The Last Jew of Vinnitza
This picture was taken on September 16, 1941 at Vinnitza, Ukraine and was found in the personal file of a German Einsatzgruppen soldier. On the back of the picture he had noted, “This is the last Jew of Vinnitza”. 28,000 Jews from the city and surrounding area were shot on that day by the Einsatzkommando (a sub-group of the five Einsatzgruppen mobile killing squads responsible for systematically killing Jews and Soviet political activists).
I look at the man sitting at the edge of the pit just before his execution, and I feel connected to him. He was murdered almost 70 years ago, but the connection is still powerful.
I feel connected to IDF soldiers who have been killed and wounded.
I feel connected to Gilad Shalit who sits alone somewhere in Gaza, ignored by the world.
I feel connected to the Jews of Europe during the Dark Ages. I feel connected to the Jews who lived through the destruction of the Second Temple.
I feel connected to the Jews of the Bible.
I do not always feel as connected with the Jews with whom I pray.
For some reason, I find it easier to connect with people long dead, or who live at a distance, than with people who live on the same block. They cannot argue with me. They are not unreliable. They can’t hurt me. It seems to be easier to connect with vulnerabilities than with people as they are.
We actually speak of our connection of the vulnerable on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur:
“On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die at his predestined time and who before his time; who by water and who by fire, who by sword, who by beast, who by famine, who by thirst, who by storm, who by plague, who by strangulation, and who by stoning. Who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquillity and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted.” – Unetane Tokef
We share vulnerabilities: We do not say, “Will I die? Will I die by water?” We ask, “Who will live and who will die? Who by water and who by fire?” We acknowledge that all of us are vulnerable. We all share the same fears. We connect for those few moments through shared vulnerabilities.
When we stand a recite the Unetane Tokef, we stand united, connected without hesitation or resentment. We connect to each other as we connect with the victims of the past and the vulnerable of the present.
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