Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Hopeful signs?

 Making a better New Year   “It cost $1700! Just for that one short flight!” said the doctor sitting opposite me.  He was talking about a recent excursion and his thrilling ride in a refurbished B-25.

We were having lunch after Rosh Hashanah services at our para-Rabbi’s home.

“Same plane General Doolittle flew over Tokyo,” I commented.

“Yes,” he said, apparently somewhat surprised I knew that. “I love aviation history of World War Two. My Dad was a pilot.”

I’d known the doctor for years, but I hadn’t known that. “Doolittle thought he might be court-martialed,” I said, returning to the B-25 thread as the doctor fiddled with his cell phone.

“With good reason,” he said. “Billy Mitchell, a famous World War One aviator was court-martialed for a much less serious offense. He was pardoned posthumously.”

Others joined in and the conversation veered. I was about to get up when the doctor held his phone for me to see. “That’s my wife. She has her pilot’s license.” In the cockpit next to her was the pilot in charge of the B-25. “Here’s another,” he said.

He was glowing. So was I. For me, this was a good beginning to our Jewish New Year. Due to my having just finished a book on tape (actually, on CD’s) about Pearl Harbor, I’d picked up the facts that had led to a conversation I might have missed.

It had begun when I mentioned my friend’s book, Light One Candle, a Holocaust memoir. The doctor had responded by saying that he had lost family then. Minutes later, another doctor sat with us. He had blown the shofar at our service. And, a few years ago, he had made a presentation to my class about his mother’s niece, Anne Frank.

Yes, that Anne Frank. Along with stories, he brought family pictures that the Anne Frank museum wanted for their collection. My students and I were fascinated. After his presentation, I had no trouble getting them to read their assigned text, Solly Ganor’s Light One Candle.

Early this morning, I reflected on the many good things that book has brought to the lives of my students. For many of them, it has provided a missing perspective that has enabled them to rediscover meaning in their lives. I’d also thought about that as I was chatting with the two doctors.

All of us were connected thanks to our religious affiliation as well as by our ties to the Holocaust. All of us had lost relatives. Nonetheless, all of us seemed to have what appeared to be a deeper appreciation of the past, of the positive aspects of the struggle to find meaning, of the obvious value of sharing stories that brought us together. I had thought about that as I’d said goodbye to our Rabbi. He was at the luncheon too.

“I already know what I’m going to write about in response to your sermon,” I told him. He’d spoken about the complex aspects of the emotion-laden story of Abraham and Isaac that’s always told at the Jewish New Year service.

What Abraham’s story provides us is a platform for sharing diverse thoughts and seemingly unique stories, precious scraps of memories that can be woven into a profoundly beautiful quilt.

That picture struck me early this morning as I worked at editing Solly Ganor’s sequel to his Holocaust memoir. A few sentences caused me to pause. They connected me with comments my Dad had made about the Holocaust, a few years before he died.

Although I haven’t asked Solly’s permission, I believe he won’t mind that I share them with you. They are offered as unexpected lessons, insights gained from even extreme duress if we’re willing to step back from the thought of such things as Abraham’s knife at Isaac’s throat.

When Solly, three days after liberation, met American soldiers who were surprised he could speak their language, he told stories about the concentration camps for the first time to non-prisoners. They were awed and humbled by what they heard.

“ We heard that the Krauts were persecuting the Jews, but what you are telling us is simply too horrible to comprehend. Nobody has told us anything.” They were astonished… There was a long silence, then one of them said, “Jesus Christ! I have never heard anything more horrifying. I always believed that no war can be justified, but your story proved me wrong. And yes, I must admit that this war was fully justified.”

I think it’s justifiable that I believe the story of Abraham teaches that we have so many reasons for trying to make this a much better New Year.

                                                     B. Koplen 9/18/12

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