When Tragedy Strikes, We Must Choose the Manner in Which We Respond

On Wednesday, May 4, we will mark Yom HaShoah. The word “Shoah” literally means catastrophe or destruction. On this day, we mark the senseless tragedy of millions who were slaughtered in the name of the “purification” of the human race, and we fearfully recollect the power of hatred, fear, ignorance and complicit apathy to ignite horrors that should haunt us until the end of time.

Elie Wiesel wrote: “Because I remember, I despair. Because I remember, I have the duty to reject despair. […] Just as despair can come to one only from other human beings, hope too can be given to one only by other human beings. […] We have to go into the despair and go beyond it, by working and doing for somebody else, by using it for something else.” There are many ways that we can commemorate Yom HaShoah, but I believe that one powerful way that each of us can honor the memories of all those who were murdered and perished, is to do our part to ignite hope and work toward peace.

It is no accident that our Israeli national anthem is “Hatikvah” which literally means “the hope.” Hope is the most powerful and transformational force we can generate. Elie Wiesel warned of the dangers of indifference. Each of us has a responsibility to fight against a culture of indifference, to ensure that we never be desensitized against violence and intolerance. When we turn on the news or read the paper, and we learn about yet another act of violence or yet another instance of prejudice and intolerance, what is our internal reaction? Do we feel hopeless? Do we feel inspired to work even harder to bring peace in our community and in our world?

We must learn from what we have endured and survived, in order to do what we can to ensure “Never Again.” One important way that we can begin to make a difference in this world is by working to ignite passion and hope within our own spheres of influence. While thankfully, our circumstances are radically different, the tragedy of despair remains one that each of us must confront – in our families, neighborhoods, communities and world.

At moments of crisis, every person has a choice: to choose despair, fear, apathy or rage, or else to choose hope. Often, when tragedy befalls us, the question is asked: “why?” From his own experiences in the death camps, Dr. Viktor Frankl emerged with the following insight: “We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life – daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”

As a second generation Holocaust survivor, I feel uniquely called to do the work of tikkun olam (the healing of the world). This is at the core of why I decided to become a rabbi – to help rebuild the Jewish people, and to do whatever I could to ensure “Never Again” – working to protect the world from the plague of hatred, intolerance, violence and fear, and seeking to do everything I can to plant the seeds of hope and healing in our world.

This is at the heart of why I feel so grateful to be able to serve as a mission leader for Jewish Hospital and KentuckyOne Health, where the miraculous work of healing and hope happens every day. Not only do I help to preserve and strengthen the Jewish identity of Jewish Hospital, but I am humbled by the opportunity to provide education and awareness about Judaism to thousands of people who may not have ever met a Jew nor understood our faith.

When I help someone experience Judaism in a positive manner, I believe that I am contributing to “never again.” When someone experiences healing at Jewish Hospital or at Jewish Family & Career Services, they have a radically transformed perception of what Judaism is or can be. When the Louisville Jewish community supports the work of Jewish Hospital, Jewish Family & Career Services and the Jewish Community Center, I believe that these are all important ways that we work to fight the scourge of anti-Semitism in our world by transforming people’s experience of Judaism.

Working at Jewish Hospital and KentuckyOne Health, we seek to create peace and understanding in a world that is far too broken and where violence and intolerance seems to be on the rise. This is part of our organizational call to bring wellness, healing and hope to all. In our hospital and in our community, every day we encounter individuals and families who are plunged in despair. The way we work to support those in crisis has ripple effects that impact us all. This is the work of tikkun olam healing the world, one person at a time.

One of the many pieces of Torah that I have learned from Elie Wiesel is that hatred and intolerance has many forms, and that our task, as Jews and as human beings, is to bring light to darkness, hope to despair and passion to indifference. Every time an individual undergoes a trauma or a loss, they have a choice as to how they will respond.

Being able to intervene in those moments, with generosity, compassion and loving-kindness, can heal the most angry of hearts. Being able to provide support to patients and family members in need, thanks to the help of our Jewish Hospital & St. Mary’s Foundation and its downtown campus patient and family assistance fund is just one way that we are able to bring light to those who need it.

If you would like to be part of this important work, please contact me at Jewish Hospital, and I would be happy to share with you some of the miraculous tikkun olam that we make possible, every day.

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