So many people walk around with a sense of victimhood, and you would think that Holocaust survivors in particular would feel that way. Some do. My mother doesn’t. She went through it, and as I watched her fight her way back from death’s door last week to overcome a deadly infection, heart failure, pneumonia and even dementia, I understood the difference between a victim and a survivor. My mother overcame all her traumas, and has no time to feel sorry for herself. And she can see the bright side of whatever trials and tribulations faced her or our family. Like my namesake grandmother Yuta, whose yahrzeit is this evening, (she died in the Warsaw Ghetto), used to tell my mother, and my mother told me, “We are Going Forward.” She has fought back and is B”H on her way to a complete recovery, in every single way!
Some observations for those who believe in entitlements because they were victims of a terrible or lesser trauma...What would have happened to the Jewish people, who at this time have more people studying Torah than ever since the world began, if there would have been no Holocaust? We would have lived, if you want to call it that, under Stalin, who, if he would let us live, would certainly not allow us to live as Jews, and we have witnessed that to be true in our lifetimes.
When a group of sons and daughters of survivors went to Macedonia in 1999, to offer moral support and supplies to Milosevic’s refugees, some of us realized that if we hadn’t left Eastern Europe, life would have been very different. (Please, I am generalizing here, please do not be offended by what I describe.) Instead of having two cars, a maid at least once a week, day schools for your kids, washing machines, dryers and dishwashers, and living in a country where you could pray or not, we women, in particular, would be using holes in the ground to relieve ourselves, be pumping water from primitive pumps like those in the old wild west and shlepping them to a zinc tub, and we would smear egg whites on our mud hut floors and harvest wheat by hand, grind it, etc. to bake our bread in wood fueled ovens. That was what was going on in Macedonia on the edge of the 21st century, and people were oppressed.
That is also how we Jews in the European boondocks would have lived and died, and we would have stopped being Jews by force. There would not have been a State of Israel and there would not have been burgeoning Jewish communities filled with all sorts of Jews in America, Canada, South America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, and elsewhere, if the Holocaust survivors had not arrived and re-injected vim and vigor to all aspects of the Jewish world, especially in America and Israel.
But because we think of ourselves as victims, we are blind to any of the positive aspects of a robust diverse Jewish community, or a true appreciation of what we have accomplished as a people. We talk about being victims all the time, and blame others for the evils that befall us, who tell us we are being punished for our sins. As a people, if we read our history carefully, to survive we need Jews on all 360 degrees of the circle. Shoshana Heschel understood that, and that is the message of the infamous orange on the seder plate. An orange is composed of many sections, each separated from the other by a thin membrane, and yet together they make the whole delicious fruit. A drash on that is that it is also a round fruit, shaped like the Earth, the Big Blue Marble, and it is also made of many sections.
Carl Sagan, the astrophysicist, used to say that from the outer planets the Earth is naught but a pale blue dot, separated from the lethal vacuum of outer space by a thin life supporting layer of carefully balanced gasses. If we are to survive, we have to stop being victims and blaming. We have to, as my mom says, Go Forward. We need to learn to live together and save ourselves from ourselves.
By Jeanette Friedman