A few days ago I heard a story that made me think (not something that happens with great frequency) about my kids. But in a very different way.
We take for granted that they will always be part of our lives. That there is nothing that could possibly shatter the blood connection that exists. But of course that’s fantasy. Kids grow up and move away, start lives of their own, and sometimes you even have a disagreement. But this story was not about those kinds of life circumstances. I’ll try to retell it in the best way I can.
During the pogroms in Eastern Europe (Russia/Poland or any country where there was flagrant, acceptable, Anti-Semitism) the Czar’s soldiers rode into a small village and rounded up 50 children and put them in the village synagogue. There were about 100 young people in this town, so half of them became prisoners. Of course there was chaos. And the Rabbi, being the wisest and most respected member of the community, tried to be as comforting and calming as he could be.
The soldier in charge, seeing that the Rabbi was the leader, decided that the Rabbi was the best person to talk to. The soldier approached the Rabbi and calmly informed him that they were going to burn down the temple -- with 50 children inside. However, they did not have to be the children already held captive. A Jew was a Jew and it didn’t matter to the soldier which 50 children died.
The Rabbi gathered everyone together and presented them with the horrific news. Fifty young Jews were going to die in the holy place, but it didn’t matter which 50 – so the whole village needed to choose which children should live and which should die.
At this point in the story, I was really angry. “Why did they let this happen? Why didn’t they fight the soldiers? They were about to lose their most precious possessions, what did they have to lose. I also insisted that if my kids were inside, they needed to be traded for a luckier two, still free. In my mind, a Jew was not a Jew, and I would absolutely try to free them all, or die trying. Yes, no question, I would have been shot.
When the time came to make a decision, the Rabbi approached the soldier and told him there would be no trades. One Jew was not the same as any other Jew, but only God could decide which children were worth saving, which he felt most valuable. The community had decided that they would not to choose one life over the others . Each life was equally sacred.
This story does not have a happy ending. The soldiers burned the temple to the ground --with 50 children inside. Amongst these children were the Rabbi’s two youngest. Then they rode off satisfied that they had met some kind of a quota. The community never recovered from such a severe loss, They buried the dead in this sanctified ground, prayed for their souls and rebuilt the temple in another spot.
Anyway, while it’s true that all life is of value, and the community – having not made any life/death decisions, remained supportive of their decision and one another. But I could not imagine being able to deal with a loss of that magnitude. I can’t imagine a life without my children. I know how hard it is to lose a friend or a parent. I can’t imagine what it must be like to lose a child.
Kalhil Gibran (we all read him when we were 16), said Your children are not your children, they just pass through you on their way to their own lives. I guess he thought the female body was some kind of delivery system. Not a surprise.
Whatever else this story tells us about community and strength, value and love, I say grab your kids and run like the wind. We’re just sayin’…. Iris