Today is Yom Hashoa. Last night I attended the ceremonies commemorating the day at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. As I sat in the cold with the few thousand others gathered at that venerable site I noticed the incredible diversity of the assembeled.
People came from everywhere. Most were Jewish, many not. They were old and young.
Religious and secular. They spoke a myriad of languages. Their lives and interests were as diverse as their family names inscribed on the passes they wore around their neck. Yet on this night we were one. What divided us was insignificant relative to the grief shared and the memories cherished of a generation lost to the ashes of the Shoah.
Only an event like Yom Hashoa ceremonies could bring this group together. Only the death of so many so tragically could foster a bond between we who survive.
I recall a film by Elie Weisel called "Jerusalem" in which he talked about his experience coming to Auschwitz as a boy with his father during this awful time.
He remembered getting off the transport with so many Jews and enterring the gates of hell. Only he didn't realize it was hell. On the contrary, he remembered all the stories he had heard as a boy of Jerusalem and of the ingathering to come in Messianic times. He had heard that to Jerusalem would come Jews of all varieties, modern and traditional, religious and secular, rich and poor, educated and ignorant, young and old, and from all the countries speaking all the languages. As he first came to Auschwitz and saw the diversity of Jews streaming through the gates Weisel wondered "Could this be Jerusalem? Is this the Messianic ingathering?"
Sadly, oh so sadly, he would quickly learn that, contrary to the signs before him, Auschwitz was the anti-Jerusalem. Yes, this was an ingathering...but an ingathering to hell not to the heaven on earth of the days of Mashiach.
As I sat in sadness last night at Yad Vashem I realized that Weisel's vision was not so distorted after-all. What he saw in the unity amidst diversity at Auschwitz was anything but the Ingathering. Yet here in Jerusalem, the real Jerusalem, some 70 years after we do mark an ingathering, at least for this one night. We mark an ingathering to remember, mourn and pay tribute, an ingathering that only became possible out of the shadows of Auschwitz.
The Holocaust is perhaps the only unifying event for Jews and most non Jews and for Jews of all expressions. Once Israel, our homeland had that effect. Now, unfortunately, Israel and feelings about her cause as much friction as unity.
Only the Holocaust and the feelings it engenders in all good people bring about a sense of community. In ths strangest of ways, the singular event most sad and horrific in our national history, in its aftermath offers us a whif of what the Messianic times, where all peoples live as one with their diversity, might look like.
Yom Hashoa offers us the hope that a world in which men and women live together in a community of the caring is yet possible.
One night does not a season make, much less an era. But it does show us what is possible. If, if only we could focus on what unites us as Jews and as good people everywhere, and not on the things that divide us.