Worship & Celebrations
Creating One World: Through a Culture of Love
April 7, 2013
Rev. Julie-Ann Silberman-Bunn
The Unitarian Universalist Church in Cherry Hill
Creating one world through a culture of love….this is a very Universalist idea. Tikkun olam repairing the world is a Jewish idea…or perhaps they are ideals not ideas. Whatever we call it the endeavor of transforming the world, transforming the culture must always begin with ourselves.
The inspiration for repairing the world in Judaism is mitzvot- good deeds, which begin with ourselves. As we know in Unitarian Universalism the call to transformation begins with ourselves, and the actions we choose to take in living lives of principle. Today people around the world but especially Jews, will share in a variety of services of remembrance, commemoration and dedication, they will be honoring the lives lost, changed and the world forever altered by the Holocaust of World War II. This day is the anniversary of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Holocaust Memorial Day, Yom Ha-Shoah. The full name of the day commemorating the victims of the Holocaust is “Yom Hashoah Ve-Hagevurah”— literally the "Day of (remembrance of) the Holocaust and the Heroism." According to the Jewish calendar it is marked on the 27th day in the month of Nisan — a week after the seventh day of Passover.
It is important to know that while the date was selected by the Knesset, or Israeli Parliament on April 12, 1951, and that it was two years later that the full name became formal in Israeli law August 19, 1953, since that time it has become a day commemorated by Jewish communities and individuals worldwide. The early educational materials created and circulated about the Holocaust (Shoah, meaning catastrophe, in Hebrew) emphasized the suffering inflicted on millions of European Jews by the Nazis. There were surveys conducted in the late 1950s that indicated young Israelis did not sympathize with the victims of the Holocaust, they believed that European Jews were "led like sheep for slaughter." Following those surveys Israeli educational materials began to shift its emphasis, documenting how Jews resisted their Nazi tormentors through "passive resistance" — retaining their human dignity in the most unbearable conditions — and by "active resistance," fighting the Nazis in the ghettos and joining underground partisans who fought the Third Reich in its occupied countries.
Yom Ha Shoah is not just in the schools today it is an integral part of Israeli culture and each year it becomes more known in the Diaspora or wider world. Since the early 1960s, the sound of a siren on Yom Hashoah stops traffic and pedestrians throughout Israel for two minutes of silence. A siren also blows at sundown and once again at 11:00 A.M. on this date. All radio and television programs during this day are connected in one way or another with the Jewish destiny in World War II, including personal interviews with survivors. Even the musical programs are adapted to the atmosphere of Yom Hashoah. In Israel there is no public entertainment on Yom Hashoah, the theaters, cinemas, pubs, and other public venues are all closed for the day.
Jews in North America observe Yom Hashoah within the synagogue as well as in the broader Jewish community. Today here in Cherry Hill there are many programs including a walk, a vigil and speakers. Many Yom Hashoah programs feature a talk by a Holocaust survivor, recitation of appropriate songs and readings, or viewing of a Holocaust-themed film. Some communities choose to emphasize the depth of loss that Jews experienced in the Holocaust by reading the names of Holocaust victims one after another — dramatizing the unfathomable notion of millions of deaths.
Today our congregation is showing the film Two Who Dared, about a Unitarian minister and his wife who went to Europe on behalf of the Unitarian Service Committee to help people resist and escape occupied Europe during the war. This service is addressing the topic of human loss and atrocities. These are ways in which our community is supporting the mission to change the world through creating a culture of loving care that allows us to lift up the plight of others, and work towards justice for all people.
What we know happened in the holocaust is horrific, however recently information has been revealed that the numbers who were killed may have been substantially higher than previously believed. The New York Times has reported that there may have been many more camps than originally thought. Previously there were believed to be 7,000 camps an astonishing and horrible number--- the newer number of 42,500 is absolutely unimaginable and horrifying to me. With the knowledge that there were so many more camps comes the knowledge that the numbers in those camps, the numbers tortured, and murdered also was significantly higher than believed. What we are learning is that the numbers of Jews and others killed may have been closer to 20 Million.
I believe this information is important because a culture that believes in human life and works towards a universal culture of love values each life. This new information tells us that thousands of lives not only were not valued during their existence here on earth but that even in death they had been unacknowledged. I can think of no greater loss than a life that is virtually erased from history. Individuals, families, and whole communities were erased by the Nazi’s and history up to now has allowed them to remain invisible. I am grateful to the researchers who have fought to unearth this history, and to the survivors of those camps who did not allow the world to forget or dismiss their experiences.
One of the commitments of Yom Hashoah is not to forget the people whose lives were lost and forever changed by the holocaust so that these terrors might never again occur. The problem is that these terrors are ongoing, they have been happening over and over again, and just as the United States refused to act in the early years of the holocaust allowing boat loads of refugees to sail the world seeking asylum somewhere, anywhere, because we would not allow them into our country. We are ignoring the needs of people who have been slaughtered again and again. Sometimes we act, but too late, and too slowly, with deliberation and only with support…but how else can we do it? How can we stop things like what happened in Sarajevo, in Kosovo, in Rwanda, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Congo just to name a few. Perhaps…I hope…we can create a community and culture of love, and like our Universalist forbearers prevent people from thinking of ways and feeling the need to harm others.
These deaths in place after place represent generations of lives torn apart, any one of these places, events, should bring to mind devastation and the desperate need for healing and a culture shift that allows people to move from hatred and animosity to love and care. It is time to mend the world my friends, it is time to create the culture of love our Universalist ancestors spoke about, strived for and inspired us to believe possible! The question is how do we do it? How do we bring a culture of love into our daily actions, and the living of our lives? How do we reach out and help to heal the hurts and repair the deeply felt and justly felt pain in human hearts? Many believe it is by teaching our children, working in community, lending our hands and hearts to the healing.
I believe we have begun by thinking beyond our own walls to the wider community as we welcome neighbors of other faiths to share in the beloved communities’ initiative. We are welcoming other communities to meet in our facilities. These are a good start but there remains much we can do. Next month our leadership will be hosting a Summit on Social Justice to help us determine how our congregation will move forward with the work that will help us lend our hands to the transformation of our world. We are hoping to help move from a model in which others struggle, to one in which we offer to be a partner, an ally in the difficult work of transforming the world culture from one of individuals working in isolation to a world in which love and collaboration enable more to be accomplished. By interlocking our hands in friendship and in compassionate care, we will help to spread the recognition that together we, people of the earth can change the world.
There is no end to the atrocities, and yet this week as we arrive once again at the Commemoration of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, we remember our need to make life better, to remember not to forget the past, and never to let it happen again, anywhere to anyone. Something must change, we must change, we must change the way we see others, the way we see the world in which we live.
This is the paradox we face today. Do we know enough to act? If we act what kind of action or statements do we make? Difficult questions for difficult times. I tell myself over and over that I cannot sit back and watch slaughter. I tell myself that had I been alive during the times of the Holocaust I would have done something. But every time our world is in turmoil I find myself overwhelmed by the lack of options to really make a difference.
Several years ago a colleague shared in a small group that he felt he was called to be a prophetic voice for our times. He went on to say that there were moments when he thought the only way to make such a major statement that people would actually take notice was by self-immolation. I was appalled. I could not believe that I was hearing these words out of the mouth of a seemingly intelligent person. And then I thought of the suicide bombers. I thought what would I be willing to sacrifice for my belief that the world is not seeing that it is destroying itself…one person, one people at a time.
And immediately I knew what the response I had felt in my heart to his suggestion of self-immolation had been. The cry in my soul was not that this person was crazy. The cry of my soul was that if you destroy yourself…your voice will no longer be heard; cry out I thought, share your anger your pain your frustration. Tell the world that you are angry and that they must stop and recognize that we are all one people a people committed to something better. We cannot allow our voices to fade in to oblivion; we cannot allow our voices to be hushed by the louder sounds of war. We must say to the world that we are a voice, a series of voices, and a community of voices. Voices that cannot be silenced, our voices must be raised, raised to let others know that neither we nor they are alone.
We must be willing to speak out not just for a silencing of the guns and the bombs, but for an actual effort for understanding and justice. To make this a reality we must begin with small steps. The first step is to remember each year Yom Ha Shoah that no one will ever be discriminated against, that bias will not be a reason for the harm of a single human being, or the termination of a single life. That we will work for Tikkun Ha olam…we will work to create a culture of Love. Shalom, Salaam, Amen and Blessed Be
Excerpts from this essay are included in the text of this sermon: Source: My Jewish Learning, Learn@JTS, Rabbi David Golinkin "Yom Hashoah: A Program of Observance", Conservative Judaism, Vol. XXXVII, no. 4 (Summer 1984), p. 52-64