Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner shared this ‘Pause for Thought’ on BBC Radio 2’s Vanessa Feltz programme on Friday 2nd November.
Last Friday, my husband, David and I followed our 15 year daughter, Ella, and our synagogue youth choir for a weekend tour in Amsterdam. The owner of our bed and breakfast gave us directions to the local market, “it’s just by Anne Frank’s house”. It jolted me. In Amsterdam, this landmark is a completely integrated part of the landscape, like Blackpool promenade, Big Ben or a local pub. But coming from Britain which the Germans did not invade, except for the Channel Islands, we don’t have a landmark for what was here, only for what was over there, over the sea.
Anne Frank’s museum tells the story of Jews in the Holocaust by focusing on one normal teenager who hid with her family and wrote a diary which, in many ways, reads like any other teenage diary: her hobbies, her frustrations, a teenage crush and family arguments. Anne was a teenager, no saint, nothing special. A teenager murdered in a death camp at the very same age that our youngest daughter, Ella, is now.
Some people talk about those murdered in the Holocaust as if they were saints, elevated, special, pure. But they weren’t. They were as standard as you and me, with the same needs, frustrations and joys and the same ability or inability to connect with God.
As a rabbi, I have no aspirations to sainthood – saints aren’t really in my religious vocabulary at all. I reject the idea that I am spiritually gifted and I don’t have any exceptional access to God. The pinnacle of what counts as good for anyone in Judaism is not a special ability to connect with God, to intercede for others… I certainly can’t and don’t do that…
Instead of aspiring to sainthood, all we can do is just to live as honourably as we can, and as anyone can, regardless of age or profession. It is to live as the prophet Micha said, “justly, loving kindness and walking humbly with your God”.
We can all aspire to this, whether we are a teenager in Amsterdam or Leeds and whether your name is Anne or Ella.