Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tough Faith

Tonight is the Hebrew date of passing of my father's father, who died about 20 years ago. I didn't have a chance to know him at all, and I suppose its normal not to give too much thought, growing up, to someone who you didn't know.

But a Granddad is a Granddad. And they should occupy a certain place in your mind. One of the only memories, or should I say images, that I do have of Zeidi Chaim is of him sitting with a Talmud in his hand. The truth is that I suspect even this memory is more a manufactured one -- my grandmother told me one thing about him -- that he learned a lot.

My father asked me to honor his father's memory by leading a prayer service tonight, which I did. At the end of the service, I decided to say a few words.

I've included them here:

With the permission of the tzibur I wanted to say a few words about my grandfather Zeidi Chaim, who lived just round the corner from this shul, and who passed away before I had a chance to know him well. Before my grandmother, his wife, passed away last year she wrote an essay about her life with the help of her daughter. In the essay she wrote about how Zeidi Chaim lost two daughters in the Auschwitz concentration camp (she also lost a child there). We shouldn't know such horrors. This was something that I had either not been told before, or was told at an age when I didn't remember it. One of the only images I have of Zeidi Chaim in my mind is that of him sitting with a Gemarah in his hand. He remained dedicated to his Torah after everything he went through in WW2.

I am reminded of a story that the Chief Rabbi of England, Rav Jonathan Sacks recently told. He tells of how a woman once wrote to him and asked him why God doesn't just give us irrefutable proof of His existence, so that we could just know once and for all that He exists. Rabbi Sacks answered her that knowing God exists is not so hard at all. What is hard is having faith in God.

When I think about the trials that Zeidi Chaim's faith must have endured, I am humbled by the memory of him learning Torah. To experience what he did, and to come through it, and build a family again, remaining dedicated to his faith, is I think, an example of what Rabbi Sacks means when he says that it is faith that is the hard part.