Yesterday was Divine Mercy Sunday and unless you live under a rock, you also know we have two new saints, Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII were canonized. It was a big day for Catholics.
But at sundown, our Jewish brothers and sisters began a much more somber remembrance. Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance. Could you imagine this happening in our country on September 11th?
Simon Schama’s PBS series, The Story of the Jews, begins with the Yom HaShoah sirens in Israel and shows people all over stopping what they are doing and standing in silence. The entire country stops when those sirens sound and everyone waits in silence. And remembers. Remembers what we have sworn never to forget. The rounding up and murder of six million people who were chosen because they were God’s chosen ones. The descendents of a generation that wandered the desert with Moses. The descendants of a people who enjoyed great prosperity under David and Solomon. The descendents of those scattered and taken into captivity by the Babylonians.
I have struggled, and struggled with how to make the Holocaust which we all know also took the mentally ill, developmentally disabled, and at least one Catholic priest named Maximilian Kolbe who died in place of another man, among others. I have looked into my beautiful daughter’s face and thanked God we were born in the US during the 20th and 21st centuries and not 1930s or 40s Europe. But I know I must teach my sons. I must not allow them to become apathetic and forget. Because while we are not Jewish, while we have no biological nor ethnic ties to Judaism, if I am to raise children who grow up into adults that value human life, it is my absolute obligation not to forget and not to allow my children to forget the atrocities done during the Holocaust, the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge, the ethnic cleansings in Rwanda and former Yugoslavia–both of which happened in my lifetime. But how? How do you explain unexplainable evil or indescribable pain?
I don’t remember how my parents told me about the Holocaust. I have vague memories of my mother seeing a man on the monorail at Disney world with the undeniable tattoo on his arm of a number that identified him as inhuman in one of the Nazi extermination camps and telling our family about it. I don’t know if I had asked what “holocaust” meant then or if it was sometime later. I know I knew about the atrocities before leaving elementary school though. And when I was fourteen, in eighth grade, we read The Diary of Anne Frank and The Cage by holocaust survivor Riva Minska/Ruth Minsky Snyder. Schindler’s List also came out that year.
I arrive at this need to discuss what happened all those years ago in Eastern Europe (and the variety of atrocities before and since) while my sons who can comprehend are still very young. But they are growing up in the internet age, an age of constant 24-7 information and if I want my children to understand what happened, if I want them to realize why it’s so important that we remember, if I want to ensure they get the proper information as to why we must fight for the dignity of all human life, then it is MY responsibility to teach them.
I googled talking about Yom HaShoah with children and came across two articles by the same Jewish mother who has struggled to tell her 21st century children growing up in America what has happened. Her first article from two years ago appears on Jewish momsite Kveller.com (which I like because while there are some very religion-specific articles there are also just plain great mothering/parenting ones too no matter what your background) and describes her own agony on how to start the conversation. She talks about how our own traumas regarding the Holocaust (or Jim Crow, slavery, civil rights, or any genocide) make it difficult to talk to our kids or determine what might be the best way to communicate with our kids. This year, on examiner.com, she discusses how since she began the discussion some things many thought were useful, were in fact not as she expected.
I plan on purchasing The Butterfly, but I’m hoping that, like our talk about civil rights and slavery and Martin Luther King Jr, it may start more organically. Joseph saw a news report about how black dogs and cats were not being rescued because of ridiculous stereotyping based upon their fur coloration. Joseph correctly ascertained the absurdity of this irrational prejudice. I used that conversation to segue into reminding him about Martin Luther King Jr who he had briefly heard about at school and how we also do not hate someone based upon the color of their skin. We talked about his I Have a Dream speech which mentions how he wants a country where his children will be judged not on the color of their skin but the content of their character. We talked about Shelby and things people might say about her because her behavior is different. It happened so organically. But I don’t have any delusions about that discussion regarding genocide.
The fact that this year Yom HaShoah and Divine Mercy Sunday overlap is not lost on me at all. Asking for mercy on not only myself, not only all those who believe, but the whole world is something that has always brought me comfort. And I know Christ’s sorrow over our sins past and present is encapsulated right there in the Gospel. That explaining how as sad as this whole event has made me feel or may make my child feel, Christ’s grief, his mourning is much more than I can comprehend. Than any of us can. As we cycled out of Year C on the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Joseph was completely struck by the first reading which is 2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14 which includes this:
With his last breath he said: “You accursed fiend, you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up– to live again forever, because we are dying for his laws.” (vs 9)
We discussed obedience to God even when it costs us our lives. It was this same obedience to God that Jesus showed when He went to the cross and died for our sins. And He was risen on the 3rd day. His sorrow for what was done to the Jews at the time of the Maccabees, the sorrow of what was done to the Jews during the Holocaust was overcome by His great love for us and His obedience to God in that love. And I think that is what I want my children to take away from this because as Peter wrote to the churches in Asia:
“love covers a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8
Ironically, Peter wrote that to the churches in Asia when he was trying to encourage them not to abandon their faith and their Christian standards and behaviors under persecution. And as God’s love can cover our sins, so can our love for each other. We may be human and our justice and mercy, imperfect, but when we believe in God’s mercy and we love one another and remember that although atrocious things happen in our world, we can’t make sense of those terrible things but we can know God’s rewards for those who are obedient, for those who lay down their lives for their friends and refuse to abandon their principles even to the point of death are waiting. And once I can get around to that point with my kids, I believe my kids will understand not only the pain but the need to act on behalf of those who are persecuted. It’s just the getting that conversation started, I need to work on.