My friend Goldie Rassen is a Holocaust survivor. She was a student in Lithuania when the Nazis came to power. She hasn't told me much of her story. She was in a concentration camp, she made it through. That's all she tells me.
Goldie and I went to a funeral today, the funeral of another survivor--my friend Beverly's mother, Erna Pinto. Erna, her late husband Erich and Goldie are survivors who all stayed close to their Jewish faith. This is not something to be taken for granted. These are people who directly experienced the worst that mankind can give. They had to have questioned the omnipotent God who allowed this to happen.
Today is Yom HaShoah, a day of Remembrance for those lost in the Holocaust. At lunch after the funeral, Goldie talked about her feelings about faith in God. Now, this is a women who goes to services almost every Shabbat. A woman to whom Judaism and its survival is paramount. But does she believe in God? Does she think that Jewish practice brings you closer to God, or God closer to you? The answer is complicated.
Goldie knows that adherence to Jewish practice is what will keep Judaism alive for the generations to come. A teacher at heart, she wants Jews to know Hebrew, to read the literature, the poetry, the teachings that Judaism has to give, both secular and sacred. But God's role in all this? Goldie pointed to the fork on the table, "So, God will see and care whether the fork used is milchig (dairy) or fleishig (meat), but God couldn't see what was happening with the Nazi's?" She shrugged.
She told me other stories of her husband, of her life after the camp--stories I won't go into here. Some stories she couldn't complete--tears got in the way.
However she feels about God, seeing my faith in Judaism gives her much joy. I've told her that I don't understand how or why I am so involved. I'm not sure where it comes from. But it's there and it pours out of me and I'm able to help others tap into the spirit. That's what Goldie sees. However she feels, she understands and appreciates what I feel. If I can give her that, I have accomplished something in life.