“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20)
When I was a young girl in New York City I would ride the public bus, BX41, home from school. My bus ride was always crowded at that time of day. The bus contained a diverse group of New Yorkers. Many were immigrants from the West Indies, Jamaica and Guyana. But, there were also immigrants from European countries as well. We were all squished together inside this vehicle. Seats were at a premium along with a comfortable place to stand while holding onto the overhead handle. Short stops from the heavy traffic would cause you to lose your balance, sending you into a strangers lap.
While riding the bus on one particular warm sunny day I was actually able to locate a seat close to the front. But no sooner had I relaxed into my seat the bus came to a stop again and more passengers piled on. I did not pay attention to the additional passengers until I heard a women’s voice repeatedly say “excuse me” as she made her way past the passengers who continued to congregate near the door. As I looked up my eyes fell on a diminutive size women possibly in her late 60’s or early 70’s trying to make her way further into the bus. I reached out and gently touched her arm while simultaneously motioning to my seat. Amazingly, she initially said no thank you. But, I insisted and stepped aside so she could sit down. She looked up at me and said thank you. I readjusted my book bag so I could balance myself for the rest of the ride home. Every now and then she would smile up at me and I would smile back. I thought to myself her warm smile was enough of a reward for being respectful to ones elders.
Several stops later, I happened to glance down again at the women and noticed that she had a tattoo. I had difficulty comprehending it at first because I had never seen a women with a tattoo before. The tattoo was lengthwise on her forearm. I did not notice how long I had been staring when all at once, I realized what I thought was an ordinary tattoo was a series of numbers. Suddenly, I instantly recognized what I was looking at. I immediately raised my eyes and met her gaze. I know my face at that point displayed my deep sorrow for this woman as the mark on her arm was a witness that she had survived the Holocaust. She held my gaze and smiled as to say it’s alright. I survived the darkness and now I get to enjoy the sunlight.
I will never forget this encounter. A stark reminder of the sometimes immense cruelty in the world. I thought of her this week when I became aware of the horrible defacement at Pope High School. There were anti-Semitic symbols and words written on a wall. I am not sure of the intent by those who performed this act but I do know that acts like this cause fear, self-hate and division.
Father please protect the Jewish people in this community and around the world. We pray that the heart’s of those who have hatred for our Jewish brothers and sisters will be transformed through God’s powerful love. And that we all might be instruments of Jesus loving message to the Jewish people and anyone who is persecuted in the world. Amen