Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin

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By: Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin

Let's face it, it ain't easy making heads or tails of, let alone understanding, the Holocaust.

A real horror movie starring real Jews related to you and me! Scary, isn't it?! Or maybe not?! Hmmm... Time out for a little confession:

I am the son of Holocaust survivors. My mother is a survivor of Auschwitz, and still has a small tatoo on her left wrist that begins with "A" followed by some, by now, faint numbers. My late father was a survivor of the Vilna Ghetto, and escaped from there to join the Partisans to fight the Germans.

Three of my grandparents were murdered as part of the Final Solution. I am named for one of them, my father's father, who was deported in 1943. My other grandfather was shot in the face and died in front of my mother. So, obviously, in spite of how I may sound, I take this entire subject very, very seriously!

Part two of this confessional is that I am now a rabbi and teach fellow Jews in New York, including New York University. In my current incarnation, I seek to speak to you in your idiom, which is not as simple as it may seem.

And folks, it ain't easy getting Holocaust/Kristalnacht/Painful-type messages across to those engrossed in the latest delights of rap, rave, and all the joys of life served up in "THE" Village.

I once knew a great rabbi who said that the reason most Jews have trouble with the Holocaust is that they have been "brainwashed" into believing a "sunnyside-up" brand of Judaism. In fact, in the Torah (Bible) we see that, sadly enough, pain, death and suffering are as much a part of the human situation as health, life and happiness. It takes real maturity to appreciate this dichotomy, and it can help us put the Holocaust in a more appropriate perspective.

But for us, here and now in soon-to-be 21st Century America, it's becoming a dim and vague, difficult to relate to, part of "ancient" Jewish history. We would rather dream other things: better, happier things. The only problem with this approach is that a quick study of history shows that sooner or later the Almighty is prone to giving the Jews a wake-up-call, with a rude awakening mechanism made up of lots of Evil Empires!

After all, we aren't prepared by our parents, teachers or by society to face up to something as scary as our own mortality. And then again, we are either too fatalistic ("Whatever happens to me, happens to me") or we're too busy distracting ourselves (by fun, work, play and attempting to reveal the secrets of our VCR control panel.)

The problem is both external and internal.

Externally: we are modern people living in the land of hope and promise... The American Dream. There is no room for the "D" word (death). Try to explain to someone why bad things happen to good people and see how far you get. I've tried to do this many times and the results are mixed

Internally: Judaism, for many, is nothing more than a loose collection of memories, folk tales, traditions and myths wrapped in cloaks of Jewish ethical humanism. Very nice and very happy, but not always very real. No allowances are made for the Grim Reaper.

We don't understand why suffering exists, why (according to latest scientific research) people die at the end of their lives, whether collectively (e.g. the Holocaust) or individually. We are culturally illiterate when it comes to negativity. We either freak out or block it out. Neither approach is acceptable if we are to be sophisticated Jewish adults capable of coping with tough subjects and situations.

Try to remember, there ain't nothing wrong with dreamin' about the good things in life and love. It's just that death and reality have a funny way of getting in the way.

We must remember the horrors of yesterday to appreciate the life of today.

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