Spiritual lessons of Holocaust taught
The Californian
Posted Wednesday, Nov 30th, 2005

By: DEIRDRE NEWMAN - Staff Writer

TEMECULA ---- "Never again" is the rallying cry of those who work to prevent another Holocaust by providing historical information on the German attempt to wipe out the Jewish people and encouraging tolerance among people of different races and religions.

The Holocaust killed about 6 million Jews, as well as gypsies, homosexuals and others deemed undesirable on political, social and racial grounds by the Nazi regime in Germany, which wanted to create a pure Aryan race.

These statistics only paint a partial picture; they don't fully reflect the complex themes swirling around the Holocaust ---- the nature of anti-Semitism, the existence of evil and the search for meaning in the face of suffering.

A six-week course being taught by Chabad of Temecula Valley attempts to delve into the thicket of moral and religious questions raised by the Holocaust that are still relevant in today's world. "Beyond Never Again," strives to make sure the lessons of the Holocaust are remembered in the 21st century and foster tolerance, moral courage and integrity.

About 25 people are taking the course, which meets at The Comfort Inn on Tuesday mornings and evenings, providing flexibility for those who work. Several of those taking the course said they already are familiar with the historical underpinnings and gruesome details of the Holocaust. What they are looking to get out of this class is a more spiritual understanding, they said.

"I think the more understanding I have, the more value I have in teaching my children, not just about the Holocaust, but about the pain and suffering as to why God allows this to happen," said Suzi Maldonado, 36, of Menifee.

The course was created by the Jewish Learning Institute, a network of adult education that offers classes around the world. This is the first time "Beyond Never Again" is being taught as one of three courses offered in a yearlong program. The course is taught at the time of the year coinciding with the 67th commemoration of Kristallnacht, "the night of broken glass," which started Nov. 9, 1938 ---- when German mobs attacked Jews in their homes and at their businesses and synagogues. It is considered to be the start of the Holocaust.

The teacher, Rabbi Yitzchok Hurwitz, started Chabad of Temecula Valley in 1999. He said he spoke to two Holocaust survivors before starting this course to gain insight into their experiences. Both told him, "You can't understand." Even hearing that was helpful, Hurwitz said.

"Sometimes what you don't understand teaches you a lot," he said. "It's so brutal and evil and bad. No matter how much you contemplate it, you will never understand."

And trying to understand it isn't an objective of the class, Hurwitz said.

"The world leader of Chabad ... said there is no reason man could give to understand the Holocaust," he said. "If they can, then it cheapens the whole thing."

The course encourages vigorous discussion among students and invites them to share their personal responses to the Holocaust. Each class focuses on a question that sparks discussion. A recent class focused on the question: "Is it appropriate to speak of the Holocaust as a war against the Jews when people of all nationalities suffered during the war?"

The objective is to absorb a range of Holocaust experiences ---- not as a statistic but on an individual level, Hurwitz said. In the class, students read a short except from The Diary of Anne Frank, a German-Jewish teenager who hid with her family and friends in Amsterdam during the German occupation of the Netherlands. She ultimately died of typhus at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Maldonado said the vibrant discussions enable a kaleidoscope of perspectives to be heard.

"We learn so much, not just from the rabbi and the structure, but from each other," she said. "It helps more and makes it more dynamic than just a lecture."

The classes also evoke emotional responses, as illustrated when Hurwitz's wife, Dina, who is taking the class, started crying as she read a story out loud about a rabbi in a concentration camp who was contemplating suicide.

The story touched a nerve because her grandmother and two uncles were sent to Bergen-Belsen, she said. One of her uncles died there after being injected with various diseases. Her other two relatives made it out alive, she said.

Hearing different perspectives is a main reason why Nick Shestople, 65, of Temecula, is taking the course. He said he would call himself a conservative Jew, if he had to identify himself.

"I kind of find the rabbi's point of view interesting," Shestople said. "The rabbi is Hasidic. I'm not." Hasidic Judaism is a religious movement that focuses more on the spiritual and joyous aspects of the religion than the academic.

Cindy Cohen, 42, of Wine Country, brings her 13-year old son, Louis, to the classes with her. She home-schools Louis and he is now studying the Holocaust. While they have both read several books dealing with the Holocaust, some of the books only instructed that there are lessons to be learned, not what those lessons are, she said.

"That's what this class embodies," she said. "The lesson is ---- don't change your thoughts and opinions no matter what they do to you."

Her son sometimes leaves the room where the classes are being taught because the topic can be unsettling when it's discussed, she said.

"I think it rests on his spirit because we consider him a holy child," she said. "It's very uncomfortable."

The ultimate goal of the class is to imbue the students with a deeper spiritual understanding that will enable them to make the world a better place, Hurwitz said.

"You have to stand up and make things better," he said. "Some people will say (evil events) are God's will, but you can't become complacent."

It's a lesson that could be applied to a host of atrocities that are taking place around the world today, and have occurred in the recent past, Shestople said.

"You hear the phrase, 'Never again,' and then you have the killing fields of Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Darfur. I think a lot of people refuse to recognize there was a Holocaust and man's inhumanity to man continues unabated."

Contact staff writer Deirdre Newman at (951) 676-4315, Ext. 2623, or dnewman@californian.com.

http://northcountytimes.com/articles/2005/11/25/news/californian/112405190806.txt



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