Recently North Toronto Community Church invited Amek Adler, a Holocaust survivor, to speak at its Sunday morning service during Holocaust Education Week. This is an annual event where community groups gather to hear the stories of Holocaust survivors to help bring awareness and ensure that those atrocities are never repeated.
In the weeks leading up to Adler’s visit, our congregation explored questions of suffering through its Sunday sermons. We found that God is present among those who suffer, and that we need to be attuned to the suffering of those in our community.
Adler’s story of survival in the face of incredible odds was heart-rending and powerful. As a youth, Amek Adler watched his local synagogue being burned to the ground by the Nazis. By the age of 16, Adler, had already spent two years in Auschwitz, Natzweiler and Dachau concentration camps. He told of tender moments with family, a daring escape and his eventual reunion with other survivors.
Adler recalls praying and making a deal with God, “If you let my family survive this, I will live my life as a good person.”
When asked by a member of the congregation, “How do you feel about Germans today?” Adler shared, “People who live today did not do this to me. I do not hold any hatred or animosity toward them.”
If you enter the home or business of a Jewish person today, you will often find a small capsule attached to the top right side of the doorframe. It is called a Mezuzah, and it contains the words of Moses from Deuteronomy known as the shema, a call to listen and to remember.
For our congregation, Adler’s story was a modern day shema. We chose to hear the story and, in doing so, became witnesses to a dark time in world history and relearned its important lessons.
Churches need ears to hear what God is saying to them, but this doesn’t only happen in the confines of our church walls. God speaks through many voices, including those in our communities.
Reverend Paul Martin writes, “Christianity involves ‘bearing witness’ to the love of God in a way that is life-changing not only for others but for ourselves, for our own faith is strengthened by the very act of sharing it. Similarly, our ‘witness’ to suffering begins to change our attitudes by becoming a matter of public story and testimony. This may happen by activating practical care and compassion for those who suffer, whether through natural causes or the inhumanity of others. It may happen as we commit ourselves to working seriously for a just world in which conflict and cruelty no longer have a place.”