The Choice

Recently I’ve been reading a very moving book entitled “Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed” by Philip P. Hallie.  It’s about a small French village called Le Chambon during the Nazi Occupation and “how good happened there.” They helped thousands of Jewish and other refugees escape the horrors being razed upon them.  They did it not for money and not because they were organized by any group. Quite the contrary. One man in particular stood out: A Protestant minister named André Trocmé  was the mover and shaker for the movement. His powerful messages both from the pulpit and every day about loving all men rang true for every villager.

Not one person betrayed the refugees. They hid them in their homes, taught them in schools and didn’t come out and lie about hiding them when the Gestapo came into town. There was a system of alerting those hidden when there would be a raid so they could hide in the nearby woods. Some of those helping even died in the cause. And some took extremely risky chances and lead some to freedom into Switzerland.

Trocmé and two others spent time in an internment camp themselves and wouldn’t leave, even when they were allowed, because they refused to sign a doctrine that stated they would follow the French rules. These rules were aligned with the German rules they believed were cruel and went against the laws of a higher power.

So many that would have surely died were saved because of this village. And while only a fraction of the millions murdered, it still is an amazing beacon of hope during the darkest of times. France for the most part was not a safe place for Jews or anyone aligned with Jewish people. So the simple people of Le Chambon showed such depth of character, high ethical beliefs and an ability to move beyond fear for what is right and just.

It made me pause and think: what would I do in such a similar instance? I’ve always thought of myself one of high ethics and believe we are all one. While not a religious person, I certainly feel we are all cut from the same mold. The people from this village took it so far as to not even hate the Nazis and believe in non-violence always. This is actually what helped them in many instances with the Gestapo.

If push came to shove, would I put my life on the line to save others in such a time as was seen here? Would I put my family, my community and everything I had ever known in jeopardy to save people I didn’t know because I believed it was right? And would I try to get others around me to do the same? I have always thought I would.

I would because to live in a world where to run from helping and turning my back on others, is not a world in which I would choose to live anyway. If I had to stand by and watch my fellow human beings march down a street–most of whom were my neighbors–to certain death, then I might as well be dead too. I would at least have to try to help and risk dying myself.

The beauty of Le Chambon was the simplicity of so much of it all. No real planning. The right hand never knew what the left hand was doing–and this was actually critical. That way if one house was caught, they couldn’t divulge information about another because they honestly didn’t know. They never even knew who provided the false identification cards–to this day it is unknown.  And they never truly and came out and lied about harboring Jews. They would just say things like: What is a Jew? Because they believed they were just men like they themselves were.

And ultimately these people only did what is right. When Hallie interviewed them years later and asked why they put themselves at such risk, he said they would shrug and say things like: well of course it’s what you would do! They needed help! Trocmé and others were recognized by Israel many years later as Righteous Among Nations as was the whole town.

In other parts of the world genocide continues. Human beings continue to slaughter other human beings because they are ‘different’. We are the only species where this happens. But within these pockets of death and inhumanity, there always seems to groups of people who rise above. The Quakers, some Catholic organizations, American Red Cross and many other groups that have gone in to help the helpless for years.

Does this mean there is hope for us? For me? I can only wish that I would rise to my best self as the people of Le Chambon did during the dark days of the Nazi occupation and put my life at risk to save others. And hopefully motivate others to do the same.


Bring It Inside

Today I did something I don’t often do, but like to do when I can. I went to Church…yes, Church. I go occasionally to the UU…or Unitarian Universalist Church that is local to me. I used to go years ago when I lived in Syracuse, NY and loved it. I loved it for its welcoming and open community. It is an accepting and loving place without emphasis on God or Christianity. This was a comfort to me as I am not a Christian, raised by a Jewish Mother and Protestant Father and coming out pagan myself.

So when I found a ‘church’ and a ‘religion’ that was more a community of liked minded people where I could meet folks that did good things, said interesting things and often had interesting classes, I was willing to give it a try. It was an easy fit, without the religious jargon that so often gave me the willies other places did when I visited.

When I came to New England, my family and I tried the UU Church here. The building was much more ‘church-like’ than the one in NY, having a steeple and pews. This was at first a bit of a put-off, but I decided venture forth anyway.

Honestly, I’ve never found it quite like my NY family, but it has it merits I suppose. I’ve never quite gotten as involved though. It has never grabbed me the same way and even put me off in some ways. As a spiritual person, and one that keeps evolving, I won’t give up hope.

So today, I had gotten enough rest and decided on a rainy NE day, it was a good day to listen to someone say something poignant. It’s always lovely to hear the music also and maybe even meet someone nice. Being single does get lonely, and having a community is something I am trying to find.

This month is ‘inclusive’ month there: including others–gays, disabled, people of color, transgender etc. It was interesting listening to the minister talk about this (and other short talks) while sitting among an all white audience of people all over 50.  I’m willing to bet there were no transgender people listening today (although I could be wrong), and I didn’t notice any gay couples either.

One problem I’ve always had with the UU community, especially the one around here, is that they talk a big game, but don’t seem to walk that talk. One gentleman did mention the fact that we were all white and maybe we should work harder on attracting people of other nationalities. Could be tricky where we live! Hey, I’d be happy to see some young people! Most everyone looked over 70! It doesn’t seem a stretch they could attract younger people with a credo talking about inclusiveness!

So I guess my point is: it’s all well and good to say stuff, but you have to live it too. If you have a credo, don’t just read it every day, but do the things it says! Believe it, feel it, emote it. Whether you are Christian or UU, it doesn’t matter! Or even if you are an atheist–be strong in your beliefs. Get out there and beat the street.

I know I’ve always had a big mouth–my third grade teacher called me chatterbox. Hopefully now I put it to good use. And hopefully my ethics and belief system is one that is based on fairness, equity and equality. I’m not always perfect and catch myself plenty, but I try to take each person as they come. And I always open my big mouth when I feel something isn’t right.

Maybe if I keep going to this UU Church I can help them get more diversity. It’s all well and good to tout diversity within four walls of a church, but we have to take that credo to the streets and bring it inside!