Union for Reform Judaism Member Congregation

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Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, step up to the altar to offer the sacrifice, as they are required to do as Kohanim—Priests of Israel. But there is something amiss in the procedure, and the sacrifice they offer is described in our Torah portion in cryptic terms: eish zarah—strange fire. We aren’t told any further details than these. But the result was catastrophic. A fire came forth from the LORD and consumed them; thus they died at the instance of the LORD. . . And Aaron remained silent (Leviticus 10.2-3).

Aaron remained silent. Not a scream, not a protest, nor a cry—nothing. How can this be? Perhaps the trauma was so profound that Aaron could not bring himself to break through the grief because he worried that he would not be able to tolerate the pain. But sometimes we just need to scream. And after some time has passed, at the very least, we need to talk. . . .

In 1946, only a year after the end of WWII, in the town of Kielce, Poland, a pogrom was perpetrated against a group of Jewish Holocaust survivors who had sought refuge there. At least 40 people were murdered and another 40 severely injured.

As news of the pogrom spread across Poland, Jews fled the country. Jews from Palestine reached out to those remaining in Poland to come and help create the State of Israel. The Kielce pogrom became a symbol of Polish post-war anti-Semitism in the Jewish world. For 35 years, under Communism, the pogrom was a forbidden subject.

And they all remained silent.

Some years later, in a free Poland, a Catholic Polish journalist and trained psychologist named Bogdan Bialek, began speaking out publicly about the pogrom. Over time, and with great effort, he persuaded the people of Kielce to confront a painful piece of hidden history in their town. Beginning as a solitary figure, attracting a community of like-minded individuals along the way, he cut through the heavy fog of repression and denial. He tackled years of lasting, mutual animosity, dissolved conspiracy theories and confronted the deepest prejudices in the hearts of his fellow citizens. Step by step he reconnected Kielce with the international Jewish community.

This Sunday evening, April 23, beginning promptly at 7:00PM here at Union Temple, the Brownstone Brooklyn Community will gather as we do each year to commemorate Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. Our cantors and shinshinim will sing, survivors and their descendants will light candles, and we will view the film of this extraordinary story together. The movie is Bogdan’s Journey. But it is really the journey of a town, and of peoples, to overcome the paralysis of a horrible past, and seek understanding and rapprochement for the future.

Please join us. This Sunday, April 23, 7:00PM, in the social hall.