A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of hearing Rabbi Israel Meir Lau speak at the official opening of the new King David High School in Manchester.
I had heard him on three previous occasions, the first in Birkenau in 1998. You can see a snippet of that speech in the video I posted of the March of the Living here. Rabbi Lau, now Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, mesmerised his audience at King David with a vivid account of his experiences after liberation from Buchenwald concentration camp. He was 8 years old and was at a young persons convalescent camp near Paris.
I won’t rehearse the story here. I suggest you do what I did and that is to buy his memoir ‘Out of the Depths’.
Almost every page contains a heart-rending story, an amazing life-saving incident, a tearful memory. You gasp, you cry with every line and the unfolding of his amazing story.
I was struck at the beginning of the book where Rabbi Lau describes one of the many occasions where his life was saved by what appeared to be a providential hand.
The story I have in mind is heart-breaking and unbearable. Rabbi Lau describes how, as a 7 year old, he was to be placed on a transport with his mother whilst his older brother Naphtali was separated with the men of working age.
Rabbinit Lau knew that she and the women and children were destined for death, whereas those who could work had a chance, at least, for life.
With a mother’s desire to see her child live she literally threw ‘Lulek’ at his brother in order to save him, knowing full well that it was unlikely she would see either of them again. She took the agonising decision to separate herself from her little boy and face almost certain death alone so that he might live.
Her instinct was to do anything she could to save her son.
How different, I thought, when reading this, from those mothers in Gaza and Jenin and across the Palestinian territories who do the exact opposite. Instead of saving their sons and daughters they encourage them to strap suicide belts to their bodies and detonate them in Israel. Then they celebrate their son or daughter as a martyr and rejoice at the deaths their child has caused.
Not all Palestinian mothers think this way, of course, but many, many do.
At the heart of the conflict with its many nuances and complexities lies this awful truth.
The Jewish experience means that we embrace life and mourn loss and regret the killing of innocents – their are always those who do not fit that generalisation, but it is largely and overwhelmingly the case; the Palestinian experience has taught them to embrace death and martydom and exult in its consequences – another generalisation but very often true.
Am Yisrael Chai