Monday, April 20, 2009

You never really know what impact your words may have on some people!

As  you know, I have been lecturing at universities and high schools for almost 40 years. I know that, over the years, I have had some impact on a good number of students and teachers at those institutions of teaching and learning. I know that for a fact, because of the numerous letters and profound comments I have received over the years.

While I was talking to a great extent about my personal experiences, I always stressed the all-important recognition, that a greatly unopposed and widely supported Hatred was the culprit of dehumanizing and killing millions and millions of human beings. This was not only the fact during Hitler's Nazi régime. Regretfully, it is even going on as we speak, in many parts of the world today. Almost always I ended my lectures by reciting a little verse of my creation :

"if you absolutely have to hate, hate HATE." I usually left a print-out of it with the teachers, who often copied and distributed it to the students.

About three years ago I was invited to come to Lincoln High School in Thief River Falls, a town in northwestern Minnesota. The wonderful music teacher, Darcy Rees, was practicing with a huge choir for a performance of the "Butterfly Songs". (They are from the book "I Never Saw Another Butterfly". These are a collection of poems that were written by children in the concentration camp of Theresienstadt/Terezin. Only two or three of these children survived the camp.) Jeannie Brindley-Barnett, a Minneapolis composer, set some of these poems into beautiful and soulful music. These songs were performed many times not only in the US , but also in the Czech Republic, the former Czechoslovakia, where this concentration camp was located. Jeannie and her musician/conductor husband, Steve Barnett , were there to assist and and to help with the technical side of the performance.

I was asked to relay my story to the students, and again, finished off with my little verse. I have been speaking at many smaller towns in the country areas of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Dakotas, and was always aware of the fact that the vast majority of people that were facing me, had never seen or ever had any personal contact with a Jewish person before. So it was in this town of Thief River Falls.

Just a few days ago I received a call from Darcy Rees telling me that something extraordinary had occurred with her daughter Tevia. Tevia, age 18, came home for the spring break from the University of Fargo, North Dakota, telling her that she had a surprise for her. She told her that my little verse made such a lasting impact on her, that she wanted to do something with this important message. This wonderful Christian young woman decided to look up a rabbi in Fargo to have my message translated and written out in Hebrew. With this she went to a tattoo artist who tattooed it on her back along the spine - in Hebrew letters! 

What a story!


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