Yad Vashem Award Ceremony
Closing Benediction by Rabbi Robert B. Barr
September 22, 1997 – Rotterdam
In an age when words such as courage and bravery are used indiscriminately, at a time when the term hero has come to describe athletes and movie stars, we are reminded today what those words truly mean. The authentic hero acts with no concern for self – only concern for others. Acting out of a genuine sense of justice and morality, the true hero does not seek glory or recognition – does not even see her or himself as heroic. Today we gather in recognition of true heroes who by virtue of authentic and genuine acts of courage and humanity earned the title “Righteous Among the Nations.” It is only right that those who demonstrated the highest of human ideals and ethics be singled out and honored.
This ceremony allows us, family, friends, and the Jewish community to formally express our sincere and most heartfelt appreciation for how our honorees have touched and transformed our lives. The recognition bestowed this day also is a call to the moral obligation that rests upon all people of goodwill to make our world a safer and nobler place for all to live.
Knowing that three of those honored this day are no longer among the living brings sadness to hearts. For the death of such noble individuals diminishes our world, but the lives of such people continue to enrich us all and for this we are truly grateful.
When our world was engulfed in chaos, when hatred and prejudice walked the earth, you whom we honor today acted in the most righteous manner. You did not turn a blind eye to the pain that you saw, you did not close your hearts to the suffering that surrounded you, you chose to risk your safety, your very lives to save the lives of others. Your decision to help those scorned and hunted, is the greatest act of compassion and humanity that there can be.
Your acts of courage and bravery not only changed the lives of those individuals you saved from certain death, but you ensured there would be children and grandchildren and generations to come. Your actions indelibly transformed the world in which we live. You altered the direction of history itself and by doing so you touched and changed the future. By touching the future you have touched the eternal within our world.
Please know that we, the Jewish community of America and those of us who came of age after the war, stand humbled by what you have done. In your actions, we come to know the strength of the human spirit and the kindness of the human soul. Through you we learn that there are individuals who, like beacons of light, will pierce the darkness in the bleakest of times. Because of you, we must look deep within ourselves and examine our own strength of character and sense of justice. Across the years, your acts reach out and challenge all people to rise up to a higher level of humanity and sense of purpose.
While it is the Jewish community that honors you today – all people of peace, justice, and compassion share in what we do here. For peace and justice know no boundaries and compassion no limits. And yet we must be ever vigilant. Only when all people speak out and act against evil can justice prevail and peace be certain. On that day, the vision of The Prophet Amos will be realized – that justice rolls down like waters and righteousness flows like a mighty river.
May the memory of those we honor today who are no longer among the living continue to burn brightly within our memories serving as beacons to illuminate the night.
May we honor know that without you a piece of our world would be missing today. You helped to make our world whole.
And may we and seekers of justice everywhere be inspired by those we call “Righteous Among the Nations,” so that together we create a world of in which all people know liberty and all children know peace – know Shalom.