PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot the Rapids — Fostering Hope

Today I read their names. Five hundred names. Deliberately, slowly and intentionally. So that we will never forget.

Since I’ve moved to Hartford, Conn., I have taken part in the Yom Hashoah Holocaust Remembrance Day, sponsored by Voice of Hope. In the past, I’ve gone to the Mandell Jewish Community Center in West Hartford, where I would take a 10- or 20-minute slot to read the name of some of the 6 million men, women and whildren who died during the Holocaust. Monica Swanson alerted me to this opportunity when I first arrived, and it has been deeply meaningful for me,

But this year, it felt different, even more poignant. It was on Zoom, so I didn’t have a chance to feel like I was in a sacred space as I read, but it felt somehow even more holy. Perhaps because it put things in perspective for me.

Sunday was not a good day for me. I was feeling anxious and a bit sorry for myself. It was dreary outside, and I miss being able to gather in the church community. I was filled with angst about when the new normal will begin and what it will look like.

The NFL Draft was over, and as a sports nut, a vast wasteland of nothingness lay in front of me and I was going a bit stir crazy.  Oh, winning for the third time in a row at Family Trivia Night was a bit of a boost (Ian and I are a fierce team) but by and large, it was just one of those days, those endless days that seem to reach out before us with no end in sight.

I wasn’t planning anything, I wasn’t sure of anything, and I felt like I was just treading water — without burning the calories that accompany that exercise.

And then I read the names, names of innocent people whose lives were upended far more than ours have been, ripped away from their homes and each other and rounded up in concentration camps, where they were systematically murdered. Six million names of people who died, senselessly, needlessly, at the hands of their neighbors.

Perspective is an important thing, especially during times of trial.

Make no mistake, I am not minimizing what is happening in our community, our country and our world during this time. The deaths are heartbreaking, the loss of jobs, livelihoods and dreams are profound, the sacrifices by those who are on the front lines are great and the uncertainty is a tangible reality.

And this disease both attacks the most vulnerable and reveals the inequities in our society, as the poor and marginalized are far more likely to die than those who have means, health care and security.

But getting a historical perspective helps. Right now, the greatest enemy we face is a virus, not human evil. We have the ability to work together, as a global village, to research, share findings and discover a vaccine. Barriers are being broken as people share results and seek a common goal, rather than focusing on personal glory, within the scientific community.

Oh, there are swaths of people on the margins who are rabble-rousing and those who are not willing to have the patience that is necessary to defeat this enemy with the fewest casualties. But by and large, this experience is, for many, revealing the best of humanity.

I personally have seen people move past former animus to work together to help feed the hungry and work on a common cause. That is what happens when we pitch in and work together.

The story of the Holocaust is one that reveals what occurs when the “other” is vilified, scapegoated and demonized. Voices of Hope is an organization created by descendants of Holocause survivors to collect categorize and share the experience of Holocaust survivors for the benefit of future generations.Their bold mission is to foster a culture of courage and social action against hate, bigotry, intolerance and indifference.

Today was a chance for me to remember what happens when humans turn against each other or turn a deaf ear to the cries of those in need and what God calls us toward when we experience our own times of trial.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul was writing to a church during a time of conflict and change, where divisions were seeking to destroy them. In it, he encourages them, “Do not  lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”

I took those words to heart today, reminding me of the momentary affliction and the opportunity to find renewal in the power and presence of God. Do not lose heart. Forge ahead in faith.

If my friends at Voices of Hope can do that through their mission and outreach, and their desire to continue to lift up the names and the stories of those who died in the Holocaust, all while fostering hope, I can certainly do that now.

Prayer: O God our help in ages past, our hope in years to come, thank you for the faithfulness of those who are able to bring voices of hope during times of darkness. Instill in us a Spirit that emits your light to a darkened world and remind us of our connection to all people.  Help us not to forget the past but to use your Spirit to help redeem it, even as that Spirit sustains us in the present.  Amen.

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