Tonight, six years ago, I sat in an auditorium, several rows away from a stage on which Eli Wiesel spoke. The poignancy of this memory and its contrast to present day for me cannot be understated. Six years ago, I listened to a man from another time speak about a world in which I thanked the stars in the sky I would never live. Mr. Wiesel spoke about his life. His sadness and hopelessness and despair were palpable, and permeated every word, every breath from his mouth. He spoke about history. That’s what it was to me. A time in which men and women and children were stigmatized and persecuted and tortured and murdered because of the color of their eyes or their hair or their skin; their religion; their physical disabilities; their mental health. Untermenschen is what they were called by the Nazis. Untermenschen: literally, subhuman. 60+ years ago, these people – Eli Wiesel and his family and my Romanian family and 6,000,000 others – became victims of what is one of the largest genocides in history.
Six years ago, I looked upon that night as a lesson in humanity, but also a lesson in history. Tonight, history shouts across time to me. Tonight, I quake in tears and fear for the world in which I have brought and promised to protect three lives. I see strains of history arising around us – dehumanization like they saw 60+ years ago – and it terrifies me. Tonight, the weight of now – now – RIGHT NOW – threatens to paralyze me: racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, xenophobia, antisemitism; no guns versus yes guns versus foreign terrorists versus national terrorists; left versus right versus black versus white. Tonight, history shouts across time to me about a nation and a world divided, and in turn I shout to you: This is not the world in which I want my children to grow up. I cannot, will not sit idly by. Not for another second. Enough. Is. Enough.
I shout to you, but then I throw my hands up and cry and think, but now what? Because not sitting idly by is daunting and huge and overwhelming, and where do I even begin when the lives of my children are at stake? And so I call my dad, the wisest of wise, and he says these words to me: You are not obligated to complete the work but neither are you free to abandon it. He quotes the Talmud, and though I am not religious, the words settle the restlessness in my body and brain. He continues, And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.
Do you see? We are not tasked with finding all the answers, with solving all the problems. Simply, each of us is tasked with doing something, making some contribution, with an understanding that if I change one life for the better, help one person, it’s as if I have saved the world. Imagine if I change one life and you change one life, and we each around this country and this earth change one life… imagine then, not a world divided, but a world intertwined, one by one by one.
It’s powerful, isn’t it, to think that even the tiniest action has the potential to change the world?
And so I charge you with changing the world. Elie Wiesel said, “Once you bring life into the world, you must protect it. We must protect it by changing the world.” Let’s change the world together, shall we?
Start small. Choose something that is important to you. I won’t tell you what, that’s for you to decide. I am collecting baby carriers for refugee families through Carry the Future. I have only collected two, but for two families, that will make a difference. And there are thousands of others collecting… one by one by one….
Do you see it now?