You couldn’t tell the Jews from the Christians Tuesday night.
We were all wearing yarmulkes, so there was no telling who was whom.
explained to his hushed visitors the Jewish tradition. Jews honor God by keeping their heads covered, a constant reminder that He is always above us, watching out for his children. And, because is an “egalitarian conservative” congregation, even some of the women observe the tradition, pinning lace coverings to their hair.
The Lutherans from Plainview’s had walked nearly a mile in the dark with Pastor Eric Olsen to take part in the service at Senter’s synagogue. All placed yarmulkes on their heads.
Imagine that: At this solemn gathering, a remembrance of the horrors of 73 years ago and the countless victims of the Holocaust, we all looked pretty much the same.
No Christians. No Jews. Just people. Imagine?
And what would have happened if a mob of brown-shirted bullies, empowered by a fascist regime and the hateful swastika emblazoned on their arms, suddenly barged into our service? What if they shattered the stained glass and defiled the sacred scrolls and set fire to our spiritual home?
They’d point guns around the room and brandish bats and spew hatred and threats at all of us. Because they couldn’t tell us apart:
We were wearing yarmulkes.
They would have seen some of us praying in Hebrew and others trying to follow the English translation that spoke of love and brotherhood. We were sitting side-by-side, reading from the same sacred book. In part, it said this:
“The Lord our God is truth; His people Israel. He redeems us from the power of kings. He delivers us from the hand of the tyrants. He brings judgment upon our oppressors.”
They would have seen us lighting six memorial candles. Plainview children lit the first one, a candle for the children massacred in Hitler’s “Final Solution.” Two candles were lit for the murdered mothers and fathers; another for the rabbis and teachers who were taken first. The fifth recalled the resistance fighters: “So few against so many.”
And the hate-filled intruders would have seen me light the 6th candle.
Rabbi Senter humbled me by asking me to light it. He knew my Roman Catholic father was a WWII veteran and a decorated New York City fire officer. That last candle represented the valiant men and women who rose up to crush Nazi tyranny, people willing to lay down their lives for others. I was wearing a yarmulke when I lit it.
Judy Nitkin rose to speak. She is the child of Holocaust survivors. Her father, Joseph, was taken away to a work camp at Mauthausen. For two and half years he climbed the notorious 180 steps from the bowels of a German quarry with a stone strapped to his back. He’d deposit his burden into a waiting wagon and then descend for another load.
Over and over, year after year it went on this way. When he got too sick to work, the Nazis tried to gas him to death. The poison pellet malfunctioned.
If nothing, the Nazis were persistent. The guards forced 100 naked people into a yard that night and hosed them down in frigid cold. By morning, scores were dead and dying. So the Nazis opened up their hoses again.
Somehow, Joseph and a handful survived. He would live to reunite with his wife, Mary, and their son, Leslie. They lived to see Judy born, and now their names live on. Judy Nitkin tells the story to young people. That way, they’ll “Never Forget.”
We should do this again next year, so no one ever forgets. Others will be welcomed. And if we work together, no one and no regime will dare try to stop us. Never Again.
Imagine: All we’ll need is a few more yarmulkes.