“My husband isn’t ill. Humanity is ill.”
The year is 1942. The place is Nice in the South of France. These words were spoken by my mother. She and my father were in hiding in a cellar with 5 other Jewish people. They found out that the Nazis were coming into Nice. My mother engineered a plan. She would get out of hiding and go see a doctor. She told the doctor the following: “I have come to ask for your help. Could you sign a certificate that my husband is gravely ill, and needs to be transported to a hospital in Cannes. Give us an ambulance, a driver, nurse’s uniforms so that we can escape.”
The doctor was a good man. He listened compassionately. And then he said: “I cannot give you the certificate you are asking for. I signed the Hippocratic Oath and cannot lie about a patient. Your husband isn’t ill.”
And that is when my mother told him: “You are right, My husband isn’t ill. Humanity is ill. Seven people, me included, will die of the illness of humanity.”
The doctor now had an existential choice. He could remain in the small box of faithfulness to his oath. Or he could step into a vast expanse, where you love life so much that you are willing to sacrifice your own to save the life of another. And so he did.
In 1945 my mother wrote him a Christmas letter and sent him a picture: “We are alive. We have a little baby girl named Hedy. Thank you for our life!”
As Yumi and I are sheltering in place, I think a great deal about my parents hiding in a cellar. And I think about Anne Frank hiding in an attic. And I am in awe of how they stayed connected to their essential humanity.Both used their time hidden in isolation for creative incubation.Here are Anne Frank’s words in her diary:
“It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness. I hear the ever-approaching thunder, which will destroy us, too. I can feel the suffering of millions – and yet if I look up into the heavens, I think it will come out all right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again. In the meantime, I must uphold my ideals, for perhaps the time will come when I shall be able to carry them out.”
Yesterday something funny occurred. The neighbors in our building decided to create a moment of joy together. They organized communal singing from the windows and the balconies. And the song they chose was “All you need is Love” by the Beatles.
Yumi and I watched on Zoom. And suddenly I snapped: “NOOOOO! I don’t need love. I have love! I need a party, I need to hug my friends. I need conversation.”
I called my children Yigal and Rachel who very compassionately gave some ideas. With my daughter-in-love Rachel I took an imaginary trip to Vienna where they are beginning to open up hairdressers. I had a haircut, a mani/pedi, a massage, went to my favorite dress shop Mila, bought two new outfits, and then had a splendid party with our Austrian friends. The people at the party are our friends because Yumi, many years ago, had the courage to say: “Let’s begin to build a bridge with Austrian and German couples.”
Just like my mother and Anne Frank did, Yumi understood that all of humanity is one web. And that if we kept away from Austrians and Germans we would be cutting ourselves off from our wholeness as human beings. At that time, we were not even willing to buy a match box made in Germany. But Yumi saw that to live our message in integrity meant to be open to visit all the neighborhoods of our inner world. And we would only successfully visit our war experiences by stepping into connection with German and Austrian people.
May our entire planet come out of the current world situation having invested in creative incubation, and thus creating a completely “new normal,” in which we connect to the highest in ourselves and others in the service of our beautiful and vulnerable planet.