The Immensity of Absence

Invocation for the Sonoma County
Community-wide Yom HaShoah Commemoration
April 11, 2010

I'm honored and humbled to be asked to offer the invocation for today's commemoration. I am myself from a family of mameshdikeh Yankees: some of my forebears on this soil as early as the 1850s, the last straggler here by 1905. So that I stand here with an unprecedented century of safety behind me.

There were, of course, people in my family lost in the Shoah. But research was required to find their names.

And so I sometimes feel unequal to the task, when the task is to remember. How shall I remember? What shall I remember? How do I conjure up for myself a depth of pain that some in this room could not possibly conjure away, even if they wanted to?

The answer for me and many of my generation is, I think, to learn to see the invisible. I traveled to Poland three years ago. I was prepared to see the camps, and I was moved when I saw them. But weighing much more heavily on me, and staying with me even to this moment, was the immensity of what I didn't see.

Like looking at a picture where your eye suddenly sees the negative space jump to the front, we must train ourselves to appreciate what should be - but is not - there.

The actions never completed and dreams never realized.
The prayers never offered.
The poems left unpenned and the symphonies uncomposed.
The ideas not sparked and inventions never imagined.
The eyes that didn't meet and romances that didn't blossom.
The generations not born.
The cousins we should have had.
Seven decades of challahs not baked for Shabbos.
Uncountable tzedakah not given.
Old age never reached.
Peaceful deaths denied and honorable burials not granted.
The trivial moments that never even had the opportunity to be taken for granted.

This is an immensity of absence. As Jews, as citizens of the 21st Century, we live in it every day.
It is an emptiness the size of Europe.

So how do we not despair?

We blossom anew even in the midst of this desert.
We live. We dream.
We pen poems and compose symphonies.
Meet eyes, hold hands, make love.
We bake and we build.
We act justly.
We honor lost lives by living our own. With ferocity. With gusto.
We feel the sap coursing through us and, without guilt, we open our petals to the sky. 

So that our lives are memory.
So that our lives are a tikkun.
So that we may be worthy to be alive.

We live, and through our lives, through our love, through our creativity and our compassion, we remember.

And we make sure that that memory becomes - for us, for others, and for this entire beautiful, terrible, undeserving and desperately needy world - a true blessing.

Ken y'hi ratzon. May it be so.