Wednesday 25 April 2018

W.HO. - She was a Survivor and a Rebel

W.H.O is a series I do on my blog, where I highlight certain women from history who have made an impact on me. Most of them are unheard of or were immensely popular in their day, but have faded in to obscurity. It is my conviction that the her-stories of this world are more celebrated and told. So today I would like to introduce you to someone who is super fascinating and personally, very inspiring.

This past week, on the 19th of April the "world" remembers the tragic, but truly brave Warsaw Ghetto uprising during the second world war. Hitler and the Nazi's had built Jewish ghetto's throughout Poland from as early as 1939. Jewish ghetto's were formed to keep the Jewish people segregated from what was considered the pure "Aryan," chosen race of non - Jews, so that both Jews and non - Jews would not mingle, intermarry or even liase with one another. The warsaw ghetto was home to almost half a million Jews, who were imprisoned in an area that was 1.3 miles big! People died of starvation, malnutrition, and disease. Dozens of people were forced to live in single rooms together and the German army ran the ghetto like a prison. People were shot, abused and anyone who exercised sympathy towards the Jewish people were routinely killed along with their families. The Warsaw Ghetto was hell. Eventually in 1942, the Germans instituted what was called "the final solution." A diabolical plan to settle Jews in to concentration camps and eventually, kill them all. They vacated thousands of people from the Warsaw ghetto, and moved them to secret concentration camps. Seventy thousand people remained in the Ghetto, until certain people started hearing about the gassing of their families in concentration camps. Knowing their fate was sealed and not wanting to go down without a fight, a number of Jewish women and men formed an underground resistance group within the Ghetto. 

The resistance acquired arms, grenades and used the sewer system in the ghetto as bunkers. They distributed leaflets to their Jewish brethren and they armed themselves with the "chutzpah" to fight the Germans, even if it cost them their lives. As the sun rose on the 19th of April over the dirty, grey, dilapidated buildings in the Warsaw Ghetto, a german commander tried to lead his troops in to the ghetto to export the remaining Jews to the death camps. Shoots fired out, rifles bit the air, grenades blew dust and concrete everywhere and the resistance began firing at the Germans. Shocked and aghast, Germans soldiers were wounded and some were killed.

One of the founding members and high commander of the Jewish resistance group was a dark haired, Polish activist Zivia Lubetkin. She was the only female leader of the resistance group and she shot at the Germans with fearlessness. She protected the people under her and led them through the sewers and bunkers as they fought and held off the Germans for close to 3 weeks. The Germans were shocked at how long they Jews who were scantily armed and physically weak, could hold them off for so long. With woudned pride and bitter hatred, the commander ordered his men to smoke out the sewers and to blow up the buildings one by one. More then 7000 people were killed, over 57000 were taken to concentration camps, but Zivia and 9 others in the movement escaped through a tunnel and continued her resistance activities outside of Warsaw. One of the other commanders of the resistance movement was Yitzhak Zuckerman, a man who worked as an activist alongside Zivia since their youth. The two of them eventually married and became operatives, helping smuggle European Jews in to Israel (which was then called Mandate Palestine). Together, Zivia and Yitzhak and their fellow resistance members, established and built a Kibbutz in Northern Israel with a museum dedicated to the story of the Warsaw Ghetto resistance members. 

Zivia's life story really inspires me. To stand up against a highly established army of bloodthirsty Hitler soldiers armed with small pistols and vastly outnumbered, reminds me of the biblical stories in the book of Judges. When I first took my husband to the Holocaust Center in Cape Town, it was the pictures and the stories of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising that really had his interest. "Do you think we would have resisted?" he asked me. I would like to think so. Zivia fought for the rights and freedom of others, and she worked to this end alongside a man who shared the same values for justice and activism. That's rare and something worth noting. They also stayed married until they both passed away, but both left behind a legacy that has gone down in the history books. The warsaw Ghetto Uprising was the largest Jewish uprising within the Hitler war, and it inspired large number of youth outside of Warsaw, to do the same. Yitzhak himself said that "this was a war of less than a thousand people against a mighty army and no one doubted how it was likely to turn out." Zivia and her resistance group knew the outcome would probably not be in their favour, but they stood up and did something about their situation. They did not go quietly like lambs to the slaughter, they fought for a greater reality. 

As if the story couldn't get any better, their grand daughter Roni Zuckerman became the very first female fighter pilot in the Israeli Defense Force, 17 years ago. You go girl! Their fighting spirit lives on, passed from generation to generation. This is the legacy of those who stand up to free others, the kind of legacy and spirit we can pass on to those of our family members, our children, grandchildren, godchildren and spiritual children. May it be so! I'm grateful for the legacy of Zivia and for what she did, she continues to inspire, even today.

Wednesday 4 April 2018

The Promised Pain

I’ve been in pain for a while, dealing with the confusion of life and the anger that comes through disappointments and grief. Days can be hard, some days are easier then others. But pain, it’s real. No one can share another hearts pain, only a single heart knows its own suffering, its own lament and its experiences. That leads to emotional exhaustion sometimes and its heavy. And its lonely.

This week I was tired of the lonely and decided to bravely mention to someone (on a surface level), that I was hurting inside. I got the response I expected to get. I got the Christian response, the believers response, the how – to response that modern day first world, comfortable Christianity has taught its followers to do. And do it well, that they do. It begins with “oh I’m so sorry you going through this. I’ll pray for you, just trust in Jesus.” Cue the eye roll right here.

I push the pause button on this response and on my own life to logically evaluate the situation. Am I trusting in the Saviour to guide my every step… absolutely! Am I still a sold out Jesus Freak that spends copious amounts of time clinging to His robe… you better believe it! Have I let go… never. Have I stayed the course… my ships rudder knows no other course then Yeshua. Am I a mature believer, God has told me so. And am I faithful in the suffering… I still try to be. Am I still ministering Gods Holy Word with awe and Spirit filled truth… absolutely. Am I wholehearted like Caleb was in the wilderness… yes and amen. I have no other life outside of the Messiah. So am I still trusting, of course I am. So stop telling me to trust God, because you have no idea how hard it is to trust the Invisible Most High, when you’re in a cave of darkness.

This response from “well meaning,” believers has become what we expect from Christians, that’s a sad fact but it’s true. I’ve personally found more space for pain outside of religious circles, then I have inside those circles. And I believe that this comes down to two realities, firstly modern-day Christianity in general, has trained us to be first world in our mindset. IN many cultures we have been taught to avoid pain and suffering, or growth through heartache and sorrow, instead we are taught to have our best life now. Or to pray and claim blessings from the sky, to pray the Jabez prayer (which interestingly enough was rooted in pain by the way but no one teaches you that!), or to pop a pill and forget the pain. My mom works for a medical doctor and she tells me there are more people on prescription drugs then ever before. Everyone is trying to numb the pain, instead of facing it. We’ve become societies of people who are fearful to deal with our disappointments, our failures, our broken dreams, our crisis of faith or our wounded souls. We’ve been trained through media, television, our books and sadly from the pulpit, to believe that the Christian life will bring no suffering only releasing of blessing. We’ve been taught to steer clear of the pain of life and pursue everything in our own strength, with optimal outcome of riches, status, followers and happiness. But happiness has never come to those who pursued such a lifestyle.

Secondly, what our responses to pain teach us is merely that we are uncomfortable with the pain of others. People treat emotional pain in others like a disease. Years ago there were billboards signs up on the side of the road here in South Africa which read “if you touch someone with HIV you will not get AIDS.” You see people were so afraid of getting the virus they were isolating family members and friendships, going so far as to not eat from the same dish or shake their hand. I cannot help but feel Christians treat their spiritual family in the same manner. The only reason we give quick answers like “trust Jesus,” is because deep down that person feels helpless in the face of pain. When we become comfortable with our pain, we become open to other people’s experiences of pain. As a therapist I was forced to face the fears I carried of hurting people. I will be the first to admit that when I started seeing trauma patients in 2009, I was petrified of pain. I felt inadequate to deal with the brokenness of this world. But it was only once I faced my own, did I become comfortable with pain and with the fact that I didn’t have the answers for hurting people. I didn’t have the answers for people who lost their children in car accidents, or for the woman whose husband was having an affair. Or for the family who lost a son at 18 years old. I still don’t, but all I now understand we have to do, is practice what I’ve now come to call hugging and holding presence.

I don’t have a disease because I’m broken, so don’t apologise for my pain. Rather, be present, be quiet and really try be a God fragrance. Hug if someone wants it or needs it, don’t be stoic and hold your tongue while being present. 

Our response to pain is in opposition to the biblical, Middle Eastern view of suffering. When suffering, David screamed and shouted, wept and beat his breast with truths like “God why have you forsaken me!” or “why do the wicked prosper and I waste away!” He never hid anything from the Almighty and because he was so real and transparent with his emotional pains, with his disappointments and confusion, God met David every time. That’s why his Psalms would change from psalms of lament to momentary hope. Research tells us that psalms of Lament make up for 30% of the psalms, yet none of them are used frequently in Church liturgy. Lamenting and being present in pain are large parts of the individual and communal experience in the Old Testament. When the people of God went in to exile, the prophet Jeremiah wrote the book of Lamentations. Pain is present throughout the biblical narratives and the expression of that pain is something to learn from.

I feel we have begun to ignore the promise of pain which will come in different ways and forms to people because we are all mortal, frail and deeply complex emotionally, spiritually and mentally. We weren’t promised smooth sailing, but we were promised smooth landing. Our future is secure in Yeshua, our faith steady, our victory will come and there is hope this side of eternity. We become active in that hope when we can be real with our own pain, creating safe spaces and being a safe space for another to rest and find comfort. Enough with the answers, enough with the clich├ęs, its hurts even more when someone looks down at you for your brokenness, or when someone speaks to you in a way that makes you feel like a baby believer who has lost faith. Elijah waited a long time by a small brook with heartache and depression. Moses walked 40 years with a heart filled of mourning and disappointment. Yeshua wept and bled tears of blood, pleading for the coming suffering to pass. David clung to wet rocks in a cave, alone, broken hearted and afraid. Paul faced discouragement and confusion when locked away in a prison cell, unable to go on those fruitful mission trips that had defined his life. Mary’s soul was crushed and her pain unbearable when she watched her innocent son crucified as a criminal, yet he was innocent. Their pains were not a result of sin or lack of trust, these pains came because it was part of life. So the next time someone you know is broken, hurting, confused, angry, anxious or depressed, don’t given an easy answer, evaluate your motives and learn there is no problem in feeling pain.