The cellist here is Egor Antonenko playing a J.S. Bach prelude to open the Holocaust commemoration I attended last night. Every year, the city of Cambridge, MA, remembers the Holocaust with a community memorial service. My choir has had the honor of singing during this service the past few years, and yesterday we joined musicians, politicians, survivors, and local citizens to reflect, remember, and honor.
In many ways, this is a hard event to process; I felt resistance at first to opening up to the depth of the evening. But then the quiet strength of the cello and opening words of Rabbi Liza Stern drew me in.
The keynote speaker was Issac Jack Trumpetter, who survived Nazi-occupied Amsterdam by hiding with a foster family on a farm. Although he was one of the ones who survived the Nazi atrocities, his story is still full of pain and hardship. He spent years with a farming family with rarely enough to eat, not knowing what had become of his real parents. He lived in a community so desperate, people often sucked on coal just to have the "carbon nourishment." He described how resourceful ordinary people had to be, how every decision, every action, was literally a matter of life and death, and sometimes pure luck was the only thing that separated one from brutality.
He talked passionately with a faint Queens, NY, accent, barely stopping for a breath , building a picture of such courage and strength the whole room seemed to hold its breath along with him, vividly transported back to war time Europe. Before he stepped down, he gave us a clue to how someone survives a thing like the Holocaust:
"there is no such thing as closure -- you put it away, and if you're lucky, you find a way to organize your life."
After Jack stepped down from the podium, our choir sang Ernest Bloch's Silent Devotion and Response (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RjccRTeSayI) and 6 candles were lit for 6 groups of minorities that have faced persecution due to intolerance. Watching the candles pass from hand to hand, I kept thinking about how such a small candle can give off such a powerful aura (visual, emotional) of light.
While the time of the Nazis and WWII feels in some ways far away, we are arguably not that far from its intolerant climate : Isis gains ground every day, Israeli and Palestinians bomb each other every few months, hate crimes are committed in my own backyard. But feeling the solidarity of everyone in the temple as we watched the 6 candles being lit, I was reminded that this is not just a little group in Massachusetts gathering to memorialize with a single Holocaust survivor. We are part of a larger light, a modern global community that places its faith in mutual support, inclusion and tolerance.
The pacifist priest Daniel Barrigan, who recently passed away, expressed this idea when he said: "in order to feel hope you have to do hopeful things."
I left the memorial feeling so sad, but also so hopeful.