Six Million  

Posted by inkstainedhands in , , ,

When reading books about the Holocaust or stories from survivors, or watching grainy black and white videos and looking at photographs from which haunted dark eyes stare back at you, there are not enough words to describe the emotions raging inside. Horrified, shocked, confused, mournful, overwhelmed. But words cannot express the depth of those emotions. Words cannot express how I feel as I put a bookmark in the book I am reading because I simply cannot go on. I need a few minutes to internalize it and to allow myself to feel and go through the thoughts whirling in my head. I exhale loudly and close my eyes.

Most of us grew up with an awareness of the Holocaust. Many of us are familiar with the number six million. It is something we know, something we acknowledge. But at the same time, it is a statistic. It is a number. We see the six million as a whole, instead of trying to wrap our minds around the fact that these were six million individuals. For some reason, when we think of a number that big, we fail to grasp the enormity of the tragedy.

This thought particularly struck me as I was reading Dr. Hillel Seidman's The Warsaw Ghetto Diaries, which chronicle his experiences during the Holocaust in the Warsaw Ghetto, where he faithfully wrote in a diary all of what was happening around him. He would often scribble down reports of events even as they were happening, anxious to have everything on paper. In his introduction to the book, Dr. Hillel Seidman recounts how the other Warsaw residents, knowing that he was a talented published writer, encouraged him to “transcribe all Warsaw’s travails and tribulations, a written record for future generations, so that the world should eventually learn the truth” (p. 33). When atrocities are committed, such as those of the Germans against the Jews, it is inevitable that there will later be attempts at denying those happenings. Holocaust deniers are rampant now, despite the fact that not even a century has elapsed since the tragedy. In a world where there are still people with numbers branded on their arms and horrifying stories experienced first-hand, many simply choose to ignore the facts and – out of their hatred for the Jews – spitefully insist that the Holocaust was a hoax. The only way to counter that is by spreading knowledge and teaching facts to as many people as possible, and the accounts of those who witnessed these horrors and lived through them is the perfect conduit. Dr. Seidman’s objective was to show future generations what really happened – that the Holocaust was not just one big horror story but a traumatizing, torturous experience that millions of Jews as real as ourselves had to suffer through. Although it was both difficult and extremely dangerous to keep these diaries, Dr. Seidman persisted, knowing that this was something worth working for, because people had to learn of these things somehow. Leaving a record for the world was especially important considering that the Nazis were careful not to leave written records of the crimes they committed. Although Dr. Seidman did not know whether his diaries would ever be read, a Warsaw businessman named Reb Berel Gefen reminded him of a passage in Avot -- Ethics of the Fathers (2:16) that said, “The work is not up to you to complete. Nor are you free to shirk the responsibility…” (p. 36). And indeed, most of what we know today about the Holocaust is because of the diaries of victims and the stories of survivors. Dr. Seidman knew he had to do whatever he could, both to transcribe what was happening and to leave memories of himself and those around him; the rest was in the hands of G-d. His goal was merely to write the truth and not allow it to be lost, destroyed, or mangled.

It was this particular sentence that struck me: "Every day Warsaw loses another 7000 innocent victims." Think about it.... Seven thousand innocent people were being senselessly slaughtered each day. Seven thousand people who could have done so much with their lives were brutally denied the right to live. It is easier to imagine seven thousand people in your mind than a million, so perhaps that was why this sentence had such an effect on me.

And that is something that encourages me to live my life to the fullest and strive to make a difference, because I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity that millions of Jews were denied.

The Unavoidable Seminary Question  

Posted by inkstainedhands in

I just came back from a seminary options evening in my school, where girls from different seminaries spoke to us and described the seminaries they went to -- academics, peer group, and so on.

I never really wanted or planned to go to seminary, so I never gave it a second thought. Seminary was just something the other girls would do -- stressing over whether they would get in to the seminary of their choice, leaving for Israel, coming back completely different. I felt relieved that I would not have to think about this.

But, to make a long story short, I am considering going to a seminary part-time in New York (preferably in Brooklyn, although Manhattan is not completely out of the question). Since I never considered this in the past, however, I don't know where to start. I have a list of some seminaries in New York, but most of them don't have websites and I am having some difficulties getting information on them.

So if any of you have gone to seminaries in Brooklyn, please, please, please leave a comment or send me an email at myinkstainedhands (AT) gmail (DOT) com and tell me about your experience there -- the academics, the students, the atmosphere, and the pros and the cons, or whatever else you thought about it. Also, if you know anyone who went to a NY seminary, if you could help me get in touch with them, it would be much appreciated.

Where Have I Been?  

Posted by inkstainedhands in , , , , , ,

I see that over a month has passed since I made my last blog post on September 18th, in honor of Rosh Hashana. So where have I been all this time? I could give all kinds of excuses.... My rats hijacked my keyboard, I was too busy to post, I was preoccupied by this thing called real life, etc. All of these excuses have some truth in them, but none of them are THE answer (although Mr. Knightley did just jump onto my computer desk and start trampling on the keyboard).

Speaking of my rats, I have introduced them to a few of my friends, all of whom were delighted to meet them. I got to say, "Told you they were cute," on a few different occasions, so that was nice. Some of my friends who declared that they would never come to my house again if I got rats actually fell in love with the creatures as soon as they met them.

So, what else have I been up to in the past few weeks? School has obviously been keeping me busy, but I also managed to keep myself well occupied during Sukkot. After weeks of doing what my sense of responsibility told me to do, it was nice to relax and do what I wanted to do. I took full advantage of my one and a half weeks of Sukkot vacation by visiting the Frick Collection, going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and seeing Hamlet on Broadway, among other things. I cannot help but smile every time I think of that week. And for now, I will have to rely on those memories to bring a smile to my face, because it does not look as if I will have any more time for that sort of thing until the end of November, after midterms.

People have been asking me about my writing and how that is going. Well, to tell the truth, it's not really going. I have been more involved in art and drawing the past couple of months. I did write a few quick dialogues in the form of poems, but that was simply for fun after an overdose of Shakespeare. I also finished a few books, some of which I considered blogging about. Perhaps once I have more time, I will do so. I also hope that my writing will pick up its pace in November with NaNoWriMo. I'm still working on one of my novels from 2007, but I would also like to start a new one on a completely different topic, with a Jewish theme for once.

I just wanted to update everyone, because otherwise it looks as if I disappeared for no reason. Hopefully there won't be such a large gap again between this post and the next.