Principal Marc Light looks at the camera, he is wearing a grey suit and smiling. The King David School's logo is behind him, silver on a wood background.

Reflecting on grief, tragedy and hope

The start of Term 2 is replete with a series of moving commemorative assemblies in which we reflect on grief, tragedy and hope for a better future.

These themes came through strongly in this week’s ANZAC Day and Yom HaShoah assemblies and will be again emphasised in our Yom HaZikaron Tekes next week.

Our ANZAC Day commemoration was a deeply moving and personal event. We were fortunate to have students, staff and family members share intimate stories about the heroism of their ancestors and of the profound impact of war. They were able to explain how the legacy of their involvement created a lasting impact on their lives. An exploration of the song “I was only 19” by Redgum addressed the extreme sacrifice and ongoing trauma that are so often the consequences of military action.

The Yom HaShoah assembly was an opportunity for our students to remember and honour the six million Jews murdered in the Shoah. This year our focus was on artistic means of communicating resistance and we were able to explore powerful artworks, poems and songs.

I have written before of a unique book that I keep in my office as a reminder of the unfathomable loss suffered by our people during the Shoah. The book is entitled And Every Single One Was Someone. The cover depicts a tallit and when it is opened one sees in tiny writing the repetition of the word Jew 4800 times on each page. This carries on for 1250 pages. In total, the book contains the word Jew six million times.

The power of this book is that it enables us to reduce the abstraction of the headline six million number and to force us to understand it, not as a group, but as six million separate tragedies.

An inverse of this was reflected in an episode of a BBC program called “That’s Life” which aired in February 1988. An audience member of the show was Sir Nicholas Winton who had saved some 669 Jewish children prior to the Shoah through the Kindertransport evacuations. At a point in the broadcast, the presenter turned to the studio audience and asked anyone who owed their life to Winton’s efforts to stand up. Every single person in the room stood. It was an extraordinary physical manifestation of the Talmud precept “Whoever saves a single life is considered by scripture to have saved the whole world.”

Each year on Yom HaShoah we listen to the testimony of a survivor. This year, due to COVID-19 precautions, our students listened to the video testimony of child survivor, Nina Bassat AM, that was delivered in last year’s Jewish community commemoration. Nina told her story of narrowly surviving deportation when a soldier told her mother to take Nina and disappear. She was subsequently hidden with a false identity as a three year old. Our students were transfixed as Nina delivered a powerful message. She reflected on the blessing of the 79 additional years of “a wonderful life” which she may not have had but for the actions of those who saved her. Nina followed her testimony with this wish:

“I hope that we can sometime, not in my lifetime but in the lifetime of my children or grandchildren, live in a place without hatred. Hatred is the most invidious disease. It destroys everything. I do not know that there are any antidotes to it, but perhaps we can try not to cure it, but to ameliorate it with empathy, with tolerance and with kindness. And if there is even one day that we can make someone’s life more bearable that’s perhaps what we should do.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Marc Light