|1999 / ISSUE 57|
I have just read an extraordinary book called Sisters of Sorrow, which I hope each of you will read. It is the story of women who nursed and healed in the concentration camps during the Holocaust. In reading it, I encountered a date that suddenly had a profoundly personal significance for me. In February 1942, the Nazis passed an edict stating, "No more Jewish children." The Jews were forbidden to procreate -- just as Pharoah had decreed in ancient Egypt.
I was born in February 1942; it is purely serendipitous that I was born safely in Toronto. But in war-torn Europe, those Jewish children whose lives were only a possibility were aborted and killed, many of them by their mothers, sisters, or Jewish doctors, as the Nazis arrived. My identification with that date has charged my very being with a strengthened determination to educate, to spread Judaism's message, to make Jews proud of their identity, and to ultimately ensure the survival of Judaism and the Jewish people. We must all strive toward these goals.
The College-Institute and the American Jewish community have responded extraordinarily to three major challenges after the Holocaust. We have demonstrated that we can be Jewish and American and, rather than sacrificing one identity for the other, can bridge those identities as a matter of conviction and pride. We have created successor educational institutions, with libraries, archives, museums, and research resources to perpetuate Jewish study and scholarship. We have sustained the State of Israel, through financial, political, and emotional support, and ensured its vitality and security.
We need to continue and add to these achievements. We are heirs to what is one of the most extraordinary institutions in modern Jewish life and possibly in Jewish history as a whole P one of the determining institutions in one of the great civilizations of the Jewish people. We are also God's partners in Goral Habrit, the destiny of the covenant, and Goral Ha'am, the destiny of the Jewish people, in ensuring the continuity of the covenant and of the Jewish people.
This is an exciting time in the life of our College-Institute to achieve these goals. There is an extraordinary spirit everywhere, among faculty, students, administrators and staff P a spirit of accomplishment and hope. We are rising to the challenge P expanding our academic programs, enhancing our renowned faculty, educating the best and brightest of students for leadership of the Reform Movement and Klal Yisrael, and strengthening the cause of religious pluralism and liberal values in Israel.
Each year at the Passover seder, we teach our children that "in every generation, each Jew should regard himself and herself as if they had personally come out of Egypt..." As we celebrate our legacy of liberation and rebirth, let us also rededicate ourselves to fulfill our responsibilities to the generations that will follow us. With your help, the College-Institute can capture the Jewish future. We must accept and affirm that Jewish destiny is in our hands and commit ourselves to that partnership with God in making it happen. Uvahartem Bachaim, "We shall choose life." With all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our might, we shall do it.
Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman
Most recent update 7 May 1999
Copyright © 1999 Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion