After the horrors of Pittsburgh, I thought it was timely to write about about my experiences with the Jewish faith and how my life has been touched over the years by that faith in so many ways. I am very fortunate to have many Jewish friends and to see a community ripped apart, such as what happened in Pittsburgh, tears at my soul.
In my senior year of high school, part of my senior trip included a stop in Germany where I had the opportunity to visit the concentration camp in Dachau. If you have never been to a concentration camp, it is impossible to describe the feeling that you get while standing in front of the ovens where so many people of the Jewish faith were burned. The barracks, the courtyards, the gas chambers and the stark reminders of very dark days all make for a bold realization that this horrible event was real, powerful, sad and unnecessary. The air in the camp was heavy and cold despite the camp being set in southern Bavaria, some of the most beautiful country in the world. As I stood there I realized that I wasn’t Jewish, but it hit me just the same and I realized that I could be.
Fast forward 30 years and I find myself standing in the middle of the Jewish cemetery in Prague, Czech Republic. After my experience in Dachau so many years earlier, I needed to educate myself more about the this era that some foolishly denounce as never happening while others faced it first hand. As I stood among the broken tombstones in the cemetery and saw the desecration of what should have been most sacred ground, I cried. I wept for those that lacked a basic understanding of human decency to accept people for who they are, what they believe and who they love.
Inside the children’s museum in the cemetery I saw the writings of the children that had a hope for a better tomorrow. I saw the drawings, the color and the resilience in the face of adversity at a time when their hour was most dark. It was then that I again understood that I wasn’t Jewish, but I could be.
Fast forward another few years and once again I find myself immersed among the Jewish faith as I learn to play and love the game of Mah Jongg. An ancient game brought to modern times that comes with a sense of community, compassion and love that is hard pressed to find in today’s times. I get to be around some of the most amazing women (and a few men) on the planet. They are there for each other in their times of need, celebrate successes, support each other in their causes and accept those of non-Jewish faith as if they were their own. They are rich in history, cemented in belief and full of love and understanding.
Our ability to grow as human beings comes from the compassion and love that we show towards others. We don’t have to agree with who they are, how they live their lives or what religion or political affiliation they have. We however have an obligation to let others live in peace with their own lives, following their own paths that feed their heart and nourish their soul, while we do the same with ours.
Growing up my doctor was a Jewish man in a small town in Florida that didn’t even know what the word Jewish meant for the most part. My boss who hired me into my last job was a Jewish woman who went on to become an amazing part of my life. Now I am surrounded by many Jewish women on a regular basis that love and support me for who I am and ask me to be nothing different. In the picture below, as I stood in front of that children’s museum in Prague wearing the traditional yarmulke, I knew I wasn’t Jewish, but I also knew I could be.
This is for you Sherri, Fern, Bonnie, Judy, Judi, Shell, Lynor, Sydell, Pittsburgh and so many others who play an important part in who I am. I love ya.
Have a great day and remember to be the reason someone smiles.