Kindness and Shelter

Posted on November 10, 2009

In his weekly e-mail Rabbi Jonathan Sacks included his BBC Radio 4 – Thought for the Day from June 14, 1999 which I wanted to share on Kristallnacht. As he says so beautifully acts of kindness have a long term and profound impact and often are the gift that keeps on giving. This message is something that we at Areyvut try to impart to students at a young age and is a message and lesson that we can all learn from and take to heart. With everything that is going on in the world today this message is more important than ever. Here is what Rabbi Sacks had to say:

“Tomorrow morning I’ll be taking part in what I guess is going to be one of the great emotional experiences of my life. More than a thousand people will be coming together to remember the day, sixty years ago, when their lives were saved by an act of kindness on the part of Britain and its citizens. They are some of the people, rescued as children in the operation known as Kindertransport.

Already by November 1938 most people knew that under the Nazis, Jews were doomed. On a single night, Kristallnacht, 191 synagogues were set on fire and another 76 completely demolished. Thirty thousand Jews were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. It was the beginning of the end.

Out of that darkness came one small beacon of light. The British government announced that it was willing to admit ten thousand children from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia. It was an act of humanity unmatched anywhere else in the world, and it literally saved their lives. Most of those who stayed were murdered. Many of those who came never saw their families again. And none has ever forgotten that journey, as they waved goodbye to their parents and travelled to the one place that would let them in.

Many of them, including several friends of ours, have devoted their adult lives to the service of others, giving back some of the kindness that was shown to them. Tomorrow they’ll be coming to give thanks to the many people in this country who opened their doors, their homes, and their hearts.And that same British compassion still lives. The head of the Refugee Council told me of something he’d witnessed a week or two ago. He was up in the midlands, meeting a group of Kosovan refugees, when someone came to tell him that there was a demonstration outside. His heart sank, until he went out and saw what was written on the placards. Just one word. ‘Welcome!’

And when those refugees return home, they’ll carry with them the memory of that moment – the knowledge that there is another way of treating strangers, not with hostility but hospitality. And who knows if that isn’t the best way of healing a fractured world.

Acts of kindness never die. They linger in the memory, giving life to other acts in return. And as the Jewish children of sixty years ago join their thanks with those of the Kosovar Albanians of today, I know that while courage on the field of battle wins wars, it’s another kind of courage- the gift of refuge in times of danger – that gives human hope a home.”

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