This past week, we commemorated Kristallnacht, Night of Broken Glass. It is a day that we think about the loss of six million Jews. But this year, at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, we commemorated 6 million and one. This past June, at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC, Officer Stephen Tyrone Johns, gave his life defending shoah memory. In the presence of his wife, Zakiah Johns, this is the speech that I gave to open up the program:
Kristallnacht. The Night of Broken Glass. It is a name, I believe, that is meant to force us to hear the traumatic and heartbreaking sounds of that fateful night on November 9 and 10th 1938. And if I close my eyes, I can almost hear the broken windows of store fronts. The shattering of glass in synagogues and in homes. I can hear the crackling of paper, the reams of holy words, burning in shuls, of Torah scrolls being consumed, licked up by flames. I can hear the cries of fathers being separated from children. The gasps of women who watched their homes being destroyed. And, if I listen closely, I can hear the moments of heroism yes heroism, by all those who had to sacrifice their lives on that night, and all those who were given the gift of continuing to live that night.
Tonight, we also remember the sounds of June 10th, 2009. Sounds of that day ring in my ears as well. First the swish of the door that is held open by a museum guard, followed by the sounds of gun shots. I hear the frantic screams of people running. The chaos. And if I listen closely, I hear the heroism of one man, of Officer Stephen Tyrone Johns, who gave his life so that others would not perish. A man that for six years stood outside the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, defending the memory of the sounds of Kristallnacht and the sounds of horror evoked by the shoah.
In Judaism, sound is central to some of our foundational rituals. It is the shofar, the sounding of the rams horn, however, that ushers in for us varying emotions. On one hand, the shofar blasts are meant to sound like a deep and painful cry. Perhaps it is the cry of death and destruction that we as a community have experienced through out our history. The sounds of sobbing are a symbol of the hurt and pain that each of us as individuals and as a community have experienced. But the shofar is also meant to evoke in us a sense of redemption. It is a sound that conveys triumph—and so the shofar used to be sounded at the end of a battle to signify victory. For in that moment of glory it is a cry of joy and hope for the future. A sound that will usher in peace and joy for all eternity.
As we listen to the sound of the shofar in just a few moments, let all the sounds of the past—the sounds of brokenness and destruction as well as the sounds of hope for the future wash over us. And let us recall the sounds of death intertwined with the resounding sound of life. And let’s hear the shofar as a call—a call to each of us to live our lives in harmony attempting to perpetuate the memory of all those who could not stand with us here, tonight.
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