Travel, as many of you know, is a great teacher. It may be, in some respects, better than any classroom. One of the benefits of traveling is that you never know when you may run into something so unexpected that it finds a place in your memory and, at the same time, reminds you of blessings. Such was the case recently in two cities. Tallin is the capital city of Estonia. Our ship docked there early one morning. We were off to explore this old city and walk through its narrow streets and squares. First, however, I asked our friends if we could find the synagogue, as we were in a place devestated by the Holocaust. We grabbed a taxi and gave the driver the address and a two kilometers later found ourselves in front of a beautiful modern building. We passed through security and were met by the rabbi who gave us a quick overview of the community–now 1000 people–and the short history of the community. In a display near the sanctuary, we saw the details of the fact that the total community has been destroyed in less than a month. And, yet, here we stood, in a rebuilt modern building, in a renewed community that was in the midst of Shavuot preparation. From ashes arose a community, from death arose renewed life. What is it about Judaism and Jews that keeps that spark of life alive? We refuse to leave the stage!
You never know how history will flow. Ironic. At the end of the day, after meandering through the city, we came upon an old church. A museum of some sort that was open to the public. We walked though the church, which had been partially destroyed in WW 2, and sat down in the pews just to rest. Our friends noticed musicians entering. We had stumbled on a little musical presentation by a local string quartet, and so we decided to stay and listen. A small crowd gathered and they began to play. The acoustics were fantastic in this old church. The leader spoke very little English and finally he paused to announce what was to be the last selection. The violin began and we looked up. In the middle of this church in Estonia, after visiting hours earlier the rebuilt synagogue from a totally destroyed community, came the notes of “Fiddler OnThe Roof”!
Memory and Hope. A few days later, while walking the streets of a small town in northern Germany, we stopped at a house. Our guide gathered us close and asked that we look down at the ground. There , in front of this house on a small street, were four small brass stones. Each had the name of a person who had lived in the house, the day of birth, the day that they were taken and the day of death. The so-called “stumbling stones” were in many places and are around other cities. They mark the homes where Jews were taken during the Holocaust. In a most unespected place we found another memory.
Travel opens many doors and can open our souls and minds to experiences we could never imagine. These moments of memory are often unplanned. Jewish memory is of an even deeper level of reality. Hope and life run though our collective psyche. From destruction we fashion hope, and have done so since Biblical times. We are blessed to be alive and enjoy the freedom to experience history. In this time of so much anxiety and concern, I hope that we can remember that hope and life are part of who we are and that no matter what and where, we remain vehicles for blessing. In the end, stay close to those you love. Enjoy every moment of life. Take time to live.
Rabbi Richard F Address