Peoples who have experienced genocide bear a terrible and intensely lonely burden; an experience of loss and suffering; acute vulnerability and powerlessness to protect themselves and their rights; and betrayal on the part of those indifferent to their fate, and the perpetrators of genocide itself.
Too often, survivors of genocide mourn alone, supported only through annual days of commemoration, moments in time in which attention is briefly cast upon them and the ones they lost.
The rest of the year they carry the heavy burden of having experienced and witnessed horror, and they face scars and traumas that challenge even the most resilient.
As a Jew, I have grown up with the consciousness of the dangers of hatred and bigotry, painful knowledge acquired through a relentless history of persecution of my people.
Visiting Rwanda, I found myself feeling as I did when I stood before the crematoria in the Nazi extermination camp of Auschwitz in Poland.
One learns, as Jew, to grapple with the historical and still present reality of Jewish vulnerability and persecution. It is never easy.
But it becomes such an integrated part of one’s identity as Jew that with time, the vigilance that being Jewish demands becomes less daunting. But in Rwanda, I found myself unable to bear the suffering of another people – similarly persecuted.
When a Tutsi survivor spoke to me of his experiences during the Genocide, the violence that he witnessed, the murders and brutality that engulfed his life during those hellish days trying to survive against all odds in a church under the assault of genocidaires and their accomplices – I broke down crying.
When a Hutu who dared to publicly stand for freedom and democracy and equality showed me the scar on his face from the machete of a member of the Interahamwe – and told me of members of his family who were killed during the Genocide – again, I found myself crying.
It is hard enough to contain the suffering and sadness that stems from knowing one’s own history of persecution. Seeing yet another innocent people being murdered for no reasons other than blind hatred and the will to power and the lust for violence, that left me broken.
Once again the world responded with the same callous indifference, the same immoral complicity – all the ceaseless claims of ‘Never Again’ rendered hollow and meaningless – mere rhetoric in the lexicon of politicians, with no sincerity and no commitment behind them.
As Rwanda remembers those who were murdered during the Genocide, I would like to share with you portions from two Jewish prayers that we say to mourn the dead.
For me, these are amongst the most powerful and intimate Jewish prayers. They are prayers that we say on our Holocaust Remembrance Day which also falls, this year, in April. Know, as you remember and mourn that you are not alone in your mourning and your memorializing.
Know that the sacred task of remembering every individual lost to the Genocide, honoring every woman who was violated, every child who was assaulted, every individual who was tortured and lost his or her life is a task in which you are and will be joined by others.
It is not a task for you alone. Know that your tears are my tears, and that as I cry and you cry they will commingle – though we may be separated by geographic boundaries and vast distances – for morality knows but one common humanity, a humanity in which Jews and Christians and Muslims, Tutsi and Hutu and Twa, Rwandans and Americans, all of us – are one.
Know that when you read these prayers, you will bind yourselves with many others, with a people who like you, lost their mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, family and friends, but like you, who survived and who rededicate themselves to their memory and to life itself.
May your tears be transformed into raindrops that give life and quench thirst, that heal the parched and cracked chambers of the wounded human heart.
El Maleh Rachamim, a prayer for the deceased:
God, full of compassion, dwelling in the Heaven’s heights, bring proper rest beneath the wings of your divine presence, amid the ranks of the holy and the pure, illuminating like the brilliance of the skies the souls of the holy who went to their eternal place of rest.
May you who are the source of mercy shelter them beneath your wings eternally, and bind their souls among the living, that they may rest in peace. And let us say Amen.
The Kaddish Prayer:
May there be much peace from Heaven and good life and nourishment, and salvation, and comfort, and saving and healing and redemption and forgiveness and atonement and relief and deliverance.
He who makes peace in his heights may He in His mercy make peace upon us and upon His nation Israel and all the nations of the world. And say, Amen.