A Glimmer of LightJuly 10, 2020 - 12:00 am
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned. — Isaiah 9:2
This month, Jews around the world will observe Tisha B’Av, the darkest day on the Jewish calendar when we mark the destruction of the two Holy Temples and other calamities that have occurred on this day. I’m sharing with you weekly devotions based on my book, Generation to Generation: Passing on the Legacy of Faith to Our Children, about Tisha B’Av and the lessons of hope it has for us today.
I imagine that hope did not always come easily to the Jewish people. I grew up with a grandfather who survived the Holocaust that wiped out most of our family and one-third of the world’s Jewish population. I cannot fathom how it was possible for any Jews to have hope for a future while thousands were gassed and cremated daily. It was the darkest chapter in Jewish history, and it is incomprehensible that anyone could see the light.
My grandfather told me countless stories about what happened to him and his family during the Holocaust. He grew up in Germany, and when it became apparent that the Nazis intended to exterminate the Jews, his family left all they had and fled. The family was fortunate enough to have a car, which they used to drive as far as they could to cross the border. At some point along the way, the car ran out of gas and they were stranded.
My great-grandfather had been on his way to get gas for the car when he was told that the Nazis were headed in the direction of his family. He abandoned the quest for fuel and ran to find his family and bring them to a safe place. By the time he got to the car, all he saw were shards of glass, bullets, and no sign of his family. He was certain that his family had been murdered.
Still, he did not give up hope that perhaps they had survived, and while my great-grandmother tried to move on without her husband, a part of her refused to give up hope that just maybe he was alive. Each one held out the tiniest bit of hope that the other had survived, and eventually they found one another.
These were my bedtime stories growing up. Seared into my soul is the notion that no matter how hopeless a situation looks, there is always room for hope. Against the dark backdrop of the Holocaust, I learned to see the glimmer of light, no matter how faint, in every situation.
Years later, I would hear my father compare the aftermath of the Holocaust to Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones. After the Shoah, the Jewish people were decimated. Whole communities were utterly wiped out, and along with them, hundreds of learning institutions, millions of Jewish scholars, countless cultural centres, and the security that Jews once enjoyed living in this world. How could such a decimated people go on and live again?
And yet, from the ashes of the Holocaust, Israel rose to life.
By the time I was born, the Jewish state, the Israeli army, and religious freedom for Jews in most parts of the world were all givens. I never knew a time without them. Nevertheless, I also never forgot the stories I heard firsthand from my grandfather about what had happened in the terrible years before. This has always been the Jewish way — to hope for the future while remembering our painful history.