By Rabbi Edwin Goldberg
Eileh Azkara (These I Remember) is the lament that recounts the martyrdom of ten rabbis during the Roman brutality of 2000 years ago. Their story is told twice a year, on Tisha B’av and Yom Kippur. A key element of the telling is that these sages gave their lives, often being subjected to brutal torture first, in order to preserve Judaism through their illicit teaching. In Gates of Repentance, this lament was incorporated into the creative retelling of our people’s story, from Creation to Redemption. The new machzor we are creating, Mishkan HaNefesh, will feature a brief section on the subject of remembering those who have given up their lives because they were Jews.
One possible poem on the subject we are considering using in the machzor is from the great American Jewish poet, Charles Reznikoff (1894-1976). It is entitled Out of the Strong Sweetness (1959).
Out of the strong, sweetness;
And out of the dead body of the lion of Judah,
The prophecies and psalms;
Out of the slaves in Egypt,
Out of the wandering tribesman of the deserts
And the peasants of Palestine,
Out of the slaves of Babylon and Rome,
Out of the ghettos of Spain and Portugal, Germany and Poland
The Torah and the prophecies,
The Talmud and the sacred studies, the hymns and songs of the
And out of the Jewish dead
Of Belgium and Holland, of Rumania, Hungary, and Bulgaria,
Of France and Italy and Yugoslavia,
Of Lithuania and Latvia, White Russia and Ukrainia,
Of Czechoslovakia and Austria,
Poland and Germany,
Out of the greatly wronged
A people teaching and doing justice;
Out of the plundered
A generous people;
Out of the wounded a people of physicians;
And out of those who met only with hate,
A people of love, a compassionate people.
The poem, like the traditional liturgy, reminds us that we Jews have not only survived through all the hate. We have continued to practice compassion and work for a better world. We have not allowed bitterness to consume us. Not only have Jews survived; the humane values of Judaism have also continued to light the world.
As Jews celebrate Chanukah (this year along with Thanksgiving), it is important to remember that those who died through acts of hate leave behind a religion of light and hope.
As the Israeli folksong declares, “We have come to expel the darkness.” Two thousand years later, nothing has changed.
Edwin Goldberg, D.H.L., is the senior rabbi of Temple Sholom of Chicago and serves as the coordinating editor of Mishkan HaNefesh.