Thursday, April 11, 2013

what it takes to survive

This past Sunday was Yom HaShoa. No, I did not do any special activity with the kids, in fact, I am still struggling how to weave Holocaust into our conversations.

What I saw was this article about an extended family of Ukranian Jews surviving while hiding out in a cave. Their story is atypical in that a whole family was intact. The article addresses what the conditions were like in the cave and the evidence found by an expedition many years later of their amazing survival.

What struck me was the last part of the article where a professional caver answers the questions about his search:

Do you think that people today could survive like the families did?
Modern-day people who sit at a computer all day? I would say no for two reasons. First of all, these were hands-on people. They were carpenters and merchants who had to provide for themselves, especially during the occupation. They also grew up knowing the history of the caves in the area and that ancient people lived in them, so they knew it could be done. Secondly, the Stermer grandmother taught her family not to trust authority. At one point, before they fled to the caves, all Jews were told to meet in town and register. The grandmother decided they were not going to go. The family worried but they obeyed the grandmother. That day, in five separate towns, the Germans rounded up thousands of Jews and many were never seen again—it had been a trap. I think people today often don't give themselves the right to question authority.

If, G-d forbid, something like this was to happen again, are we training our kids to survive?

I am thinking about how my kids spent hours exploring our fairly overgrown backyard. The know every nook and cranny of it, they know what it is like to get their hands dirty, to dig with a shovel, to carry rocks, to tie down bushes to make tents. Moreover, they have been carrying all of these activities by themselves while their peers have been obediently sitting at their desks, keeping their hands and notebooks clean, listening to authority, learning how not to speak out of turn and trust adults no matter what.

Years ago, one of the Christian homeschooling curriculum that I encountered emphasized obedience as a good trait. I asked another parent if this is a midda (a character trait) that we cultivate as Jews. She said, no.   Oh, it would be so easy if these kids just listened and obeyed! We are a stiff-necked people, we are stubborn, we question authority. Yesterday, my oldest went a little rant about whether G-d exists and his proof is that he has been asking for Nintendo DS in Shema Koleinu and never got one. If we were Catholic, I was supposed to bop him on the head and say: "Silly! How dare you question the existence of G-d?" But, being Jewish, I explained how everything around him could not be pure coincidence and there must be a Creator who is in charge of the world.

Why so many Jews perished in Holocaust? Why they listened and trusted the powers in charge? Why they did not lift their heads from Talmud pages and university journals and fought for their lives? We say "never again", but why are we relying on others to ensure our survival instead of cultivating this resilience and stubbornness?

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