To Life! A Response to the Holocaust

How should we react to the loss of six million Jews? Bring at least six million Jewish babies into the world.

When I was invited recently to address the Beth Tefiloh Synagogue, the largest Orthodox congregation in Baltimore, on the subject of "Kosher Sex," I was pretty anxious. I rarely ever address Orthodox crowds on that subject because many feel it is inappropriate for a rabbi to talk about matters of the flesh. My fear was only somewhat allayed when Gary Rosenblatt, the highly respected editor of The Jewish Week and a native Baltimorean, told me that the congregation was pretty sophisticated and hip and probably wouldn't stone me.



The Other Side

Having more children is not the answer, says Rabbi Michael Lerner.

Nevertheless, on the train down from New York, I decided to rethink my approach to "Kosher Sex"--which argues for passionate sexual intimacy in marriage. I hoped to find the deeper angle that would allow those who are not "Kosher Sex" enthusiasts to embrace its message. As I did so, I happened to open my newspaper to an article about a new Jewish museum in Manhattan, with an entire wing devoted to the Holocaust. Suddenly, the connection was born.

I recalled my first visit to perhaps the most important Holocaust memorial, the Auschwitz death camp and its museum. The visit, of course, was chilling. But despite the barracks, gas chambers, and wooden watchtowers, the sheer magnitude of the horror did not hit me until I saw the display of piles and piles of suitcases. It was the abandoned luggage that made me realize that these were not one million anonymous lives; rather these were one million hopeful futures, one million unrealized potentials, one million unfulfilled destinies. The luggage bore the names and cities of origin of each victim. Each Jewish prisoner had written his or her own name in the hope that they would reclaim their possessions at a new destination, a better destination, one with a future. They were wrong.

For the world, the tragedy of those years was that a man as evil as Hitler could amass the power to engulf the nations in another war. The tragedy for the Jewish people, however, was that one-half their number could be slaughtered with barely a whimper from the world's leaders. It is a tragedy that remains with us, like a nightmare passed down through generations.

We build great museums and memorials to pay homage to the memory of the innocents, to educate the world about all it was robbed of, and to remind us all of man's destructive capacity so that it may never again be unleashed. And yet, it seems that the most important response of all has eluded us.

The Other Side

Having more children is not the answer, says Rabbi Michael Lerner.

I speak of our obligation to restore, replenish, and repopulate the world with Jewish children. The most logical response to the death of six million is to give birth to at least another six million. The best course for a nation that lost half its number in the valley of the shadow of death is to find its rebirth in households teeming with life. The real response to the Holocaust lies, ironically, not in the somber corridors of a museum, but in the passionate chambers of the heart; not in the haunting silence of the now-abandoned gas chambers, but in the piercing cry of the delivery room; not in the shattered hopes of a broken nation, but in the intimate connectedness of a man and woman bringing forth life.

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