Saturday, April 25, 2009

There is hope

I just heard on the news: there is going to be a proposal to make denial of the Holocaust a crime. Because it is. The Holocaust was a crime and, in my view, denial of it is not any less of a crime.

The Parliament is going to discuss it after the proposal will be made on Monday. I hope it will go through.

I don't want to be brave to wear my Chai, I just want to wear it...

Remembrance Day

It was last Sunday, April 19th. There was a ceremony in the 7th district of Budapest, which used to be a ghetto during the war. Near one of the synagogues. I could not go, I wanted to, but we had guests that day. I watched it on TV later and it shook me, again.

What is very sad is that at the very same time, in a different part of the city, there was an anti-Holocaust demonstration :-( Unfortunately it is a serious issue here, and in Europe in general. I mean anti-Semitism. My Jewish friend told me that in Hungary it is a brave action to wear the Chai. This is really sad :-(

I went yesterday to the banks of the Danube for a walk with my friend. We passed by the shoes, the memorial of the Holocaust. One of them. They are there because numerous Jews were shot on the banks, into the river. Before they died, they had to remove their shoes...

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Hero

I met her today. The lady who helped several Jewish families during the war. Her family hid the Jews, brought them food, saved them from labor camps. Amazing. She kept going on and on about her experiences, I kept jotting down everything she said. I felt so mad because I did not have a camera with me. We agreed that I will put together some questions and we will meet more so that I can record everything she remembers. It is truly amazing and humbling to see and hear how much and how precisely she remembers. Names, faces, places, emotions...everything. She is 81 years old and her brain works as if she was 25.

I cannot wait to share what she shared with me but I will need time to make it into a concise and coherent document. I am really excited about her and her stories. We spent 3 hours together today and she did most of the talking. And I did not realize so much time has passed. I could feel how important it was for her to really tell it to someone who really listens. She said her dad -- the person who actually saved several lives -- had been brought to court after the war because someone found Jewish wealth in his property -- wealth he tried to save for his Jewish fellow citizens. Jews whose lives he saved witnessed for him and saved him from jail.

He moved out of his house to give it up for Jews to hide in it. He made fake documents for the Jews. He was a real and true hero in my terms. He died long ago. His daughter, T, was told he'd receive a thank you note from the people of Israel for what he did for the Jews of Budapest but he never received it. Probably because they were not able to find him, he changed addresses since the war and later he passed away. I would love to help T get this note from Israel because she knows her dad was a hero, and I know it, and probably a lot of other people do but I really would love for T to receive such an honor. They have risked their lives, after all. Because they cared.

It is such an interesting and exciting and, at the same time, horrifying story. All of it. I think today has changed me and my vision of the world once again. T is a great, intelligent, caring and loving person. I am glad I met her and I am glad she shared her story with me. I can't wait to record it so everyone who is interested can hear her story. It is really worth it.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Young Jew

After a long trip to Hungary and a long week of jetlag I am now back and trying to catch up with my readings and study. I just wanted to share some interesting experiences I gathered during my flights back to the Old Continent.

I met this Jewish guy on the flight from Chicago to JFK. He was abou 17 years old, traveling (but not sitting) with his father, who sat 2 rows behind us. He asked me where I was headed and I asked him the same. He was on his way back home -- to Israel. He lives in Tel Aviv and was on a Passover vacation/visit in Chicago because that is where his mother was from. So he is Israeli-American. We chatted, he wanted to know if I was going to be needing the sickbag that I was holding desperately -- due to my claustrophobia :-)

The chatting was going on, he told me so many interesting things about living in Israel, and then I asked him how they -- i.e the people in Israel -- felt about the war in the Ghaza Strip. He told me this issue was never going to be solved as long as both parties are "hitting back". He told me stories about how the Hezbollah used the civilians to hide among them and attack from their midst. As the young boy explained this to me, I could feel tension building up in the row right behind us. Three women were sitting there, obviously overhearing us, and after a while they started shouting and sceaming at my new young friend, accusing him of not telling the truth and misleading me therefore, then they went on and on about how their fathers/grandfathers/lovers got killed by Israeli forces.The boy was surprisingly kind and polite in telling them that he was talking to me and not to them but he assured them about their right to have and share their opinions. Only in a civilized way, not shouting and screaming.

It was a really strange experience for me but it was also obvious that our young friend was used to such situations and was amazingly cool about it -- especially considering his young age.

When we got off the plane he and his dad went to find their flight to Tel Aviv and I went to find mine to Brussels. I told him I was sorry for asking that stupid question that made those ladies mad. He said it was OK, he said this happens all the time. He amazed me with his wisdom -- and he is 17!

Now I am trying to finalize my reading session and questions so that I can send them to Rabbi S. And tomorrow I am meeting my "project", the lady who has been helping a lot of Jews during the war here, in Budapest, by hiding them in her house, delivering them food in the ghetto, and so on. She will be my project, well, an interview with her.

Before I continue with the interview -- I only meet her tomorrow to discuss about the process of the interview -- I thought I would let you all know so that if you have anything you want me to ask her, please feel free to write them down either here, in a comment, or via email to me. I would love to hear what you would love to hear.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Temporary farewell

This evening, after the most beautiful Shabbat service -- dedicating the new prayerbook that I L.O.V.E.D!! -- I had to say good bye to a lot of sweet, kind and intelligent people who have been filling a gap in my life for the past 2-3 months. I am going over to the other shore of the Big Pond (the Atlantic :-)) and will reside there for 2 months.

It was overwhelming to see now how many friends I have made in the little time I've joined this amazing congregation. Seeing all these people -- the rabbis, especially Rabbi S, who's been my teacher for a while; the ladies from Torah study; the ladies from the knitting club; and of course N, who became one of my most cherished friendships -- warmed my heart and made me happy and sad at the same time. Happy, because I really care about these people and I know they care about us; sad because I am not going to see them for a while and I know I am going to miss them greatly.

It is because of these dear friends that I feel some strength building up in me to start another journey, a journey I have been on and off for years, with nothing but suffering and pain. But now, I know, I feel, that my prayers will find a way to God and he'll listen to them. I know, that even if the answer is going to be a 'no', I am not lost. I am found. Whatever happens will be fine.

My dear friends, I know I am going to be back but I want you to know that I cherish what I have now with you all (or all y 'all, as Rabbi M would say :-)) and I am going to miss you soooo very much!!! Thank you for thinking of me, supporting me ... well, thank you all for being you :-) I will be back in a while! Until then, I will still post in my blog(s:-)) and emailing you, and talking to you.


Thursday, April 9, 2009


I am "reading" the Night by Elie Wiesel. The word reading is between quotation marks because I don't actually read it in the strict sense of the word -- have the audio book version. The actor who reads it for me makes the story even more real by intonation and emphasis. I am not done with reading it yet but I could not resist to write down some of the thoughts that cross my mind while listening to it.

Fist and foremost, I feel sadness diluted with anger. I naively -- and because I am an eternal optimist -- keep hoping that violence and mercilessness will disappear from the story. But no, they stay, and their appearance is becoming even more striking as the story unfolds. I feel tears building up in my eyes as I go on with the "reading".

My most shocking experience with this excellent book is that whenever I hear an episode of horror -- that was actually witnessed by the author and millions of others -- I am trying to remember it and hoping that I can tell about it to G. But every time I think of an episode as the most horrifying another episode comes along that is -- impossibly! -- even more horrifying.

I always knew about the Holocaust and I always felt compassion toward the Jews and anger toward those who tortured them; but to actually hear about it from a witness, from someone who has been there and miraculously survived it, puts the whole issue into a different perspective. These people were REAL people, who simply wanted to live. They did not even believe, when they heard the news, that extermination camps existed. They were hopeful an optimistic, even when on the train that took most of them to a final destination. My heart breaks while listening to this account.

I think humanity should be obliged to keep these accounts alive, to publish them as much as possible. I think humanity needs these accounts -- from time to time -- to be shoved at its face so that no one ever forgets what happened in WWII. I think it is necessary to remember these stories and learn from them never to let such a thing happen.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Monday, April 6, 2009

Jesus vs. Moses

I have just read a lot about Christianity vs Judaism and I have to tell you that there was this huge gap in my knowledge that has just been (at least partially, because one never knows "too much" or "enough" :-)) filled up. I never knew, for instance, the origin of the opposition between Jews and Christians. What I have learned just now is that Christianity was practically defined in opposition to Judaism, so there. No wonder there is a gigantic contrast.

Paul, who seems to be the first Christian defined Christianity in a way that it somehow degraded Judaism saying that Jewish teachings were outdated and, of course, no Jew could be saved and/or go to Heaven unless they converted to Christianity.
The idea of Jesus being the Christ (messiah or savior?) is foreign for me, as well as it is for Judaism. I mean, this idea lacks logic in many aspects -- well, at least for me it does. And my view is not based on scientific evidence, or for the most part it isn't, but it is based on what I hope to be common sense.

First of all, if Jesus really was God's son, why would God let him be killed and die for a humanity that already disappointed Him so many times. Second, there is no evidence -- aside from scriptures that have been edited well after Jesus' death -- that Jesus was of divine origin. What can be and, in fact, is proven is that he was a pious Jew who never taught anything not Jewish. Third, I am having a hard time believing that there is a heaven and moreover that one can get in there only by believing in Jesus as the Savior. These ideas may have been acceptable and they may have even made sense at the time they were established, no doubts there. But honestly I don't think that they make too much sense nowadays, now that humanity knows so much about itself and its environment -- far and near.

In my view the biggest difference between the two faiths is that one is able to renew itself constantly and adapt to the changing circumstances -- therefore flexible --, while the other is stuck at a 2000 years old place and there is very little -- if any -- effort and attempt to adjust to contemporary values. The world evolves, life goes on, people do research -- and if they are God's creation then God should not be angry with them because they use their ability of thinking that was given to them by God --, rigidity is not viable anymore.

It is very interesting for me, how originally Christianity started out as a "progressive" sect of Judaism -- it was probably meant to go past Judaism -- and defined Judaism to be outdated. It may have been the case then, but today it is definitely not. The opposite, if anything. Between a faith that takes their Holy Scriptures literally and think that condoms are "dangerous" and they are not protecting against STD's and a faith that promotes planned parenthood and welcomes every scientific breakthrough, even supports it ... well, it is not hard to see where the idea of "outdated" can be fit better. Unfortunately I do not have a very positive opinion about Christianity but I wholeheartedly respect good people whatever their religion may be.

I think the best way is to let everyone follow the faith they choose and follow the "live and let live" ideology. I never understood why would any religion be forced on people. I mean, faith is something that can not be forced, by definition, just as love.

All in all, goodness is not measured by religion, but by good deeds. I don't like pushing ideas, especially if the other party is clearly not interested, therefore I sometimes feel insulted when I see a giant poster saying that I have to choose between heaven or hell -- I recently saw one while driving on the Interstate. I think it is not this simple. I also think these two places do not exist, therefore this choice is not a valid one. Finally, I think such an "offer" to choose is rather a threat than anything. And just as love, faith can not be and almost never is the answer to a threat.

I would love to live in a place where Christian, Muslim and Jew could and would respect each other and I see there is hope. There is also a lot of work to be done but I am confident that we are getting there, slowly but surely.