Friday, November 8, 2013

A Night to Remember - D'var Torah - Parashat Vayeitzei and Kristallnacht - November 8, 2013

 A ladder was set upon the ground
with its top reaching to the sky
and angels of God were going up and down upon it.
Jacob, in his dream, standing at the foot of this link
to heaven, wondered if he should ascend, so the rabbis tell us.
He saw the great nations and ancient world powers, represented by angels, rising and falling. 
 Jacob thought his ascent might be too precarious, so he hesitated.   
But God promised him protection and partnership.
The rabbis didnt say that Jacob finally did step onto the ladder and begin to climb.
Whether he did or he didnt, there was no doubt in his mind that this dream was pivotal in his life.
Surely God was in this place, and I, I did not know,
Jacob said to himself.
In that place, Bayt-Eil, the house of God,
Jacob saw a gateway to a spiritual realm
that would enable him to rise above the
dire conflict with his brother Esau that he had left behind, at least for the moment.
This was Jacob's night to remember,
a revelation of what his life could be
if he realized that a supportive, powerful and spiritual presence was always there for him
to guide him to be at his best, to sustain hope for his family and his people for generations to come.
75 years ago, Jacob's descendants in Europe still retained hope for survival even when they saw godliness eclipsed by human hatred.
By November, 1938, Nazi Germany had succeeded in marginalizing  the Jewish community through laws that limited their participation in society and defined them as outliers and pariahs.   
   One congregant of Temple Beth-El told me this week about how the Nazis had been trying to take over his father's business in Berlin for several years before 1938. 
On Kristallnacht, his father, along with many other Jewish men, was arrested and taken to Sachsenhausen, a camp where he was detained for three weeks.   During that time, his father signed over his business to someone who was not Jewish.  That night strengthened the family's resolve to leave the country.  They emigrated to England in 1939 where they found a new home and relative safety from the hatred of too many people on the European mainland.
Kristallnacht continues to be a night to remember  for Jews and for others in our world.  We react to this pogrom with indignation and anger at the bigotry and prejudice that still haunts the human family.
   Unfortunately, signs of persistent hatred still appear in the 21st Century. 
   Jews in Europe believe that anti-Semitism is on the rise even now. 
   The National Socialist Party is demonstrating in Kansas City this weekend.  A broad coalition of groups will hold a rally for understanding tomorrow afternoon to proclaim their message of unity and cooperation.
A New York Times article this morning recounted the overt anti-Semitism reflected in acts perpetrated against Jewish students in the Pine Bush school district near Newburgh, New York.  Incidents occurred in the school building, on buses, and on field trips.   Several families have sued the school district for not doing more to protect their children.  School officials there said that lawsuits wouldnt change attitudes that have been engendered at home.
 However, that doesnt mean that we shouldnt try to set limits on the harm that children or adults can do others. 
   Some people refuse to accept their neighbors, who ever they are, as equals.  We, as part of the worldwide Jewish community, continue to bear witness to the Oneness  that unites all creation and all people.  
     We step onto Jacob's ladder by being who we are,
by working for justice, by allowing our experiences to guide us towards empathy and compassion for anyone who faces oppression.   
      75 years after the Night of Broken Glass, there are synagogues which were destroyed that night that have been rebuilt and rededicated to Jewish life.   The Nazi attempt to vanquish the Jewish spirit failed.   We have learned never to give up. When we see brokenness in our world, we do our best to pick up the pieces, believing that what we do can make a difference.
     And when we see a ladder that links us to a higher place, we have learned to ascend rung by rung to reach our greatest potential as caring human beings.
   So may we always do - and let us say amen.

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