My Column for The Elgin Review 1.8.20
We gathered outside the Children’s Memorial at Yad Vashem in Israel. Ezra, our tour guide, knew I had a Bible in my pocket. “Becky, read Jeremiah 31:15.” Thus says the Lord; a voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.
We were in Ramah, near Jerusalem, where 2,400 years earlier Jewish mothers from all the surrounding area were forced to gather, separated from their children, to begin their sad sojourn into seventy years of captivity in Babylon. Then Ezra asked me to read the story in Matthew of Herod the King, raging mad upon hearing of the birth of a Jewish child (Jesus). Herod murdered all the Jewish babies from Bethlehem to Ramah to Jerusalem to be sure he’d done away with the one who might someday cause him trouble. The story, found right after the story of the wisemen and the star quotes the words of Jeremiah about bitter weeping in Ramah over lost children.
Inside the memorial it was dark, a hollowed-out cavern. It is circular with candles burning in its center and mirrors all around so the candles look like millions of stars reaching in all directions. Portraits of Jewish children killed in the Nazi Holocaust are projected on the walls. As our group moved in hushed solemnity, a voice read the names of every child known to have been murdered by Hitler’s regime. First name, Middle name, Last name. Age at death. Nationality. Read in Hebrew, in English and then in each child’s native tongue. It takes three months for all the names to be read out loud.
Overwhelmed, with tears streaming down my cheeks, I thought of my own sons; Adam Lawrence Zahller Brown 12 years old, American. Daniel Scott Zahller Brown, 10 years old, American. Benjamin David Zahller Brown, 9 years old. American. God, how can human beings be so cruel? How was it, that I was living in a time and place where my sons were safe, but other mother’s sons and daughters were not, are not, will not be?
Listening to the names, I wasn’t aware of the hall emptying-out. Their own mothers were not there to hear their names being spoken. I needed to listen on behalf of the parents whose beloved children were slain.
Eventually, one of the other ministers in our group touched me on my shoulder. “Becky, the rest of us are on the bus now, it’s time to go.”
I asked, “How can we leave? Who will listen to the names of the children?”
Quietly, my friend said, “God will.”
This part of the Christmas story doesn’t make it into carols, or on the front of cards. This part isn’t recounted in sweet pageants with darling children playing the parts. This part is so infrequently told, that those who make it to church only on Christmas and Easter, may not even know it exists.
Who wants to hear of a massacre of children while we’re still finding pine needles in our carpets and the candy canes haven’t all gone from our counter-tops? Who wants to think of Mary and Joseph and their little one, fleeing under the cover of darkness, alone and terrified as shouts of soldiers and cries of anguished parents pierce the silent night?
We don’t want to hear it, but we need to. Jesus’s followers need to know this story by heart. Our Savior was born poor and, though he was visited by kings, his parents had no choice but to flee in the dark of night, lest they be among the parents remaining in Ramah weeping. They were political refugees.
The story is as old as time; 2400 years ago, when the Jews were exiled to Babylon, 2000 years ago, when Herod killed the children, 75 years ago, when Jewish children were slaughtered, and today.
God hears the children’s names. God wipes the tears of the grieving parents. The question for us is will we?
Will we understand that every Jewish child growing up in this season of rising anti-Semitism is a child just like our Jesus? That every child fleeing danger and poverty who arrives on our nation’s southern border is a child just like our Jesus? Will we remember that every child in Iran, vulnerable to the whims and avarice of powerful rulers is a child just like our Jesus?
God hears the weeping in Ramah.