Posts by Rabbi Mara Young

Friday, May 17, 2024

Jewish Resilience

The drawing you are looking at is called Portrait of a Young Woman with Two Yellow Stars by Esther Lurie.

The Jewish Women’s Archive gives it some context: “Esther Lurie was an artist who sought to document the atrocities of the Holocaust and leave a testimony of the Jewish experience in the Kovno ghetto. The clandestine production and documentation of ghetto life was the artist’s way of struggling against murder and destruction, an act of spiritual resistance.

Esther Lurie was born in Liepāja, Latvia. In June 1941, with the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Lurie was arrested in Kovno, Lithuania while visiting her sister and deported to the Kovno ghetto.

In the fall of 1942, at the request of the Jewish leadership of the ghetto, Esther, together with other artists, began documenting life in the ghetto. Drawing supplies were hard to acquire; artists had to smuggle them from the workshops controlled by the Nazis. In Portrait of a Young Woman with Two Yellow Stars, the yellow badge is depicted as a hole that goes through the young woman, [like that] left by a gunshot wound when the bullet passes through [a] body.”

As I gazed at the drawing more, I thought about how despite her “wound,” the girl is very much alive. Perhaps the stars, meant to mark the bullet’s path, defy death. We Jews defy death. We survive when history would say it wasn’t possible.

It is impossible to know what happened to this young woman. Did she survive the liquidation of the ghetto? This drawing is either an early photograph in a child’s history or the portrait of a ghost.

Either way, it is a picture of a child. And the children are my concern tonight.

In this week’s Torah portion, God commands the people of Israel: "If anyone among the Israelites, or anyone among those who live with them in the land, gives their offspring to Molech, they should be punished by death." (Lev 20:1-2)

Some background to the Torah:

- It acknowledges that Jews and non-Jews will live in the Land of Canaan together.

- It prohibits, with disgust, the ancient practice of sacrificing one’s child to the false god Molech. This sacrifice was done, typically, by fire.

By these standards, all of humanity deserves punishment. In the very land the Torah speaks of, the number of children who have been taken hostage, burned, and bombed is unconscionable. They have been sacrificed to the false gods of war and extremism.

And the ones who are still alive? I weep for the trauma that will scar a generation of Israeli and Palestinian children. They are innocent. They deserve innocence. It’s right there in this week’s Torah portion.

Resilience. What does resilience look like in a moment like this?

Well, unsurprisingly, it comes from the children.

Back in April, Concord Road Elementary School - grades K through 4 - held its International Day. I, along with other WCT members and our friends, prepared and worked at the Israel booth. The concept was simple: write a wish on a Post-It note and place it on our giant Western Wall.

Many of the contributions were whimsical.

Some more poignant.

Predictably, war in the Middle East was on their minds.

We took a deep breath and accepted that there would be a variety of perspectives.

I find the post-its on the left to be particularly meaningful….two very different articulations of the same place…an encapsulation of this moment’s complexity….and there they are, side by side. 

But for the most part, the kids expressed the most honest yearnings of any human.

The words of these children are our prayer tonight.

We pray for innocence and joy. We pray for the reunion of parents with their children. We pray for safety and sweet dreams; for leaders who put the lives of their people first. We pray for thoughtful discourse and peaceful disagreement. We pray for connection and continuity.

We call upon the courage and determination of our ancestors, invoking the best of the moral path they laid for us and pray with our whole hearts for peace.

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