Why I cried — the most impactful week of my life

Why I cried — the most impactful week of my life

Rabbi Yossi Harlig with Holocaust survivor David Mermelstein.

Poland where I went on the March of the Living – a life experience that shook me to the core. Stepping onto Auschwitz’s dirt roads, treading on the train tracks of Birkenau, feeling the tombstones at Treblinka, touching the shoes and staring incomprehensibly at the ashes in Majdanek are experiences we had to attempt to capture a taste of the history.

While traveling to Poland does not provide comprehension or answers, it does supply a sense of knowing. There is no book, movie, museum or personal story that can come close to physically being in the places where it all happened.

I want to share with you one important thought: The six million are not the only ones sacrificed. True, they were forced to endure the ultimate sacrifice. Although their physical presence has left this world, they repose in what must be the highest level in the heavenly spheres. The survivors, however, have had to live with their pain and torture for more than six decades. If that is not a sacrifice, I wonder what is!

One of the most moving experiences was traveling with two Holocaust survivors, David Mermelstein and David Schachter, and standing with them in the exact places they stood more than 60 years ago when they were brutally torn from their families and loved ones. To hear their chilling and heart wrenching accounts made us cry.

David and David sacrificed their own feelings and pain in order to rebuild Judaism and the Jewish people and lead the next generations. Sacrifice. What a concept – give something up for a higher, and perhaps better something else.

During Temple times, millions of animals and birds were offered each year upon its altar. Every day since the destruction of the Temple and halting of the sacrifices, the Jewish people pray for their restoration. Human sacrifices are totally foreign to Jewish axiom and outlook. Humans dying, let alone being killed, does not produce closeness to God, atonement, forgiveness or any of the benefits from animal offerings.

As humans, though, we do sacrifice. We sacrifice our time, possessions, money, energy, bodies, and perhaps even our health, for various purposes and gains.

No one in this world has any idea why the six million had to become martyrs. Their suffering and deaths must continue to bother us as long as humans are still suffering. There is no sin that could deserve this punishment and no gain can justify the Holocaust. David and David survived this hell and sacrificed much to not let Judaism perish with their relatives, friends and fellow Jews.

Survivors realize that with every good deed, Jewish marriage, Jewish child born, synagogue and Jewish school, Judaism becomes more alive; while fascism, racism and evil become weaker. They have not allowed their feelings of tragic loss stop them. Instead, they have continued to sacrifice, inspired by the six million who died for simply being Jewish.

We should learn from them about sacrifices and priorities. We are not asked to run, flee or escape certain death and destruction, or to sacrifice our young years, homes or precious loved ones. We are asked, instead, to think about our heritage, tradition and martyrs. We are asked to sacrifice time, money and energy to turn ourselves and our surroundings into a Temple for God.

We must sacrifice time to think about our past and make our present better so that our bright future will be here even sooner. May that bright future come immediately, eliminating bloodshed, suffering and tyranny. May we be reunited with our loved ones and serve the Almighty in His Temple in Jerusalem in peace and harmony.

For more information, visit www.chabadofkendall.org or call 305- 234-5654.

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