulge in proscribed “lashon ha’ra” (talking badly of others).
Despite what my primary school teachers tried to inculcate in us, I am certain that there is no imminent return of the Holocaust.
There is, however, a great chasm between the Holocaust and a Jewish Australian utopia. There are evils that others might visit upon us, but it is our responsibility to ask what evils we bring upon ourselves.
Our religion demonstrates time and again that although we operate under the canopy of divine will, beneath that canopy still exists human agency.
It is within our power to forge loving bonds with our non-Jewish neighbours. It is within our power to avoid mindless or cruel gossip that might harm other Jews.
Without each other we are nothing. Holocaust or no Holocaust.