The month of April (Nisan and Iyyar) is a month of remembering with Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzma’ut, all three relatively recent commemorations that remind us how the evil of war seems never far away and that war devours life and we must remember life. Members of our IJC community commemorate these days in a variety of personal and informal ways, reflecting the many perspectives we represent. This year I was invited to represent the IJC at a more formal event, a Holocaust Commemoration Day organised by the US mission to NATO. In the presence of senior NATO officials, US soldiers and other NATO staff (including our own Sarah S. and Peter G.) I was asked to pray El Male Rachamim, the traditional prayer for the dead, and to say Kaddish.
But my own minor contribution was eclipsed by the testimony of Regina Suchowolski-Sluszny, a vigorous 80+ presently chair of the Forum der Joodse Organisaties based in Antwerp, the Flemish equivalent of the CCOJB. Regina is a child survivor, having spent the war period in various places of hiding in and around the city of Antwerp. She is with me in the photo below together with Chaplain Major Donald Fulton and, on the far right, Senior Enlisted Advisor Alfredo A. Vasquez.
I was particularly moved by her expressions of gratitude to the family who hid her in spite of the personal dangers they faced. It turned out that that her ‘wartime parents’ were also supporting her ‘birth parents’ by bringing them food. They likewise survived the war in hiding in a different location. She concluded her presentation by reflecting on the many family members who had not survived, and then she turned to her own children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. The future was assured! An amazing lady with an equally amazing story to tell.
As I was about to leave this event I was asked by the chaplain to the US Army Garrison in Brussels if I would be willing to be the Jewish representative at their May 4th National Day of Prayer event together with Christian and Muslim military. I was happy to do so, of course, and was promised a hearty breakfast as reward. As fortune would have it, the pastor started the event with the wrong reading – I should have been first, reading Proverbs 21, 1-13 in Hebrew and English. Instead he started by reading from the gospel of Matthew about the so-called ‘beatitudes’, words that are very familiar to me because they echo our Morning Blessings. The mix up gave me the opportunity to connect the Jewish author of the gospel who was profoundly familiar with the Hebrew scriptures and probably witnessed the destruction of the Second Temple. My reading from Proverbs was about the importance of justice and how it takes priority to empty sacrifice and keeping the rules for their own sake.
But in the middle of the reading about justice and equity, the following words of wisdom appeared which raised some smiles and chuckles: It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop, than with a brawling spouse in a spacious house (Prov. 21,9).
I have made good connections with the US military chaplains in Brussels and Benelux and hope to connect with them more and bring them closer to IJC.
Rabbi Brian Doyle-Du Breuil