Words of Prayer for The Iowa Holocaust Memorial Dedication
October 23, 2013
Rabbi David Kaufman
I would like to start with a special thank you to Judy Blank whose persistence, energy, enthusiasm and commitment of time and resources have brought this memorial to completion. It is an honor and a privilege to be here today.
To all who have been involved in the process of its creation, especially to Judy:
Thank you, thank you, thank you- for the many hours of contemplation, discussion, design, debate, support, construction; for dollars generously given and well spent and for open space put to good use; for bipartisan support of something that affects all of us, every race, every nation, every faith; for remembering; for a willingness to confront the concept of evil among humankind; for the strength and courage not merely to say the words, “Never again”; and for striving to prevent this kind of evil from happening to any people in any nation ever again.
The Iowa Holocaust Memorial is far more than a memorial honoring those who died during one historical period: it is a tremendously moving educational resource focusing on humankind's potential for acting inhumanely toward others and of our capacity to rise up against evil. It is not a site that makes one consider past events alone. The memorial's greatest strength is that it makes each individual think, "What can I do?"
In that vein, the words of Rabbi Tarfon come to mind, “It is not up to you to complete the work, but neither may you desist from it.” We must try. And the words of Martin Buber:
When people come to you for help, do not turn them off with pious words, saying, ‘Have faith and take your troubles to God.’ Act instead as though there were no God, as though there were only one person in the world who could help -- only yourself.
It isn’t enough to pray, though we should. It isn’t enough to hope for help, though we should. We must act as if our action alone might make all the difference.
So the motto of the United States Holocaust Memorial and Museum, a simple four words, is meaningful for us today, “What you do matters.”
What I do, what you do, what we who are gathered here do, what our state does, what our nation does matters. The real power of this particular Holocaust memorial is that not only does it remember those who died and those who saved the living, not only does it make one think about the dark events of decades ago, educating us about what happened and why, not only that, this memorial makes us consider our world today and what we should do now.
We should care about people across oceans as Iowans have long done. We should care about those suffering in Darfur, Rwanda, Bosnia and the Nuba Mountains. “Never again” should not be allowed to become again and again, not on our watch.
So I offer this prayer today:
May the words of the Iowa Holocaust Memorial be felt in our hearts when we walk through it,
May it reflect the motto of the State of Iowa, “Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain,” as human liberties and human rights for all people everywhere,
May people of all faiths and of every nation who read the verses etched upon its faces, see his or her own face, his or her own faith, his or her own nation and people within them,
May this memorial inspire heroic character: a conscience willing to protest injustice, to advance the cause of freedom and right, and to promote peace and understanding,
May it teach of sacrifice, of hope and not despair, of courage in the face of evil,
May it inspire generations to come not merely to remember the past and never forget, but to remember why and not let it happen again.
And let us say, Amen.
Now as we dedicate the Iowa Holocaust Memorial, it is customary in the Jewish tradition to say this prayer at a time of dedication and because its meaning is so poignant on this particular day and for this particular event, let us sing the words of the Hebrew prayer Shecheheyanu, which means, “Blessed are you, O God, sovereign of the universe, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this day.”