Friday, September 17, 2010

The Jews Survive

This has nothing to do with feminism or anything like that, but I have to share this experience.

I volunteer at my synagogue’s children’s service, which I began attending when I was three. (It’s really quite ironic that as a rule, I dislike children.) A couple weeks ago on Shabbat (Sabbath), we had a smaller group of kids, and one of the mothers asked if her daughter could lead the group in the Shema prayer.

Shema is considered one of the most important prayers in Judaism, as it states the defining belief of Judaism: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” In transliterated Hebrew, the sentence is read, “Shema Yisrael, Ado-nai Elokeinu Ado-nai Ehad.” As the line is said, one is supposed to cover his or her eyes so as to solely focus on God. The prayer is supposed to be said twice a day, during Shaharit (morning prayers) and before going to sleep, either during Ma’ariv (evening prayers) or directly before bed. Parents will often recite it with their young children before they put them to sleep.

The woman who leads the group welcomed the girl to recite the first line of Shema. The girl happens to be an extremely sweet, adorable girl. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a four-year-old with as much sparkle as she has. She put her right hand over her eyes and her high-pitched four-year-old voice rang out the Shema, “Shema Yisrael, Ado-nai Elokeinu Ado-nai Ehad.”

I have never been so touched by something like this. It was just so sweet; a four-year-old girl able to recite the prayer that connects her to her religion, to the generations of Jews in the past. It reminded me of a Holocaust story I once heard. Many Jewish parents put their children into convents to save them from concentration camp and certain death. While their children were saved, many parents did not survive. Rabbi Eliezer Silver wanted to claim the orphaned Jewish children from the convents that saved them, and went to a monastery in Alsace-Lorraine. The priest denied that Jewish children were there, so Silver had to prove the children’s Jewish identities. That night, he walked through the children’s dormitories singing the Shema. The Jewish children recognized the words their parents had sung to them at night before they went to sleep and Silver was able to bring them to safety in America.

I guess it just makes me happy to see that Jewish children can continue to read the Shema. My mother’s family had been rich in Hungary; then the Holocaust came, and we were decimated. A skeleton of the family survived. Most immigrated to America. My grandmother Feige bat Ita felt that the biggest revenge she could take against Hitler was to have children, to show him that his mission to annihilate the Jews has failed: Jewish children live. She relished that she could send her children to Jewish schools, and that they remained observant Jews. I know that she would have been kvelling if she had seen this adorable little pony-tailed four-year-old saying the Shema in a room full of Jewish children.

Tonight Yom Kippur begins. Yom Kippur, the culmination of the High Holy Days and the holiest date on the Jewish calendar, is when Jews fast and pray for forgiveness from God. Gemar chatima tova (may you be inscribed in the book of life) and have a meaningful fast!

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