What Good Does This Safety Pin Do?

It started last week, immediately on the heels of the election, or maybe even a bit before: people starting to wear safety pins, as a sign to others that the wearers are those who will guard your safety with them. I hear that it’s an idea adopted from a reaction to Brexit.

In the best Jewish tradition, we can immediately see a special Jewish resonance in this gesture. My first thought was “something we can finally do with those six million safety pins we gathered a few years ago”.

Do you remember that project? Grade school age children set about collecting six million safety pins as a way of trying to envision the enormity of Jewish death in the Holocaust. It’s an unthinkably vast number of deaths, and it’s an incredible number of safety pins. What do we do with them once they’re collected, viewed, and considered?

Now we know.

It has already been suggested that Jews have an opportunity now to “pay it forward” for the kindnesses done for us during World War II. I suggest that the safety pin you might choose to wear is a potent reminder to you that as you reach out in acts that insist upon the safety of those targeted by the incoming U.S. administration, you are lifting up the life of the person – one of the six million – whose soul is carried in that safety pin.

No life is ever wasted, even when it is cut short. Those who died of inhuman cruelty in the Shoah never could know that a day would come when their lives would be carried on in an action as simple and as profound as when you and I choose to wear, and act in the spirit of, a safety pin.

All life is precious for its potential; and life fulfills its potential in supporting and celebrating all life. No life should be cut short of its potential; no life should be lived in fear; all life must be nurtured to rise toward the sun, out of the darkness. If wearing a safety pin will help you remember to reach out and live this truth despite your fear, then it is not at all an empty gesture. It is a yizkor, a way of demanding that we, and G*d, remember those whose lives were cut short in that earlier wave of darkness, and it is an assertion that we will not stand by now, fearing for our own safety, while anything like it ever happens again.

Never Again starts now.

Be aware of what you are saying if you put that safety pin on. Realize that it has a meaning that you cannot edit. Know that it declares that no one is safe unless we are all safe, and that you put yourself at risk. Learn how to effectively intervene in a way that does not make it all worse. You could get killed or injured. This is for real: life and death.

During the time of great racist hatred and fear that led to the Holocaust, the great Martin Niemoller wrote of his own awakening.

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me

It is our time to speak up. Let the safety pin remind you of the life you lift up through your own words and your acts, that such words and acts are necessary and they are sacred mitzvot. Be kind, be active, be awake.

What Day Is It? Depends Upon Your Memory Place

Today is New Year’s Day – secular new year’s, of course. What do you do to mark the day? It seems somehow appropriate to note the passing of the year, the turning of the calendar page, the beginning of a new count of days. It’s arbitrary, of course, but it does help to give shape to our days, and significance to our years.

I spend some time on New Year’s Eve going through my datebook for last year, and speaking my memories of significant times aloud with my beloved. Do you remember this, and how do you remember that…. There are, of course, days of which I have no conscious memory. They have no “memory place”:

The “Memory Place” creates an encounter between the individual and the collective and the commemorated object, event, or symbol. This encounter disturbs the daily routine, which, because of its nature, encourages forgetfulness. Like a person who encounters the past by passing from time to time by a physical monument in his neighborhood or visiting a memorial, the past is also encountered  when the person faces the temporal “Memory Place” on the calendar. This encounter is cyclic by its nature and with it, the person reflects about the past event, and in a way, even experiences it every year. (Dr. Guy Miron, Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies)

Judaism gives us many opportunities for memory places in a year, and in so doing enriches our lives immeasureably. One of those Jewish memory places occurs today, by coincidence. Today is Asarah b’Tevet, the tenth day of the month of Tevet. The day commemorates the beginning of the end of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, in 586 BCE. Clearly, this is a day that would have long since been lost to us, if the Prophet Ezekiel, in his leadership position among the community of Jewish exiles in Babylon, had not mandated it as a day of remembrance.

There are those who suggest that such Memory Places as a day of destruction and exile should now be erased from the Jewish calendar, since the State of Israel has been re-established in our day and all Jewish exiles are able to come home. Yet the day has been on the calendar for so very long that for some to erase it seems wrong, and others of us might be left asking, how long is long enough to remember something that was once significant to us?

There’s another option. This particular “Memory Place” was chosen in the 1950s by the Israeli Rabbinate for a new significance: that of the yahrzeit for all the unknown victims of the Shoah, the Holocaust. Since traditionally, Kaddish is recited by an offspring on the date of a person’s death, what were we to do with all these Jewish deaths of unknown date? “Let the date of the first hurban (disastrous destruction) be the date of the last one”, suggested the Rabbinate, and so it is, we pray!

Read more about Asarah b’Tevet below, or by clicking on this link: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/holidays/Jewish_Holidays/Minor_Fasts/Ideas_and_Beliefs/Tenth_of_Tevet.shtml?p=0