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In 1933 Cologne, Germany, a Nazi official forced Violinist Ernest Drucker off the stage while he was playing a Brahms concerto.  Eighty-Two years later, Drucker’s son, and Grammy Award winner Eugene, completed the interrupted work during a musical festival in Israel.  The elder Drucker was not present to hear his son; he died in 1993, having survived the Sho’ah.  For both Eugene Drucker and his audience, this performance of Violin Concerto in D Major, Opus 7, was an example of virtuosity.  It was also a statement about determination and resolve.

Drucker was not the only Jew to have his life – not just his performance – interrupted.  Etty Hillesum was a Dutch woman of twenty-nine when she was gassed to death and cremated at Auschwitz.  She is sometimes called “the adult Anne Frank.”  Before her demise, she chronicled her life - her aspirations and achievements - in her diaries that were published in 1996 under the title “An Interrupted Life.”

Drucker and Hillesum are notable examples.  But in a way, all Jews today live interrupted lives.  Every year we suspend our normal routines for the three-week period beginning with the Fast of the Seventeenth of Tammuz and culminating with the Fast of the Ninth of Av.  (This year, July 5 through 26.) These two dates mark the dates of the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temples respectively.  Together, they bracket a space of time in which no weddings are solemnized, no music is heard, and personal grooming is ignored.  Some will even restrict travel.  The tragic past in mourned in the present.  It is indeed the saddest period of the Jewish year.

Yet immediately after the Fast of the Ninth of Av is observed, the mood changes dramatically.  Hope is restored. (According to legend, the Messiah will be born on the Ninth of Av.)  The seven weeks leading up to the New Year are characterized by publicly reading passages of consolation.  Life returns to normal. 

There is a lesson here.  Sadness and gloom are never allowed to dominate our lives even though periods of sorrow may interrupt our lives.  Judaism is a way of celebrating life.  And although the celebration must sometimes be suspended, the celebration will always be renewed.

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“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is One!”  Professor Abraham Millgram calls it “the first core unit of the Jewish liturgy.”  Rabbi Hayim Halevi Donin refers to it as “the expression of Jewish conviction, the historic proclamation of Judaism’s central creed.”  It is the first prayer learned by Jewish schoolchildren and the last uttered by Jewish martyrs.  We simply call it “Shema.”

The scant six Hebrew words that compose “Shema” express three main ideas, namely, that God is, Who God is, and what God is.

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Words to live by

 

Many persons have a wrong idea of happiness.  It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy cause.

-       Helen Keller