As my colleagues and I prepared for a few hours of interspiritual teaching and dialogue at Temple Emmanuel in Miami Beach this past Sunday, an elderly Jewish woman came up to speak to me personally.
She told me her name and identified herself as a survivor of eight Nazi concentration camps. In a well-rehearsed and brief presentation she told me how her mother chose to accompany her two baby sisters into the gas chambers rather than stay with her, the oldest of three daughters. She elaborated a bit more and then asked if she could be allowed to address the gathering.
This was a decision I was not empowered to make, and I suggested she talk to our host, Dr. Nathan Katz of Florida International University. I admit to being a bit worried about letting this woman and her painfully compelling story speak for fear she would shift our conversation from Interspirituality to the Holocaust.
Wiser hearts prevailed and she was given an opportunity to speak. She did so for only three minutes. In that time she laid out the horrors she had encountered and the only way she could survive—love. She said that as the Nazis broke her heart, all they released was love. She found in her terror a capacity to understand the terrors of others. It was the most eloquent affirmation of the power of the human spirit to triumph over tragedy I had ever heard.
Another woman survivor added her story as well, summarizing what she had learned about life from her grandmother, also murdered by the Nazis: “You are not defined by what you endure,” her grandmother told her, “but by what you give.”
With the high quality of the presenters from five of the world’s religions, there was a lot of wisdom shared that Sunday, but none so simple, true, and transformative as that of these two women who had endured an unimaginable hell only to manifest what it is to live God’s kingdom here on earth.