By Jessica Lipinski,
Director of the Early Childhood Centre at Holy Blossom Temple
Last week my friend’s family hosted an evening to listen to her grandmother’s Holocaust survivor story. It was an incredible evening. Everyone was so quiet that you could hear a pin drop while Lenka Weksberg, now 90 years old, eloquently shared her harrowing yet inspiring story of survival. Born in the former Czechoslovakia, Lenka and her four sisters survived Auschwitz and forced labour in a German metal works factory together before Lenka settled in Montreal and raised a happy family.
One message that Lenka effectively got across was that we (the listeners) are now witnesses to her experiences. I (and I can only assume the other attendees as well) truly felt so lucky to have had the opportunity to listen to Lenka’s story and to talk with her about it afterwards (Lenka often speaks to groups of her Holocaust experiences, including at HBT last Yom Hashoah). This past weekend famed author, Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel died at the age of 87. Reading of his passing has caused Lenka’s words to play over in my head, “you are now witness,” because unfortunately, as time passes, so do many Holocaust survivors. It is so important that we all bear witness to the tragic events of the Holocaust to ensure that these stories are not forgotten and that the deaths of six million Jews were not in vain.
But what are we to do with the stories that we hear, watch and read? File them away deep down inside? I suppose, but I also think it’s important to use the stories to make relevant connections to the world we live in today- the mass shooting at Pulse night club in Orlando, Donald Trump’s anti-Islamic rhetoric and the culture of xenophobia that exists in many countries around the world today is reminiscent of a time, not so long ago, when Jews were slaughtered while the world closed their eyes. As Jews, many of us the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors (myself included), how can we now close our eyes to what is going on in the world around us? How can we remember Canada’s post-war Jewish immigration policy, “none is too many” and then turn our backs on refugees seeking to escape terror and provide their children with a shot at a future? How can we teach our children the concepts of tzedakah and mitzvot then turn our backs on those who need help? How can we believe in tikkun olam without setting out to do our best to make the world a better place? Is it ok to “believe” in these concepts without following through and practicing their meaning? No, I don’t think so. Whether it’s giving your time or money to charity, letting someone cut-in the check-out line at the grocery store, buying coffee for the person in line behind you at Tim’s (or any other simple gesture), we all have the power to repair the world through simple acts of kindness.
I recently had the pleasure of accompanying the preschool children to the Samuel Lunenfeld Mountainview Club at Baycrest to watch their final concert of the school year. At the end of the concert, the children hand out flowers (purchased with their tzedakah money) to all of the seniors before getting on the bus to return to the ECC. Before leaving, one of the children went around the room and gave every senior a high five! It was a beautiful and simple act of kindness that brought tears to my eyes and smiles of elation to the seniors’ faces.
I believe that if we all practice tikkun olam, just as the preschoolers do, we are not just respecting each other and creating a better world for future generations, but we are honouring the memories of six million Jews whose horrific deaths can teach us all something about showing kindness and humanity to those around us.