Poland and its Jews
I returned to Poland for the first time since we escaped from our town in 1939, as one of nine survivors from Toronto who participated in the March of the Living (MOL). I fully agree with Rabbi Dow Marmur’s comments (“There’s more to Polish Jewry than the Holocaust”) that Jews should celebrate their long history in Poland, which was home to more Jews than any other European country. However, I totally disagree that “disdain for Poles and Poland may also be reflected in the MOL.”
I suggest that survivors who have participated in the march, some several times, and two from our group who were on their 16th trip, and endure the physical and emotional challenge of the trip do not do so because of “disdain for Poles.”
Yes, much time was spent in Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka, Majdanek and other death centres. But we also spent considerable time in Jewish quarters, praying in synagogues that have been rebuilt and in the striking Polin Museum in Warsaw. This is a glowing tribute by the Polish government to the history and achievements of our people. One can spend weeks in this museum studying the numerous exhibits and historic presentations tracing the history of Jews in Poland.
As a member of a diminishing family of survivors, having made my first MOL trip, I look forward to returning again and again to learn even more about the Jewish roots in Poland and to rejoice in what Jews have achieved in Israel – the only guarantee we have that there will never be another Holocaust.
The gift of a shivah visit
Bravo to Avrum Rosensweig for writing a column about the shivah visit (“Dos and don’ts when making a shivah visit”). I believe it is important to discuss this, regardless of how uncomfortable it is.
Two years ago, when I sat shivah for my husband, I was surprised how many people knew instinctively what would help me get through those darkest hours. I learned that one must never worry about being too distant a friend or relative to attend a shivah. It feels so good for the family that you cared enough to attend.
Some of the kind gestures I remember fondly included: telling stories about my late husband; a loving hug; putting a warm drink in my hand or a blanket on my shoulders; giving me a moment of laughter; saying hello and using your name (I was in a fog and couldn’t remember the names of my closest friends); hanging a new roll of toilet paper, clearing some plates and cups, and coming from far to pray.
I am constantly amazed at the grace and kindness of so many. Even today, they will sit with me on a lonely night, drop by with a coffee, join me at Yizkor, offer a lift so I don’t have to go alone, educate me on so many details I left up to my husband, forgive me if I can’t attend their simchah, or simply provide a shoulder to lean on when I’m remembering another time and place.
These are the gifts that have helped me slowly regain my life. These are the gifts I hope to use to “pay it forward” when required by others.
Morality of assisted dying
Rabbis Daniel Korobkin and Lisa Grushcow discuss the possibility of a slippery slope related to physician-assisted dying (“How to approach assisted dying”).
But the parameters laid out by the Supreme Court in the Carter decision begin in a moral valley. The Alberta appeals court has ruled that the proposed legislation is too restrictive. A challenge by a woman who was suffering from a psychiatric condition known as conversion disorder led the court to rule that psychiatrically ill people should be able to get a doctor’s help to end their own lives when they are suffering intolerably.
This invites abuse by offering medical assistance to those who may be predisposed to suicide, are socially vulnerable and may have impaired capacity for decision-making. It takes the value of autonomy to absurd lengths while disregarding the medical ethical principal of non-malfeasance. This comes at a time when psychiatric services across the country are woefully inadequately funded.
The Carter decision is a terrible moral starting point for the experiment in physician-assisted dying.