I have had a tough morning. A morning where I was actually crying so hard in the car that I could not drive. I thought I could make it to my synagogue and sit for a while there, pulling myself together. However I was crying to hard that I had to pull off the highway a few exits short , so I went to chat with an acquaintance, Tzofia, at a kiosk in the nearby mall. It worked. Tzofia is a good conversationalist and is witty. I was able to calm myself sufficiently to get back in the car and start driving to synagogue. I started bawling again but made it into the parking lot. Once there, I explained to the front office staff what was happening. They offered me water, hot beverages and the ability to sit on the reception couch as long as I needed. What a blessings. You see, yesterday, Sunday, January 26, was the anniversary of my father’s death and I miss Daddy. I am a Daddy’s girl. It will always be so, no matter how old I am. The absence of him in my life has had noticeable consequences, and resulted in a lot of sorrow; yet it has also been the source of my drive to achieve many wonderful academic and life goals, to travel the world and it is an impetus for growing the resilience I possess today. Then, today, it is also International Holocaust Remembrance Day, highlighting the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and the genocide of six million Jews in addition to Poles, Roma, homosexuals, the mentally ill and those with disabilities. This sank heavy in my heart.
My morning began today with a public speaking engagement I had with a group of business people. I delivered a motivational business topic interwoven with the story of my visit to the beautiful country of Poland where I visited some friends in Warsaw and a tiny side trip I took alone to Krakow. More directly it was about the day I took a bus to Auschwitz. I wanted to see this place for myself. Not that I did not believe it was there. I simply felt I needed to see this place, stand in it – just as I traveled to Israel in the past, desiring to be in the land, stand on the soil and kiss the ground of this place I had read about all my life and felt so deeply in my soul.
Staring at the gate, I was filled with a sense of the evil intent and reality of the words written at the top. This place, this place where Jews were gathered and forced to work to their death and murdered daily. Being especially intuitive, it was an feeling not fully able to be described in human words. Suffocating, perhaps, But I stepped inside and for the next two hours, walked through the entire place, stopping often to cry for a few minutes before moving on, because the pain my soul over the precious people who had been murdered there was so heavy.
I saw the suitcases, piles of clothing, and personal possessions (which I also had seen before at Yad Vashem when I lived briefly in Israel during seminary).
The canisters of the deadly Zyklon-B gas. The piles of eyeglasses. The gold jewelry and teeth taken from people. The open toilets. The wooden planks upon which they slept. I could not say they were real beds.
The tallits (prayer shawls) of Jews murdered in the Nazi German death camp at Auschwitz
The canisters of Zyklon-B gas pellets and the gas ovens in that wicked place.
I shared several of my photos and for those who were not familiar, I detailed the often trickster train rides that brought them to the camps and the atrocities that took place in the death camp. The starvation, beatings, random killings, rapes, deadly showers, the humiliation of being stripped of all your worldly goods including your clothing, having numbers tattooed on your body and the gold pulled out of your mouth.
All I have ever read in scores of books about Nazi Germany and The Holocaust never fully prepared me to see it with my own eyes. Overwhelming shocking. Painful to the core. It is a shock and pain I have only ever felt when fixing my eyes upon the remnants of slave ships and plantations in the USA. You can read about the horrors of slavery but when you see the evidence it truly drives it into you. This morning, I could see tears in the eyes of some of the men sitting closest to the podium and quiet a few were furiously drinking water as they listened to my words and gazed upon my photographs.
The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again – George Santayana
Of course, we could only move forward this morning and that led to the topic of the rise of anti-Semitism in the USA (and elsewhere). In these Trump years, hatred and ugliness has risen form the depth of the filthy and diseased water where bottom feeder scavengers normally hide out, all the way to the surface like malignant scum. I was there when a gunman attacked The Great Synagogue on Krystalgade in Copenhagen, Denmark. For many years I had lived there in a city and country that had protected its Jewish community (historically removing them all from Denmark on the actual eve of the Nazi arrival in the country). Copenhagen Main Library across the street has always been a calm and safe haven for those who wish to learn and connect with others. Suddenly, it was a street full of deadly hatred.
Then, since my return to San Diego, there has been a horrible racist attack on a synagogue here, resulting in death and pain. Admittedly, though, I have not been fully aware until now of how much anti-Semitism is on the rise. The reason for this?:
I, like every Black woman or woman of color, live with daily racism and sexism and it takes a lot of energy to navigate. I have no time to swim in other people’s oceans.
I live in my skin and gender for all to see, everyday. I experience persecution, discrimination and/or threat everyday as an African American woman (getting called violently racist and sexist names from n***** to c*** in addition to micro-aggressions. But that is another story for another day). As I have shared with an increasingly larger circle, I am in the midst of a place in my life’s journey that involves conversion It occurred to me the other day that one could ask if I am prepared to take on a third identity that brings me under oppression, discrimination and attack from racists and other haters. Not only as an person of African heritage with brown skin, not only as a woman, but now as a Jew, one of the most hated and persecuted people in history. I am consciously taking on an additional Diaspora heritage, another slavery heritage, pogroms, mass genocide and a slew of racist names and stereotypes. It is a good thing I am resilient and determined.