TC Jewfolk: In memory of the 76 dead in Norway

This is a guest post by Sarah Routman, not a Norwegian, but a person who cares deeply about travelling the world, and walking in someone else’s shoes. As an educator and Jewish professional she has taken many trips to Bulgaria with Jewish teens to learn the unique history of the country during WWII, discovering what can happen in a society where individuals stand up to what they believe to be injustice from one human being toward another.

It was not yet Shabbat when the tragedy struck in Norway.

Very little information known about the killer, the motive, some of the victims. Yet, it was instantly clear that many innocent lives were lost. Another senseless act of violence. No Jews were affected that I have heard about, and it does not seem to be something that directly impacts the Jewish community.

And yet, I find myself moved.

Moved enough to attend the memorial service at Mindekirke, the Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church in Minneapolis this Sunday morning.

As I sat with my husband and the woman next to him who had driven over 100 miles to attend the service, I could not help but think about how others have sat by silently through the ages when it is the Jews who are targets of violence and oppression. It seemed all the more important that I was there, just because violence targeted at any population is wrong.

When Israel is the target of violence, when Jews are targeted, the comfort that I receive from people outside of our community, expressing their sorrow, offering their comfort, and identifying with us in a difficult time, is remarkable. And Judaism teaches us that we must speak out, we must help to make the world a better place.

From 1998 – 2005, I was involved in a cultural exchange program that brought North American, Israeli and Bulgarian Jewish high school students together for a cultural exchange program. This program focused on exploring Jewish identity, cultural similarities and differences and experiencing Bulgarian culture, all while learning about the history of the Jews in Bulgaria, most specifically during WWII. It is my firm belief, that we should all broaden our experiences of travelling around the world, so as to walk in someone else’s shoes, which ultimately, from my point of view, can go a long way to increase the compassion people feel towards others and will, eventually, I hope, lead to less hatred in the world.

I have not travelled to Norway, but the events that took place there on Friday, spoke to me and I felt I needed to stand with the Norwegian community at their time of horror and loss.

There are some who might think that the tragedy in Norway is not in any way a Jewish issue. Or even an American issue.  I have to say that I did not feel like an outsider when I stepped into the Church on Sunday. I believe that my choosing to be there, amidst those who are grieving, speaks volumes about how, despite differences in religions, politics or world views, we can all come together to grieve for children whose lives have been cut short.

I can only hope that by my presence, I was able to demonstrate that Jew, or non-Jew, Norwegian, or American, as a human being, I am outraged by what has happened.

In looking for a Jewish response to Friday’s tragedy, I came upon this article by Rabbi Ira Chernus, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Though the post I found was his response to the tragedy that struck our own shores on 9/11, I suspect that the words of Heschel and others that Rabbi Chernus quoted, are very apropos to Norwegians, and all people in the world today.

I found the words of Martin Niemöller (1892-1984), a Protestant pastor who spoke out against Hitler and the silence of the masses, echoing in my ears this morning, so I offer these words as well as my own.

‘First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.’

I could not stop myself from scribbling all over the program I had been given as we entered the church.

I offer these humble words as a memorial to the 93 people, [the death toll has since been revised to 76] most of them teenagers, who were senselessly killed in Norway this weekend, and suggest that as Jews, we do not sit silently by and watch without comment or action, when we see injustice in the world.

Long after the memorial service itself has become a distant memory, 93 lives will still be missed. The answers will not have come. The ache not satisfied for lost dreams. The hugs and kisses never again to be shared. Though time passes, words remain to carry us back to the times we cannot travel to any longer.

I wish to convey my deepest sympathy to the Twin Cities’ Norwegian community, to the citizens of Norway and the family and friends of the victims, and the family and friends of the killer, who I am sure, also know no rest. May the memories of those killed be for a blessing and may the world work harder to eliminate hatred from the hearts of men and women and children everywhere and for all time.

In Memory of the 93 Dead in Norway July 24, 2011

The roses are red and long-stemmed
The people, old & young, men & women, black, white – all mourning senseless loss
They shuffle in and out of the pews
much the same as people hustle and bustle to and fro in their busy lives.

There is a soft gong – a bell that tolls for each life lost, as roses pile up on the altar.
Their memory sits heavy in the air
No words can be spoken to bring back their youth, their dreams –
the unlived lives that dropped long before they had ripened.

The moment of silence screams out in agony,
railing against violence everywhere – and then, stilled by the heavenly sound of music –
music that takes our souls , together with theirs, to a place that knows no hatred,
sees only flowers and sunshine
and feels the warmth of a friendly hand,
outstretched to greet me as I entered the church today.
His eyes smiled even as they were filled with deep sorrow –
And he thanked me. He thanked me for coming today –
As if I could have stayed away
when my heart cries out for all the senseless killing through the ages in our world.

The Terror of an Unfinished Song July 24, 2011

The stunning piece of music carried all of us with its melodies.
We float along on the chords,
Our senses awaken in the harmonies.
We find ourselves together in the same song,
Enthralled with the magic, the miracles of life.

And then, just as the music swells, in the moment of expectation –
We can feel the next notes, taste the crescendo, ache for the finale –
All grows quiet.
The notes are shattered into deafening silence with no warning.

We gasp. We stop breathing. Our brows rise with questions –
That all too soon we realize can never be answered.

Far away in Norway, 93 lives were obliterated
Just as they were in the midst of their life’s song.

So we stop, too. Paralyzed in the silence, the interruption of the song and its beauty –
We pause to remember them. To walk for a time with their loved ones.
Who ask the same questions and try to find once again the melodies to their unfinished songs,
cut short for no apparent reason.

This post was originally published on TC Jewfolk. Follow TCJewfolk on Twitter:@tcjewfolk.

Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Laura Gilbert on 07/26/2011 - 10:34 am.

    Thank you for standing in solidarity with the Norwegians this week, and for the touching poetry. May your compassion provide comfort and community.

  2. Submitted by Neal Gendler on 07/26/2011 - 09:57 pm.

    Sarah appropriately sticks to the horror in Norway, but as a point of information, what was unusual about ostensible German ally Bulgaria is that the king refused to let the country’s Jews be deported to be killed.

    Although there was anti-Semitism in Bulgaria, it was not widespread, and Jewish Bulgarians generally lived amicably with their Bulgarian Christian neighbors.

    A fascist government did pass anti-Jewish laws that dispossed and impoverished most Bulgarian Jews, but the king prevented his Jewish subjects from being sent to death. Sadly, that was not so for thousands of Jews from areas Bulgaria annexed during the Axis years.

    The king died of a myterious illness soon after a late-war meeting with Hitler. Some suspect poisoning.

    Danish Christians’ rescue of their Jewish neighbors well known. Less so is Finlands refusal to allow its German ally to deport its small Jewish population. Until recently, the story of Bulgaria was litle-known in the West. It’s told in an excellent book that came out sometime in the last decade: “Beyond Hitler’s Grasp.”

  3. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 07/27/2011 - 05:35 pm.

    Appreciate the poetry…plus reference to classic Niemoller on the ‘silences’.

    A drop of blood; one’s DNA…the ethnic and cultural ties we cling to, to define or celebrate or defend one’s heritage…and in the process, do hopefully recognize the greater trust; the human in everyman with a mutually shared respect and responsibility .

    I suggest Niemoller would certainly add another line…”and when they came for the Palestinian…”

    Martin Buber, Jewish Philosopher, would agree.

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