Jody Rosen wrote in The New York Times last month “Sometimes history speaks in rhyme.”
She was referring to the death of a polar explorer 100 years ago and the discovery by a team of marine archaeologists of the explorer’s schooner that sank off Antarctica. “The ship was found on March 5, 2022 — exactly 100 years to the day after [the explorer] was laid to rest,” Rosen reported.
“Sometimes history speaks in rhyme,” asks us to listen closely to world events and find meaning in how they are connected and not to view world events in a vacuum. I am enthralled with the eloquent sentence, but I think part of that comes from knowing that the history I know does not bring such luxury. As a Jew, I find the ability to see the rhyme in history elusive. Jewish history has no luxury of a 100-year gap between significant events.
On August 12, 2017, the front headline of a different newspaper, Charlottesville’s The Daily Progress, read “FIRE AND FURY”. Violence erupted in Charlottesville after white nationalists gathered for a rally over plans to remove a Confederate statue and were met by counter-protesters. 2017 was just a few years ago. There is no 100-year gap that exists between the intentions of those who rallied chanting, “Jews Will Not Replace Us,” and acts of anti-Semitism and violence that have occurred over the centuries. Unfortunately, it is not a rhyme but a run on sentence.
And unlike the 100-year gap between the polar explorer’s death and the finding of his vessel, Jewish history could give you whiplash for how quickly it moves. One of the greatest illustrations of the historical whiplash of Jewish history is the story of the Ritchie Boys. They were German-born Jews who fled Germany during World War II and came to America, and then joined the U.S. Army. They were sent back to Europe, now as Americans to use their knowledge of the German language and culture to return to Europe. Trained at Camp Ritchie, Maryland, in espionage and frontline interrogation, they were responsible for most of the combat intelligence gathered on the Western Front.
As a people who are constantly taught Zachor, remember, that is something to be taken very literally and very seriously. This Friday we will have two speakers at our Annual Project Nuremberg Lawyers luncheon that remind us of that. One of those speakers is Amy Spitalnick. Her work as head of Integrity First for America took the trial those who created the Fire and Fury in Charlottesville that August night. And Dr. David Frey, featured on 60 Minutes, for bringing the story of the Ritchie Boys to the world at large.
This Shabbat we mark Yom Hashoah, to remember the Holocaust. The name comes from the Hebrew word ‘shoah’, which means ‘whirlwind’. And that word, whirlwind, is perhaps the best metaphor of all for our history.
Rabbi Jessica Spitalnic Mates
Temple Beth El of Boca Raton