“You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of a stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.”
This verse from this week’s Torah reading, MISHPATIM, resonates with two anniversaries remembered this week.
January 27 is designated by the United Nations as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marking the liberation of the Auschwitz/Birkenau Nazi concentration/extermination camps in 1945. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon paid special tribute this year to the women who suffered in the Holocaust in his official statement for this commemoration: "Mothers and daughters, grandmothers, sisters and aunts, they saw their lives irrevocably changed, their families separated and their traditions shattered. Yet, despite appalling acts of discrimination, deprivation and cruelty, they consistently found ways to fight back against their persecutors. They joined the resistance, rescued those in peril, smuggled food into ghettos and made wrenching sacrifices to keep their children alive. Their courage continues to inspire. On this Holocaust Remembrance Day, let us honor these women and their legacy. Let us pledge to create a world where such atrocities can never be repeated.”
Today is the 25th anniversary of the Challenger Space Shuttle accident which many of us, I am sure, vividly remember. The deaths of Dick Scobee. Michael Smith. Ellison Onizuka. Judith Resnik. Ronald McNair. Christa McAuliffe and Gregory Jarvis were a tragedy that touched everyone. It was a crew that was multicultural, multiethnic, multifaith, united in their quest for knowledge that would enhance the human experience. Many people in New Hampshire knew Christa McAuliffe because she was teaching in Concord, New Hampshire. Because Christa McAuliffe was a teacher, she seemed close to all of us - a woman representing any personal quest we may undertake to broaden our horizons. Rhonda and I were shopping for a crib for our soon-to-be-born child when we saw the first news of the accident on the television in that store. We quickly found out that one of our congregants in Topeka, who grew up in Cleveland, knew the Resnik family, and that Rhonda’s brother, Alan, had gone to school in Framingham with Christa’s sister. In all such tragedies, the world should seem close, even without trying to determine our “degrees-of-separation,” because we are all part of one human family. All of us have challenges through which we must find a way to move forward, and, also, to appropriately and sensitively remember so that we can continue to discover and generate hope and light for the future.
It isn’t easy to create a community where no one feels like a stranger. Yet, the best of our tradition calls on us to try our best to bring down barriers and see the interconnections between us all that can enable us to find healing and renewal together. May we continue to join in this task and calling.