This story is what sparked a lifelong interest in the Jewish people. It is what inspired my thesis in college, entitled "Ha-Shoah". It is what caused me eventually to identify so closely and bond so tightly with the Jewish destiny that I had no other choice but to become a Jew.
Wiesenthal spoke often of a Sabbath dinner he had spent at the home of another survivor of Mauthausen, who had become a wealthy jeweler. The man speculated that Wiesenthal could have become a millionaire if he had gone back to architecture instead of hunting Nazis.
“When we come to the other world,” Wiesenthal said he responded, “and meet the millions of Jews who died in thecamps, and they ask us, ‘What have you done?’ there will be many answers.
“You will tell them, ‘I became a jeweler.’
“Another will say, ‘I smuggled coffee and American cigarettes.’
“Another will say, ‘I built houses.’
“But I will say, ‘I didn’t forget you.’.”
So while Simon Wiesenthal never knew me or spoke to me, he changed my life. He inspired me with a lifelong devotion to a people of whom I was not a part but to whom I eventually joined my destiny.
My heart truly spoke the words that Ruth spoke so long before me, "Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God."
Becoming a Jew meant leaving behind an old life, gaining new friends and family, grieving for old friends and family who couldn't accept a choice I was compelled to make. It meant hitching my wagon to a destiny that continues to evolve - one which isn't necessarily "safe" or "privileged" but one which provides more satisfaction and happiness than I ever could have imagined.When people ask me what inspired me to convert to Judaism, I never mention Simon Wiesenthal. Instead I mumble things about "faith" and "how I believe" and "the one-ness of G-d"...but I never mention what really drew me to even consider it. I never mention the man who chose never to forget his people...and inspired me to never forget those who would become MY people either.
Maybe I should mention this.
Who changed YOUR life?
(Cross-posted at JewView and Matzah and Marinara)