Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Out of the Depths by the former Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau

I just finished reading an extraordinary memoir by Rabbi Israel Meir Lau. He is a 38th generation rabbi, and the youngest liberated holocaust survivor of Auschwitz.  Out of the Depths is unique, not like other holocaust stories.  Rabbi Lau does not solely rely on his recollections.  He includes his recollections along with other corroborating testimonies from other people who witnessed the same scene.  His story is heroic with real life heroes like his brother Naftali who was charged with taking care of his younger brother during the war.  "Tulek" carried his younger brother "Lulek" in a sack to hide him in the various camps.  Or the non-Jewish Russian, Feodor who looked after "Lulek" in the barracks.  The story is a record of indomitable spirit and a determination to carry on the Jewish tradition and the family tradition to be a rabbi.

The memoir is a description of how Rabbi Lau arrived in Israel before the State was founded and how he was educated and trained by great rabbinic personalities like his uncle Rabbi Vogelman and the Torah giant Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach.  The reader discovers how orphans of the holocaust were treated with sensitivity and care in the yeshiva world.

We are introduced to the experiences of what it means to be a rabbi, ministering to all types of people.  With the Chief Rabbi, we discover the many public figures who interacted.  We learn that he ministered to Yitzchak Rabin and Shimon Peres. We are informed that the former Pope John Paul (of Polish origin) refused to baptize Jewish children who were living with Catholic families during the war.  We learn about the moral integrity and courage of King Hussein of Jordan and how he appreciated the Chief Rabbi's visit during his cancer treatments in America.  Fidel Castro claimed not to be an anti-Semite agreeing to import matzo to Cuba for Passover. 

The truth is that this book kept my eyes moist because the reader is told about countless trials and tribulations of individuals and how these amazing people survived under the most difficult conditions without losing faith.  As a matter of fact the whole book is a lesson in faith, a lesson in Torah to look with optimism in the face of calamity.  The last image of the book is very profound: Rabbi Lau writes that he is very proud of his "personal" Hanukkah Menorah- he sees that his wife is the base, the foundation, his 8 children are the lights, the candles and he is fortunate enough to be the "Gabbai" the one that guides the candles.  When the Jewish tradition is carried forth into the future with "Kol Torah" Torah talk and holy Talmudic discussion then there is proof that the perpetrators of the holocaust failed in their mission.