This week following last weekend’s Rafle du Vel d’hiv I was reading about Simon Dubnov.
No Jewish historian ever had a greater impact on his time than Simon Dubnov. He died at the hands of the Nazis in Riga in December 1941 at the age of 81. Because he was too frail and infirm to deport, they shot him in the ghetto. Those who witnessed the murder reported that Dubnov’s last words were, “Jews, write it down.” And they did, in Kovno, Warsaw, Lodz and elsewhere.
In his spirit, Jews organized collective and clandestine efforts to record the many terrifying faces of the Final Solution. Unarmed and unaided, they found solace in assembling the evidence that would one day convict their mass murderers in the court of human history.
Keeping records and memories is important, we know that and charting the journeys and experiences throughout history so critical for the progress and comprehension of all. It was the philosopher George Santayana wrote that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. His words have been often used and more often misused.
And yet here we are hearing the names of cities again in the current war on Ukraine, the same places but a different war recorded byDubnov’s student Elias Tcherikover, who in 1919 undertook to document with eyewitness accounts the waves of pogroms that were decimating Ukrainian Jewry in the wake of the Russian Revolution.
We are always negotiating the past and present. These last two portions of the Book of Numbers over the last two Shabbatot of July describe the journey of the Israelites as they prepare to cross the Jordan river and settle, and remind us that Torah is the heirloom of the Jewish people. But so are the words of contemporary Jewish writers making sense of Jewish history.
We will meet to study and respond to these contemporary books after the summer.
Happy Reading and Shabbat Shalom
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