the schmooze


*In Yiddish, "mekhile" means "forgiveness; " "moykhl zayn" means "to forgive"
Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe
Syosset, New York

There's a Yiddish proverb, "Yeder morgn brengt zikh zorgn"--Every morning brings its own worries.

On Oct 2, 2006, the unimaginable turned real:  Charles Carl Roberts IV, a milk truck driver, entered an Amish schoolhouse near Nickel Mines, PA, and shot 10 schoolchildren.  The execution-style murder of these innocents shocked "di velt"--the world.

And then there was a "tsveyter" (second) shock:   Within hours of the slaughter, the the Amish expressed their "mekhile" (forgiveness) of the killer  Their actions caused the world to gasp.

Forgiveness is a difficult process.  I grew up hearing the words of the English poet, Alexander Pope:

    "To err is human; to forgive, divine."

In the wonderful 2007 book, "Amish Grace - How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy," the authors ask, "What exactly is forgiveness?...Is it possible to forgive someone who does not apologize--like the gunman who shoots your children and then takes his own life?"

The authors, Kraybill, Nolt and Weaver-Zercher, wrote, "For the Amish, the test of faith is action.  Beliefs are important, and words are too, but actions reveal the true character of one's faith.  Therefore, to REALLY forgive means to act in a forgiving ways--in this case by expressing care for family of the killer."

There were acts of grace:  hugs between the Amish people and members of the Roberts family, the presence of Amish families at Roberts' "kvure" (burial), and Amish contributions to the Roberts Family Fund.

An Amish woman appeared on CBS's Early Show and spoke about forgiving the killer. "We have to forgive.  We have to forgive him in order for God to forgive us," she said.

Another member of the Amish community told the Associated Press (AP), "I hope they [Roberts's widow and children] stay around. They'll have lots of friends and a lot of support."

"Ver volt dos geglaibt?"  (Who would have believed it?)

Reading this book reminded me of the story of Shlomo Carlebach (1925-1994), the legendary spiritual leader, singing rebbe, and composer of so many beloved melodies. ("Am Yisrael Chai")

Shlomo came to America from Vienna as a "tsenerlingn" (teenager), fleeing from the Nazis.

Carlebach would often do concerts in prisons.  He would greet all the prisoners in their cells, even the most harden criminals, giving them each a big loving hug.  One time after a  concert, one of the prisoners, a tough-looking guy, ran after him.  "Rabbi Carlebach, Rabbi Carlebach, could I get another hug."  Rabbi Carlebach gave a "shmeykhl" (smile) and gave him a huge hug.  The inmate said, "You know Rabbi, if someone would have given me a hug like that 25 years ago, I wouldn't be in a place like this."

Before Rabbi Carlebach died, he returned to Austria and Germany to give concerts. People would ask him, "Why are you doing this?  Don't you hate them?"

And Reb Shlomo would say, "If I had two souls, I'd devote one to hating them.  But since I have only one, I don't want to waste it on hating."

And, finally, Simon Wiesenthal (1908-2005) wrote a book titled, "The Sunflower."  He chose that title because the story reminded him of fields of sunflowers that were near the hospital and the concentration camp. The sun-flowers reminded him of life and hope and beauty which can survive, even through horrible events like the Holocaust.

The renowned Nazi war criminal hunter gives an account of an experience which he had in a concentration camp in 1943.  He writes about how he was summoned to the bedside of a dying Nazi, Karl Seidl.  This SS man confessed to a horrific crime against Jews  He had participated in the murder of Jews; he helped destroy by fire and armaments, a house filled with more than 150 Jews.

When Seidl finished his story, he begged Wiesenthal to forgive him, to speak a "vort" of forgiveness on behalf of the Jewish people. 

Wiesenthal, however, rose and walked out of "di shpitol" (the hospital) room without saying a word.  When Simon went back to Karl's "bet" the next day, he found it empty. Karl had died during the night.  Simon never gave Karl the chance to be forgiven before Karl died.

This incident must have haunted Wiesenthal; it wasn't until 30 years later that he wrote the story and sent it out to a couple of dozen folks around "di velt."

Was his silence at the bedside of the dying Nazi right or wrong?  Was his silence due to the fact that the Wiesenthals lost 89 family members?  Was it due to the fact that he spent 4 1/2 years in the concentration camps of Mauthausen?  Was it due to the fact that his mother was crammed among other Jewish women on to a freight train to the extermination camp of Belzec, where she perished in August, 1942?  "Ver vaist"?  (Who knows?)

"Di frage" (the question) so troubled Wiesenthal that, in 1946, he visited Karl Seidl's mother in Stuttgart, but left without telling the bereaved woman about her son's misdeeds.

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Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe is the author of
two books:
yiddish for dog and cat loversbook
"Yiddish for Dog & Cat Lovers" and
"Are Yentas, Kibitzers, & Tummlers Weapons of Mass Instruction?  Yiddish
Trivia."  To order a copy, go to her

NU, what are you waiting for?  Order the book!

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