Saturday, August 29, 2009

Living Strong: The Best Revenge

Two weeks ago I ran the New York City Half Marathon, consisting of one loop around Central Park, then south on Seventh Avenue to the storied 42nd Street, west to the West Side Highway and south to a festive finish at Battery Park, in the shadow of New York's Holocaust Museum. Since we assemble at the start when it is still dark, I packed my tallit and tefilin in the bag that was transported to the finish by the volunteers of United Parcel Service, to be used after I finish. I ran the race in a shirt that I custom made for the purpose, not as difficult a task as it sounds.

The picture, which I first saw in the movie Night and Fog, shows bodies bulldozed into a mass grave at Bergen-Belsen.

Below the picture is the verse from Yehezkel, read on Shabbat

Hol Ha-Moed Pesah: SHALL THESE BONES LIVE? The answer, God's answer to our generation, was on the back of the shirt - the flag of Israel. This nevuah (prophecy) became the basis of a Negro spiritual that, sadly, too few of us ever heard of. Praise God we live in a country where cross-fertlization of cultures is possible, but it can only happen if we don't shut ourselves off from the world. As I heard from somebody long ago, if you build walls instead of bridges don't complain when you find yourself alone on the other side.

After finishing the race and claiming my bag, I left the festivities and made my way to the museum. I davened in a secluded alcove with benches, and then entered the museum itself. Ever since the museum opened, I would make a running pilgrimage in summer wearing a shirt with the Israeli flag on it. When I run the NYC Half (you have to be picked in a lottery to get in) I combine my visit with the race, visiting the museum in the sweaty glow of Jewish strength, with my race number still attached to my shirt, the irony not lost on me or, I hope, on other visitors who knew survivors with numbers tattooed on their arms. The museum consists of a permanent core and, since an additional wing was built, special temporary exhibits. One time I learned about the agricultural colony at Sosua in the Dominican Republic, the only country in the Western Hemisphere that welcomed Jewish refugees from Hitler. This time I had the privilege of viewing an exhibit on Jewish university professors who escaped from Germany and found positions in historically black colleges in the southern United States. Having known what it is to be a pariah and to experience persecution, those scholars formed a unique bond with their black students in the Jim Crow South. I then visited the core exhibit, making my usual stops at the Sifrei Torah that sit open in glass cases. The scrolls, as I learned from a museum educator who spoke at my shul several years ago, are pasul, damaged beyond repair and unfit for public reading, and therefore it is halakhically permissible to leave them open in that manner. Just the same, I am bothered by the idea of leaving an open Sefer Torah in a glass case to be gawked at. The Nazis intended to do just that and exhibit those scrolls in a "museum of an extinct race" in Prague. I therefore make a point of stopping at each one and reading a few verses with the traditional tune, dressed not for shul in a jacket and long pants, but davka as a Jewish athlete in the glory of summer, in short pants and a sleeveless top, my strong Jewish muscles out there for all the world to see. Extinct race, huh? That is my answer, and my own personal thumb in Hitler's eye. I am 57 years old and my running times are nowhere near what they used to be. I don't know for how long I will be able to run this race or make this pilgrimage, but I don't plan on going gently into the good night.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is inspirational. This post is helpful. Thank you!!!

This is Joshua from
Israeli Uncensored News

Mon Sep 07, 02:49:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Aliza "La Jewminicana" Hausman said...

As a Dominican-American Jewish convert, every now and again I stumble over someone who has heard the Sosua story. Though I don't have any family in Sosua, the story alway makes me proud of my parents' country.

Tue Jan 05, 02:50:00 PM EST  
Blogger s(b.) said...

neat. thanks for sharing.

Tue Jan 05, 02:54:00 PM EST  

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