Friday, November 4, 2016
TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Joshua Sherman on Noah
As a now-teenager, I have watched this presidential campaign unfold on TV, and I hear people arguing back and forth about how bad things are in America right now.
And as I thought about my Torah portion….about Noah and the Ark….I realized that things were pretty bad back too for Noah, when he decided to pack up the Ark and hit the road… (or the ocean) in his case. Noah took off because his society was corrupted by violence, destruction, doom and gloom. And God told him to leave…..and he did.
But here’s the nice thing about our Torah…..it will often focus on the positive….and the story of Noah is not so much about the destruction….it’s about the story of Noah’s recovery. About his survival…..About him never giving up…..About him persevering. That in the end, he survives, and life overcomes death.
As soon as Noach gets off the ark, he does an unusual thing. He plants a vineyard. It’s probably not the first thing I would have done if I had been on a boat with dozens of smelly animals for a few months—I would have taken a long hot shower, and relaxed a little bit….maybe even gone to Gloss to freshen up with my mom….but not Noah….he went right to work.
In planting a vineyard, Noach chose to grow grapes and produce wine, which is for Jews a symbol of happiness and life. When we make a toast, we say, “L’chayim,” “To life.” That’s the message of Noach.
This coming Wednesday is the anniversary of Kristallnacht, which marks an attack on the Jews of Germany in 1938. Many consider this night to be the beginning of the Holocaust.
My great grandparents, Frieda and Morton Mattel, both survived the Holocaust. My great grandma Frieda (who Emily is named for), had been living with her parents and five siblings in a small town in Poland. Her father was the local rabbi in town.
One day, when she was 15, it was her turn to go out and pick up food, and when she came back to her house, her whole family was gone……Her whole family—her parents and 5 brothers and sisters were taken from her and killed by the Nazis.
Then they brought my great grandma to the concentration camp. And she was brave enough to escape.
She ran through the woods and a Polish farmer’s family took her in and hid her underneath a floorboard for 18 months. At 15 years old, my great grandma spent a year literally living under a floorboard. Not just once or twice. But every day and sleeping in this cramped space at night for 18 months.
Meanwhile, Grandma Renee’s father, Morton (for whom I am named), was from Warsaw. He survived Treblinka and in fact led an uprising there and escaped into the woods.
My great grandparents got married in Europe, moved to America, opened up a diner and started working and saving their money to put their kids through college and law school.
My other great grandmother, Edith, lost her husband very young and went to work and raised 3 kids as a single mom.
As did my great grandma Ma, who lost her husband a little later in life, and with 6 kids, continued running the business that she and her husband started.
Like Noah, my great grandparents Frieda and Morton overcame horror and tragedy with their stories of survival and perseverance and life.
Jewish history is filled with examples of people overcoming loss. As I thought about my Torah portion…about Noach, I realized that for both Noach’s family….and my own great grandparents….perhaps the greatest miracle was not simply their survival, but the fact that they still maintained the kind of hope that it takes to have kids of their own and to move on….to enable life to overcome death…and to leave a legacy of love, religion and hard work despite the tragedy and horror some of them survived.
To all of my great grandparents who are watching over us today, please know that I will try my hardest to continue that legacy.