About half a year ago I did something that I had never done before but always wanted to. I visited the grave of Oskar Schindler in Jerusalem. Schindler is buried on Mt. Zion just outside the Old City walls in a Catholic Franciscan cemetery. When I stood at his graveside I made a silent promise to try to bring as many people as I could to visit.
As part of the fulfillment of that promise, I brought a group of about 20 Christian tourists to the grave. It was the wish of Schindler to be buried in Jerusalem as he once remarked, “My children are here.” Schindler himself saved about 1200 Jews during the Holocaust. Today, the descendants number well over 7000, many of them living in Israel. Schindler’s children are alive and well.
While standing at the graveside I read the words inscribed on his tombstone to the group. It reads: “Righteous Among the Nations” which is an honorific title given by the State of Israel to anyone who risked their life to save Jews during the Holocaust. Below that it reads in German: "The Unforgettable Lifesaver of 1200 Persecuted Jews." The moment was extremely moving for me as a Jew speaking to a group of Christians.
After telling the story of Oskar Schindler to the group, I ended with a question that I believe is unanswerable. If you were alive back then would you have been considered amongst the “Righteous of the Nations?” Sure everyone would like to immediately say yes, but it is not that simple. Remember, if you helped Jews back then you were risking your life and the life of your family. Would you be willing to put your children at risk to save a Jew? Would you be willing to save me at risk of your own life? Not so simple. On an individual level it is very difficult to answer this question.
When Glenn Beck, the famous media personality, was in Israel he went and met with the person at Yad Vashem, Israel’s National Holocaust Memorial and Museum, who is in charge of compiling the list of names of the Righteous Among the Nations. Glenn asked him what they all have in common. What is the common thread linking all of those who were willing to risk their lives? Glenn said that he was shocked by the answer. He expected it to be something like they all had great faith or they were all Bible believers. That was not the answer at all. The man told Glenn that the common denominator was that they all knew a Jew. As simple as that. When you know someone personally, when you have a relationship, it is totally different ball game.
With Israel being vilified and attacked daily by the media and the Arab world, it is critical that Israel is not just seen as some country in the Middle East. We are real people with real lives. We are individuals that take our children to school, shop at the grocery store and like to take a vacation once in awhile. We like to play with our children, go to the mall and eat ice cream. We want you to know us personally and see that we have so much in common. We love freedom, democracy and opportunity for all. Our organization Teach Israel exists for this reason. We bring rabbis and pastors together, we bring Jews and Christians eye to eye. There is nothing that can compare to a face to face encounter.
Sunday night will mark the beginning of Yom Hashoah, the Holocaust remembrance day. But let us be mindful that remembrance on its own isn’t enough. Remembering yesterday is only meaningful when it impacts how we live today. Today, the Jewish State faces another Hitler, another existential threat. What will you do?