We can be heroes,
Just for one day.
— David Bowie

Gizella Abramson

Gizella Abramson

I’ve been thinking about heroes a lot lately.  After an absence from this page of nearly six months, I was afraid the well of inspiration for this (or any blog) had run dry.  I figured it would take something pretty significant to knock me out of my stupor and give me something meaningful to share.

I was right.

Last Sunday, I had the privilege to help honor one of the most humble, courageous and inspirational individuals I have ever had the pleasure to know.  Gizella Abramson, a survivor of the Holocaust, was recognized by my congregation, Temple Beth Or, for a lifetime of service to her community at an afternoon event in Raleigh.  Nearly 300 crowded together in a hotel ballroom to celebrate the accomplishments of this amazing woman.  For while Gizella stands only four-feet, nine-inches tall when you use standard measurements, Gizella is one of those folks for whom standard is a meaningless term.

Gizella, or “Mrs. A” as her thousands of students know her, has spent a lifetime teaching young and old throughout North Carolina and the world about what it means to be human and how we should live our lives.  For more than 40 years, Gizella has chosen to relive the unspeakable horrors of her teenage years again and again and again to ensure that the consequences of hate and indifference will not be forgotten.  In addition to teaching a course on the Holocaust to eighth graders in the Temple Beth Or Religious School, Gizella has shared her experience with tens of thousands of people over the years at middle schools, high schools, colleges, community events and national conferences.  She is a survivor in the truest sense of the word and has dedicated her life to young people (or, as Gizella says, “my students, my beautiful, beautiful students”).

In Judaism, our purpose in life is described as “Tikun Olam,” or working to repair our imperfect world.  In our work, in our communities and in our families, it is our responsibility to live a life that helps perfect the world around us.  There are any numbers of paths toward this goal, and Lord knows the pressures of the day-to-day can make it a challenge to choose much less walk down a path.  And yet, when I see someone like Gizella, someone who personifies ideals like “perseverance,” “dedication,” “love” and “courage,” someone who lost virtually every member of her family and her community in a veritable hell on earth – when I see someone like that make the time and find the energy to “be the change you want to see in the world,” I know there is no explanation, no rationalization, no excuse that can justify inaction.

So as we approach a new year, I hope I and we decide to be heroes, even if just for one day.

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