By Rabbi Mendy Deitsch
When we were young, my mother invited her OB-GYN to join us for a Friday night Shabbos meal. He was a fine doctor and a proud Jew — a survivor of the Holocaust. He was thrilled to help bring children into this world.
During the meal he asked us kids if we knew about the Holocaust. We did. He then asked my brother and I the names of the concentration camps, and we were only able to name two or three.
He was not happy.
He asked how my parents could bring up their children — I was 9 at the time — without a thorough knowledge of what had happened just a short 50 years earlier? My father simply smiled and shared how beautiful it was that we were learning in the yeshiva, studying Talmud and Jewish law, and sitting here celebrating Shabbos, openly, freely, joyously.
The doctor was not impressed, to say the least.
I have replayed this particular Shabbos meal in my mind many times over the years. I began to wonder why I don’t know more about this most horrific atrocity that befell my people, my family, just a few years earlier.
As I got older I understood that I actually know very much about the torture, hunger, suffering, killings and murder at the hands of the Nazis, may their name be obliterated. In fact, many of my neighbors, shopkeepers and the people I sat next to in synagogue had numbers on their arms and spoke to us about what they went through and the families they had lost.
Yet, the focus of our education was not on what the world likes to show or teach about Jews, mainly dead Jews and the persecuted, but rather on the living, breathing, vibrancy of Judaism.
My parents worked hard to instill in us children the joy of Judaism — the heroism, the bravery, the eternity and the growth of the Jewish people — which is why we were sitting at a Shabbos table with 30 guests.
My father brought us to the Lubavitcher Rebbe to hear his talks and to be in his presence. The rebbe is upbeat, motivating and uplifting.
The rebbe, who survived the war, was alive. The rebbe had joy and, at times, the central shul where the rebbe prayed was electrifying. It was filled with forward motion, with a vision toward a stronger, rebuilt Jewish nation.
There were the lessons of the past, yet, the focus was on the future.
Our eyes were trained not to look backward but to share the vision for the future and the potential of the Jewish people.
Over the years, I have come to appreciate this way of thinking much more. Not because what happened in the past is not important to learn from, but it is precisely because of the past and what we went through as a people that the need to reach out, uplift and be present for each brother and sister is essential to a thriving Jewish people.
It is not enough to be a proud Jew. That leaves the next generation, unfortunately, marrying outside the religion and essentially ending the Jewish line of his/her family.
We need to live an inspired life, a happy life, to teach and inspire those of the religion to be an active Jew, a mitzvah-fulfilling and proud Jewish person. This will keep us alive and thriving for a more meaningful life as individuals and as a people.
It is time we embrace the happiness of Judaism, the positive lessons and the amazing opportunity that G-d gives us to connect to Him, to have a relationship with Him. How fortunate we are to be living in this generation where, through our actions, we will be able to see and feel the fulfillment and promise that Moshiach is here.
Rabbi Mendy Deitsch is the director of Chabad of the East Valley in Chandler, Arizona.