Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Words at the Cambridge Holocaust Commemoration

On May 2, I was invited to introduce the poem "Bashert" at the Cambridge Holocaust Commemoration ceremony. Here are the introductory words I gave ...


Every year we gather here to commemorate the Holocaust. We do so not just to remember the many victims of that horrific crime. But also to reassert a faith: a faith in humanity, a faith in other people, a faith in ourselves.

One need not look very far today to remember just how important our evening is tonight. Remembering and grieving the past is only part of what we do. Joining and committing to fight against many claws of bigotry, demonization and indifference that allow hatred to flourish and inhumanity to gain the upper hand, we do that too.

As part of our commemoration, we read the poem Bashert, through the many voices that make up our one community. 

Bashert  is written by Irena Klepfisz and it means something like “destiny” in Yiddish. The poem expresses the randomness of death and survival within the context of systematic, deliberate genocide of the Nazi regime. 

Klepfisz tells us about nameless people, and their fate, people whom she undoubtedly knew. We know these people too. They exist in our memories and they exist in our lives and they exist in ourselves. We are inextricably connected to one another.

This poem — and this evening — spurs us to remember all communities that faced or face repression, persecution, and genocide, wherever they may find themselves and whoever they may be. 

It spurs us to renew our commitment to confronting intolerance and inhumanity wherever it exists. It spurs to act against violence and to speak out against the willingness to do violence whenever it emerges.

And it spurs us to honor the grandest part of the human spirit … its resistance and resilience … and its unfathomable capacity for kindness.

This is a responsive reading, and we ask the audience you join us in saying “These words are dedicated to all those who died,” which can be found starting on Page 8 of your program.