Rabbi Benson's sermon from this past Shabbat, December 25th, regarding the Children of the Holocaust Memorial:
I want to tell story about a little Jewish child today. Not the one that most people are celebrating about, but one, actually not one, but many – too many – all of whom who should have for you and the world, the same type of historical impact that the other Jewish baby has had as well.
Because the children I want to talk about, some 1.5 million of them – the Jewish children murdered in the Holocaust – represent, as much as we can say anything about the Holocaust should “stand for” or “represent” anything – they represent the utter collapse of Western Civilization! For the murdering of Jews has, perversely, always been an aspect of our enlightened Western world – but the murder of children, and on that scale, with that brutality – that shattered the thin veneer of civilization that coated Western Civilization.
Today, as we start to read from a new chapter, a new book in the Torah; as we start to read about the “birth” of our people as a nation, I want to see how that birth links with our people’s near death in the last century – and how it demands of us a response no less miraculous than the parting of the Red Sea or the Giving of the Torah itself.
The opening of the book of Exodus, v’eleh shemot b’nei Yisrael, “these are the names of the children of Israel,” gives us the names of the most famous children of Israel – the actual children of Jacob himself. They are mentioned again as a preliminary to the Exodus story. And about their mention, Rashi tells us:
Af al pi shem’na’an b’chayehem bishmotam, chazar um’na’am b’mitatam l’hodia chibatam.
“Although He counted them during their lives by name, He returned and counted them again after their deaths to show His love for them.”
Here, God Himself shows us that remembering and recalling our loved ones, their names, and their lives, that this is a great sign of our love for them. And we know how in so many ways remembering our own loved ones – on yahrzeits, at yizkor, and in the names we give our children, that this is important.
But let us return to those children murdered in the Holocaust – who remembers them? Who shows their love for them as God did for the Sons of Jacob? Who? Do you? Do we as a community? How so?
If I’ve telegraphed my intentions with this sermon – that is as was meant to be. You all know the chief-most of ways in which we do so here at EBJC. It is through the set of plaques on the wall there, the memorial to the children of the Holocaust that for all these years has been championed as a cause by our own Karl Kaplan. And many of you have already donated to see the name of a child put on it. To undertake to say kaddish for that child. To learn something, if there is something to be learned, about who these small, innocent Jews were in their all too brief lives. I commend those of you who have done so already.
But there are twenty-two spots left on our memorial. Twenty-two! Why is that? Why has no one among us seen fit to sponsor the remaining spaces? I ask in all seriousness. This is a congregation that heralds its many accomplishments and take pride in the many things it has achieved and yet here, in our own very sanctuary – we cannot find the way to complete the memorial? It simply does not make sense.
To sponsor a plaque costs $1000. It is a lot – but it can be paid out over time. Or, much like with the yahrzeit of a beloved parent – who is remembered by all the many members of his or her family – a plaque could be sponsored by more than one person, more than one family. Find one other person to join you and it’s $500. Find three others and you pay $250 and you can see how the math goes from there.
And this money goes to the other best way we honor and show our love for the lives of these precious martyrs. The money goes to our synagogue’s general fund. It goes to pay for all the many other vaunted programs and services that our shul provides to the living, breathing, vibrant Jewish community we have here today. Knowing that through a gift to the Children’s Memorial you also give to the life of our shul – why don’t you give?
I often, as we pray the Amidah, think about that plaque as we pray to God, mechayeh ha-meitim, “the one who gives life to the departed.” And when I am facing so I can see it, I often look at the plaque as I say those words. For I know that in dedicating such a plaque, in building a synagogue community – we are giving life to those who have died.
Make it possible, so that soon, when you or I or others come here to pray, that we see a plaque full of the names of young Jews, who were loved in their lifetimes by their families, who are eternally beloved of God, and who we show are beloved by this community as well.