“Schindler’s Yom Kippur” by Prof Gerald August

Oct 5th, 2011 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Holidays
Schindler’s list is a great movie from the 1990s about Oscar Schindler, a businessman in Nazi Germany who made guns for the Nazis. He saved over 1200 Jews.

Schindler teaches us how to approach Yom Kippur. The Torah teaches us to “Afflict your soul.” People fast, do not wear leather shoes, etc. but the real command is to feel regret.

At the end of the movie, is a famous scene. The war was over and the Russians were approaching Schindler’s compound. He would be shot. So he was fleeing west. The Jews gathered and presented Schindler with a ring. On the ring was an inscription from the Talmud. “He who saves a single life it is as if he saved a whole world”. Schindler broke down and cried,” I could have done more. Had I sold my watch, I could have saved two more people”. The Jews crowded around him and said, “No! No! Look what you did.” It is one of the most famous and moving scenes in film history.

So Oscar Schindler teaches us how to approach Yom Kippur .He was afflicted. “I could have done more.” This is Yom Kippur.

Three days after I saw the movie, I went to a synagogue where a Schindler survivor spoke.

Someone asked the survivor the following question, ”Did that scene really happen?” The survivor answered, “I do not remember Oscar Schindler on that day saying I could have done more.”

What? The scene was a Spielberg invention? A Hollywood trick? My heart fell to the floor.

But, that was not the total answer from the survivor. Listen very well to the answer. He said,” I do not remember Oscar Schindler saying on that day I could have done more.

But, I worked with Schindler in his office for over a year, and MANY TIMES I heard him say, “I could have done more.”

I believe and know that someone who kept focusing on a goal will do more. Does this mean he saved two more Jews? Twenty more? Two hundred more? I don’t know.

But, this is more impressive than the famous last scene, which is a dramatization and an amalgam of Schindler’s mindset.

Because if Schindler only said it at the end, he could not have done more.The fact that he focused many times on his goal means he did do more.

Oscar Schindler teaches us how to take Yom Kippur into the new year.

We are sincere on Yom Kippur. We want to improve. But we all know what happens after a few weeks. We do not do more. We need a constant focus.

One way is to put that focus on a to-do list every couple of weeks.

There is a place we do more every week. In synagogues on Shabbat we do one thing more. We have an additional service. Mussaf. We add more.

One way to do mussaf and use it, is to remind yourself to do more. Something specific. Even if you give $.25 more to charity each week, it will be more. Or you consciously do a random act of kindness that Mussaf triggers, that is more.

Even if you don’t do something every week, you can set up a periodic way to do more.

New York City has a subway system. When a citizen turns 65, the price for a subway ride is cut by 50%. Many seniors I know are very excited about this benefit.

One day Allen was having dinner with his friend Paula. Allen is a senior and Paula is not. Allen told Paula he does not understand why someone like him, who is still working, should be paying less for a subway than a working person under age 65. Paula suggested he pay full fare. Allen pointed out that doing so would not lower the subway fare for the other people.

Paula then suggested he take the difference in the fare and give it to charity. Allen went home that evening and thought about her suggestion. He had recently put $50 on his subway card. He thought to himself, “When I refill the card, I will send $50 to a charity.”

He arranged a meeting with Rabbi Weinberg. He told the rabbi this story and asked the following question. “I want my $50 to do something. The basic need people have is food. What food bank spends most of the donation on the food?”

The rabbi replied, “City Harvest”. This program picks up food daily from restaurants, corporate cafeterias and other places that by law, for health reasons, need to get rid of the food they have that day. 91% of the donation to City Harvest goes to providing food. To put it another way, $50 provides about 200 pounds of food.

Allen has implemented this program. Every time he refills the subway card, he donates to City Harvest. Allen wanted to do more. Oscar Schindler, Paula and the rabbi taught him how to do so.

Every Yom Kippur we will realize we could have done more than last year. But if we follow Schindler’s teaching we will be saying,” I could have done more” on less, because we did do more.

This post is the yartzeit post in memory of my father, who’s yartzeit is on Yom Kippur.

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