Monday, April 8, 2013

Declaring Dignity

Yesterday I attended a remembrance ceremony in my town to mark Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Days of Remembrance. One of the few times I heard the haunting Kaddish prayer for the departed was the first time I visited a Synagogue, for a Yom Hashoah event in Caulfield, Melbourne, more than fifteen years ago.
 Each year now,  there are fewer survivors left to share their horrific but often inspirational stories.  When they are all gone, the responsibility will lie with my generation.  The responsibility of learning from the past to create a better future.
Yesterday I heard a story of resilience from an assimilated Polish Jew who at eighteen was flung into the mayhem of war, hid on false papers, survived and escaped from Auschwitz-Birkenau, was re-interned then sent to Mauthausen, where he was eventually liberated. He went back to Poland/Ukraine to find his parents only to discover they had been killed, then he fled to the American Occupation Zone.  In 1950 he emigrated to the US where he built a successful life as a dentist, husband and father. He also served in the military to honor the country and soldiers who liberated him from the camps.

I looked around at the 150 or so young and old faces in the audience as the event's Chairman read out a "Declaration of Dignity", by Dr. Donna Hicks (Associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University).   It was a  solemn  reminder that anyone of us has the capacity to make a difference by preventing hatred, if  we go about our daily lives actively practicing this 'declaration' toward others:

We are all worthy of:
. . . having our identity accepted, no matter who we are
. . . recognition of our unique qualities and ways of life
. . . acknowledgement—to be seen, heard, and responded to
. . . belonging and feeling included
. . . freedom and independence and a life of hope and possibility
. . . being safe and secure
. . . being treated in a fair and evenhanded way
. . . being given the benefit of the doubt
. . . being understood
. . . an apology when someone does us harm  

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