Desert Island Texts

Desert Island Texts

If you were cast away on an island with just one Jewish text for company, which would you choose?

This week student Wendy Crane, from Liberal Judaism’s lay leadership programme, selects a prayer from Ravensbruck.

This is a prayer by an unknown woman, found on a piece of wrapping paper in Ravensbruck. I first stumbled upon it in the RSGB Machzor, published in 1985.

“O Lord, remember not only the men and women of goodwill, but also those of ill will. But do not remember the suffering they have inflicted upon us; remember the fruits we brought thanks to this suffering, our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, the courage, the generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of this; and when they come to judgement, let all the fruits that we have born (sic) be their forgiveness.”

The author does not concern herself with whether she personally can feel forgiveness. She simply asks God to remember when He makes judgement the goodness created out of evil, thus at the same time asserting the value of those in whom humanity had been denied and allowing “those of ill will” a place in humanity and in God’s plan.

Like many of us, I often wonder about that plan and how such evil can be part of it. With these questions, though, comes an insistent ghost, the remnant of the impact the passage first had on me. It was at that time, late Yom Kippur afternoon, when, no longer able to know what I was praying, I read instead the study passages in the Machzor. This time, with the air charged with the weight of those prayers on their way to wherever they go, often comes with a ‘mystical moment’, which some would say comes from fasting.

Atonement? This woman, transcending sorrow, pain, anger, had somehow, in those terrible surroundings, been able to celebrate being part of a universe which contained great evil and great beauty.