Stories are Lessons
By Rabbi Susan Grossman, Beth Shalom Congregation
What would you do if you overheard a child make a religiously, racially, or ethnically disparaging remark to another? What if the perpetrator was an adult speaking to another adult? What if you saw someone threaten someone else? Would you intervene to help the potential victim?
That is exactly what thousands of individuals did, at great risk to themselves and their families, in Nazi occupied Europe during the Holocaust. The choice they made to stand up and help, rather than stand by, remind us that every individual had a choice. Most chose to be passive bystanders or active perpetrators. Some chose to be rescuers.
This Holocaust Remembrance Day, at our annual community Commemorative Service (at Beth Shalom Congregation, Sunday April 23 at 7 pm) we honor rescuers for standing up to hate. These Righteous Among the Nations not only saved Jewish neighbors and strangers. They redeem our faith in humanity, that people will do what is right and good when they act with empathy and altruism. They also challenge us to rise to their example.
Empathy and altruism are Jewish values central to our People’s identity. We are reminded throughout Hebrew Scripture: Remember the stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. That is why, even as hate crimes and acts of intolerance against Jewish students and institutions rise, the Jewish community models what we preach by championing efforts to combat all forms of religious, racial, ethnic, and gender intolerance, e.g., nationally with ADL’s No Place for Hate.
Here in Howard County, we have joined together with other faith and ethnic communities to combat the precipitous rise of acts of intolerance generally and in the Howard County Public School System. As part of this effort, you will soon receive an online survey to compile acts of intolerance either witnessed or experienced by students and staff in HCPSS. (Your response will remain confidential unless you indicate otherwise.) Please complete the survey when you receive it. The results will help us work with HCPSS administrators and teachers to develop appropriate educational and policy interventions.
As Jews, we believe the stories of our past teach us how to confront today’s challenges and shape a better future. May we rise to those challenges and do what we can to make a difference.