Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Forward payment goes both ways

היום חמשא יומים לעמר
Today is the fifth day of the omer
הוד שבחסד
A day of humility in a week of loving kindness

This morning I had one of those "pay it forward" moments.

Coming back from my yoga immersion, driving up 29th Street, a block or so from my house, I saw a Latino guy next to a white truck. He was motioning to cars going by with jumper cables in his hands. I drove by...realized he needed a jump...stopped and backed up to help him. We got the truck started, and one of the guys asked me if I wanted anything in exchange. I told him he owed someone else a jump. He agreed, with a smile.

Then I get home and read of two other, long-standing "pay it forward" events--one the flip side of the other.

Some would call this story a "pay it back." In an Associate Press account of the deportation proceedings against John Demjanjuk, a now frail 89-year-old Nazi war criminal. A German arrest warrant claims Demjanjuk was an accessory to some 29,000 deaths during World War II at the Sobibor camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. He has been removed from his home in suburban Cleveland, but his case has just been stayed.

Some bits from the story:
"A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay until it could further consider Demjanjuk's motion to reopen the U.S. case that ordered him deported, in which he says painful medical ailments would make travel to Germany torturous."

"As Demjanjuk's wheelchair was loaded into a van at their home, his wife, Vera, sobbed and held her hands to her mouth. As the van moved down the street, Vera turned and waved, sobbing in the arms of a granddaughter."

"It was horrendous. He was in such pain. I wouldn't want to see anyone go through something like that," said granddaughter Olivia Nishnic, 20.

"If he is deported, if this madness and inhumane action is not stopped by the 6th Circuit, he will live out his life in a (German) hospital. He will never be put on trial," he said. "It makes absolutely no sense that the Germans, after nearly killing him in combat, would try to kill him once again."
I find those statements chilling, putting in bold those that cut to the heart. Those words are being used to come to the defense of a man who not only watched mad and inhumane actions being used on thousands and thousands of innocent people, but he participated in their torture and murder. A week from today Yom HaShoah, the day we honor all those killed in the Holocaust. Their families pleas for mercy, justice, and compassion fell on the deaf ears of those like John Demjanjuk.

In today's SF Chronicle, I saw this story:
Jews pay back quake victims in Italy

"More than 65 years after villagers provided shelter to Italian Jews fleeing from the Nazis, a group of those who evaded capture rushed to repay that sacrifice in rural communities hard-hit by an earthquake last week.'

"'I wouldn't be here if it weren't for these people,' said Alberto Di Consiglio, whose parents were sheltered in the small hamlets of Fossa and Casentino during the war. 'We have to help them.'"

"In one tent, Di Consiglio managed to find Nello De Bernardinis, 74, the son of the couple who sheltered Di Consiglio's father and eight other relatives during the war."

"'Those were difficult times, like today,' said De Bernardinis. 'The Germans were always looking for Jews and we did what we could.'"
People helping people who help them back. Righteous acts moving forward.

The cycle of paying forward lasts through time. As Nello De Bernardinis tells us, you do what you can. Maybe that's the message on this day of humility in loving kindness.

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