There’s a psychiatric hospital in northern Israel whose inmates are comprised solely of Holocaust survivors. The dwindling population of this hospital houses those that were thrown into Nazi concentration camps as youngsters; but who miraculously survived the gas chambers and eventually emigrated to Israel. Now in their 70s or 80s, these people came to Israel after the war. But they were so traumatized by the horror of their experiences in the camps, that their psyche’s are too damaged to enable them to function, even on the most basic level, in normal society. While WWII ended almost 70 years ago, for the inhabitants of this hospital, it was still on-going yesterday. Some refuse to bathe because they’re certain the showers are really the gas chambers. Others hide pieces of meat in their pillow cases to prepare for the next round of starvation. Only Israel will care for these mentally-ill survivors. There are also another 200,000 survivors of Nazi terror living in Israel, who are considered sane enough to live on their own. But most live lonely existences filled with anxiety and depression. One elderly man describes how instinctively jumps whenever the phone rings or there’s a knock on the door. After all these years, his mind still envisions that it’s the Gestapo coming after him. In a world history filled with the most heinous and despicable tyrannies, these people are the continuing casualties of perhaps the single most evil act of them all.
So why bring all this misery up now? Well, this is a big week in the Judeo-Christain faiths. For the Jews, tonight starts the beginning of Passover, commemorating the time that Moses supposedly led enslaved Jews out of bondage in Egypt to eventually find a land of their own in Israel. Of course, it took decades to reach this promised land, and along the way, the Jews had to eat “unleavened” bread, better known today as matzos. (Oh, the horror.) These matzos are now considered something of a novelty, if not a delicacy. And, of course, for Christians, this Sunday is Easter, commemorating the time 2000 years ago that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, only to be resurrected into heaven shortly thereafter. Since man’s sin of eating the forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden was thus atoned for, it left man free to commit future sins, like say, mass murder.
American Jews tend to be mostly secular, ( the price paid, I suppose, for a lack of persecution in the U.S.), but many still observe religious traditions like the seder on Passover eve. When I was a kid growing up in Brooklyn, my parents openly scoffed at these religious traditions. Nevertheless, as poor as we were, my parents kept 2 sets of dishes, with one set to be used for only the 8 days of Passover. The other set, which was used all the rest of the year, had to be packed up and put into storage, lest it contaminated the sanctity of the Passover period. Perish the thought. During those 8 days, we were only allowed to eat foods designated as kosher for Passover, which, of course, meant absolutely no bread. For me, it was the loss of bagels and cream cheese that was the most disturbing. And while my parents only attended service at the local synagogue during the Jewish new year, it didn’t stop the local Rabbi from coming to our apartment about once a month, essentially looking for a hand out. And unbelievably to me, after the Rabbi said some soothing words to my mother, she would slip him a twenty.
Now $20 in those days was really a big deal, especially to a family like ours which lived mostly in poverty. The Rabbi must have seen the look of consternation on my face when I saw my mother part with what seemed like a small fortune. He came over and assured me that he would pray each day for our family. Well, that sealed the deal in my young mind. If a holy man like the Rabbi, who obviously had a direct pipeline to God, prayed for us, how could our fortunes not change for the better. How could containers filled with ancient gold coins not come hurtling out of the sky and land at our feet. Soon we would be rich and live on Park Avenue. Somehow though, it never quite turned out that way.
But back to the Passover and Easter occurrences and traditions. I’ve written before about how the Israeli Government has spent million of dollars looking for the slightest shred of evidence, the smallest relic, that the entire story of Moses, the parting of the Red Sea, the decades of Jews wandering around in the desert looking for the holy land, the 10 commandments; that any of that actually happened. And all they’ve come up with is a dry hole. So maybe, instead of commemorating a story that is likely a total work of fiction, on Passover, Jews would be well served to pay homage to the 6 million people that actually died during the Holocaust, and to the remaining survivors that are also victims of those tragic events. My father repeated many times that his heart would forever be broken because of what happened to the Jews during the 12-year reign of the Third Reich. That’s what Passover should really be all about.
And maybe, it’s also time for Christians to accept the fact that man has created far greater sins than what supposedly transpired in the Garden of Eden. Which is another story that’s also, likely, a total work of fiction. If Jesus gave his life to redeem mankind, then let that redemption be for all the holocausts, various other murderous assaults, plundering, and other acts of evil that man has perpetrated during his entire history of life on this planet. That, I believe, would be a lot more meaningful for most people in this day and age.