Anne Frank, the Holocaust and the Best in Us

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Last month, many of us saw glimpses of a memorial service honoring the life and compassion of a 15-year-old girl whose life was lost during the Holocaust. The service of remembrance was telecast nationally, yet only a portion of the power and transforming love of this moment was captured through the midst of chaos and inner squabblings of our own Congress in Washington. Good news always continues to be rather unnoteworthy!

One remarkable component of this experience for me was that that service was developed and shared in an ecumenical spiritual setting. Through the voices of a few professional actors and others, none was spoken more eloquently than through the voice of a young girl, whose name was not mentioned, but like Anne Frank, managed to touch the best in all of us.

Hearing Anne's words of incredible curiosity, hope and decency made me think of one of the best qualities of life in Columbia. I wonder if we still can believe that part of our beginnings grew from the interfaith community. With all of the struggles that it presents today, knowing how we are surviving the greed of the '80s, it still is a very important symbol of our world into the 21st century. Anne Frank's life is still alive and needs to be shared.

Many of us in the "religious community" still struggle with the genocide of anti-Semitism and all other prejudicial systems which seek to put down or destroy segments of our society. Anne Frank's story needs to be proclaimed like the Oracles of Isaiah: "To preach good news to the poor and to bring relief to the captives." . . .

One of my earliest moments of faith happened with my older Jewish friend in New York and it helped formulate my call to serve God in ministry.

Growing up in Hempstead, Long Island, one of the kindest people I knew was the father of the owner of a local pharmacy. His name was Mr. Binday. One day in the summer while I was working there to earn "pocket money," he asked me to clean out one of the upper cabinets in a part of the drug store for inventory. It's important for me to remember also that each day after school when I went to work in the store, Mrs. Binday always used to give me a soda and cookies, oftentimes from her own oven.

That particular day, Mr. Binday was worried that I might fall from the ladder so he started to climb it to give me some assistance. The ladder tipped, we both jumped off and his shirt sleeve became unintentionally unbuttoned. He always wore long white shirts with a blue tie.

I noticed the number 10627 tattooed on his arm. He saw me look at it and I was stunned for a long, endless moment of silence. He just smiled at me, got up, buttoned his shirt and quietly went to the back of the store. Somehow, I knew where that number came from. I also knew that he left for some strange reason to "protect" me from the moment.

I never knew anyone who had survived the Holocaust and, frankly, really didn't know much about that horror. I was 12 and even though we lived very happily in an Italian-Jewish neighborhood, I don't ever remember having discussions about it, even in school. But that time and space changed me. Mr. Binday told me several days later, in making an attempt to let me into a portion of his past that I never knew existed, that "Arthur, only God can help you get through this."

I never forgot that line and it truly seemed that Mr. Binday wasn't bitter or angry. As a matter of fact, he and Mrs. Binday were always helping out my friends from school. Looking back, I realized that he was a remarkable man who knew a love that could only heal such a painful experience.

I started claiming the words of Anne, and the experience of God -- "I still believed that at the heart of everyone, people are really good." At that moment in 1959, God's seed was planted into a faith journey which eventuated, 20 years later, in having Mr. Binday be one of my presenters for my ordination to the priesthood at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. In many significant ways, I know God was using him.

For the past eight years, I and some other members of the Christian community are always invited to a seder table at Passover by physician's families and other members of the Jewish community. In the hospital weekly, I have seen rabbis and teachers from Columbia come to visit patients who are members of their congregations, and, without fail, enter the chaplain's office to wish us "shalom" and good health.

Once again this year, children from Temple Isaiah visited Jewish patients during Purim and shared wonderful treats and historical and spiritual messages of hope and love. And I have had the extreme privilege of sharing in ministry with a man who has close ties to the pain and anguish of the Holocaust, Siegfried Rowe. He visits Jewish patients every Friday and always shares God's love and compassion with non-Jews alike. . . .

It's also moving to see members of our medical community who are Jewish working in our hospital to volunteer during our Christian festivals so that patients can continue to be cared for while many of us can then celebrate our Christian spiritual traditions with family and friends. That's not new. It has been done here ever since the hospital was built. Somehow this week, in particular, I am finding the need to affirm that. The interfaith component of our community life is still being celebrated in Columbia and that's one reason which makes our community vitally unique and important to those whose lives have been hurt through any kind of prejudice and discrimination. . . .

. . . If you still believe that God can continue to speak through people like Anne Frank in today's time and haven't been totally ruined by the cynicism running rampant, jot it down, or even better, share it and give it away . . . like Mr. Binday did for me.

The writer is director of the Pastoral Care Department at Howard County General Hospital.

See letters to the editor, page 6B.

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