Last week I wrote that I had marked my calendar with events Holocaust Education Week.
In the end I attended one event, last Saturday evening: the premiere presentation of the film, Viktor and I (scroll down for trailer) at Beth Sholom Synagogue in Toronto.
Alexander Vesely, the grandson of Viktor Frankl, and the filmmaker, was at the premiere in person!
I read Viktor Frankl's inspiring book, Man's Search for Meaning; Frankl's profound memoir of surviving Auschwitz and finding meaning in suffering; many years ago, at the suggestion of my friend, Dave Hingsburger. The book is inspiring and a life shaper and Viktor Frankl was a unique man. So I set out with Paul for this event with great anticipation.
Never having been in a synagogue before, except the ruins of ancient ones in the Holy Land, I saw the evening as a cultural adventure as well as one of remembrance and education.
As we followed the crowds of people entering the synagogue, purses and camera bags were searched as a security measure. Unfortunately a sign indicated that photography or the use of electronic devices was banned. I would have loved to record the visit visually.
The huge synagogue must seat well over a thousand in the sanctuary, which was filled with rows and rows of plush beige, movie theatre style seats. On both sides were floor to ceiling stained glass windows which must be stunning with the daylight shining in.
High on the wall at the front, beneath a red crown, were two side by side wooden tablets with Hebrew writing. A golden lion on hind legs, stood on either side of the tablets holding them up. A menorah, stood on either side as well, and also a Canadian flag on one side of the front, and an Israeli flag on the other side.
As the evening began, the audience was asked to stand for the national anthems, led by Beth Sholom's cantor, Eric Moses. The Canadian anthem was sung first, then Hatikvah the deeply moving Israeli anthem a minor key, and I caught my breath at the beauty of Moses's voice, especially as it soared at the end of the anthem to heights the rest of us could only dream of (scroll to the end of this post for a You Tube video of a little girl singing the anthem.)
At the start of this evening to honour the memory of Frankl, a quote about memory that I loved, by Oscar Wilde, was shared:
Memory is the diary that we carry around with us
One of the people remembering Frankl said that he spoke a prophetic message to humanity, "Why would you do that?" He said, "Here in the camps there is no 'why.'"
Rabbi Aaron Flanzraich, introducing the evening, said that despite everything that was taken from Frankl, something beautiful came forth, and he remembered that his first words upon falling on his knees in a field of flowers upon his release from Auschwitz, were, "From the depths I called out to God and God answered me."
Jay Levinson, Frankl's special assistant, who could be described as a loving disciple, was also present.
Frankl, who died 15 years ago, observed that everywhere people have the means to live, but not meaning to live for. How much more so do we see this today. Even among the Christian faith community in which I live, it is so easy to get caught up in materialism and forget the essential elements of life that are the key, relationship with God, through Christ, and relationship with others.
A quote of Frank's that I loved, "You cannot purchase happiness. Happiness happens!" Happiness, he said, is a side effect of living according to a far deeper meaning than material "things."
He also was a deep believer in calling out of people more than they believed they were capable of. He said, "Presuppose and then you will elicit it." This is such an important principle; one that I heard expressed by Ben Zander, conductor, musician, and author of the best selling book, The Art of Possibility, in which he describes giving his students an "A" at the beginning of their school year, and then asking them to create a plan for achieving the "A." People and children, truly often do live up to our expectations or lack of expectations, of them.
The other key theme of Frankl's that struck me that evening, was his response to guilt. He would not tolerate "survivor's guilt" or guilt by association, and he took a lot of criticism for this. In fact, in the film, one of the interviewees described how he reached out to a fellow psychotherapist who had been a member of the Nazi party during the war, and who after the war was unable to get work. Frankl encouraged and helped him get employment. He said, "I knew that he was not a Nazi in his heart." Now, perhaps the man was a Nazi in his heart, but I cannot imagine him being so after this act of grace on Frankl's part.
An amazing evening. Such a rich experience and opportunity.