Tuesday, July 05, 2016

A Holy Jew from Whom We Can All Learn

President hugs Elie Wiesel before a 2012 speech at the Holocaust Museum 
His name was Elie Wiesel. And he was abused. But not in the way we use that word today. I am talking about are his experiences as a survivor of the Holocaust.  That kind of trauma would make most people go OTD, And for a brief moment after the Holocaust, he had thoughts about it, questioning what kind of God would do such  a thing! But by all accounts, Elie Wiesel quickly rejected that kind of thinking. And became who he was. A holy man. A Kadosh right along with the 6 million Jews (observant or not) that perished. I believe that all survivors are Kadosh. Unfortunately a lot of Holocaust survivors abandoned their faith. And who can blame them?

Dr. Eliezer Berkovits made this very point in his book Faith after the Holocaust. The Holocaust was a hell fiercer than Dante’s, he says. How dare anyone question their loss of faith by a survivor! Their loss of faith was not an intellectual disbelief. It was a belief shattered, crushed, pulverized and murdered a millionfold! Their disbelief is a holy disbelief. Those of us that were not there and question the disbelief of survivors desecrate the holy faith of the believers, says Dr. Berkovits. They were human. Those that survived with belief intact were superhuman.

Haunting words.

Elie Wiesel died last Shabbos at age 87. His life will be remembered as synonymous with Holocaust remembrance. I have heard him referred to as the conscience of the world. An apt title that via his books and lectures eventually gained him the Nobel Peace Prize (1987). I don’t believe that there is anyone who raised the consciousness of the world about the horrors of the Holocaust more than he did. And spoke about the need to prevent it from ever happening again more than he did.  For that he deserves the eternal gratitude and respect of all people. 

Trauma is what a survivor goes through, whether it is surviving the Holocaust or surviving sex abuse. I am not comparing the two. I have thankfully never experienced either. (I am however very sensitive to the Holocaust as a child of survivors.)

I am simply saying that if one wants to understand why someone goes OTD, certainly a life altering trauma will shake up the very foundation of your beliefs. My parents retained their observance. But I was lucky. I do not blame any Holocaust survivor for becoming non observant after the Holocaust. None of us dare! We cannot judge because we were not there.  

The same thing is true survivors of sex abuse. We cannot judge them. We MAY not judge them. But we can judge ourselves by the way we respond to them. And for that we do not have a good track record.

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz posted excerpts on his Facebook account of Elie Weisel’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech. His words then apply so strongly to how survivors of abuse feel today. And suggest how we should deal with sex abuse. I am cross-posting them here because it is Elie Weisel’s legacy. A legacy that teaches us important lessons for our day. Lessons that we have not yet fully learned.  
... I remember: it happened yesterday or eternities ago. A young Jewish boy discovered the kingdom of night. I remember his bewilderment, I remember his anguish. It all happened so fast. The ghetto. The deportation. The sealed cattle car. The fiery altar upon which the history of our people and the future of mankind were meant to be sacrificed... 
... And now the boy is turning to me: “Tell me,” he asks. “What have you done with my future? What have you done with your life?” And I tell him that I have tried. That I have tried to keep memory alive, that I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices...
...And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere...
...This is what I say to the young Jewish boy wondering what I have done with his years. It is in his name that I speak to you and that I express to you my deepest gratitude. No one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of night...
...We know that every moment is a moment of grace, every hour an offering; not to share them would mean to betray them. Our lives no longer belong to us alone; they belong to all those who need us desperately...

I have altered the post to eliminate ambiguous statements I made about Elie Wiesel. I surely did not make them in any way to disparage him. I believed I was being truthful without being judgmental. But it seems that I may have been in error. I apologize and regret any misunderstanding that may have resulted from my mistake.