Life In A Jar by Ned Bachus
Ned Bachus; Congregant at Our Lady of Good Hope; retired teacher from inner city Philadelphia; wrote this article for the July edition of the Harborlight Gazette. The focus was "Hope" and came from a question I had heard a local pastor share: "How do we change people's perspective of the church from one of hate to one of hope?" Mr. Bachus' article is somewhat long, yet is written from the heart and shows how we all make a difference in the world's perspective. Enjoy.
Life in a Jar by Ned Bachus
“Sometimes our light goes out, but is blown again into instant flame
by an encounter with another human being. Each of us owes our deepest thanks to those who have rekindled that inner light.” Albert Schweitzer. Epigraph for Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project by Jack Mayer.
Kathleen planted Jack Mayer’s Life in a Jar into my hands as soon as she finished reading it. Casey, her old friend from Hoosick Falls, had mailed us his neighbor’s copy. Some books hook you quickly, and this was such a book; however, as I continued reading and discovered the story within a story, I found myself hooked again. I read it on the exercise bike at the Y. I cancelled plans, stealing time to read. Although neither the owner or the two previous readers had damaged the book or written in it, after reading it I felt I owed the owner a fresh copy. It had become my book. We bought a replacement with several loaner copies. Like Casey, my wife and I became part of a chain of people spreading good news, one book at a time.
Readers often speed through terrifying books. The terror I found in Life in a Jar was not the titillating Stephen King variety but the real thing, knowingly and purposefully inflicted on innocent people. The Warsaw Ghetto. Umschlagplatz. Treblinka. Not exactly beach reading. I wanted to learn more about Hitler’s killing Hell and about its brave victims, survivors and rescuers
Irena Sendler saved more than 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto. In time, it became clear that no one in the Ghetto would survive. Sendler knew she might do all she could do to save their lives. Somehow, she also knew that she might try to save their identities, which is to say, their stories. She found hiding places on farms and created their false names and backgrounds for Jewish children to blend into Catholic families, convents and orphanages. If the children were lucky, their new identities could save them, but Sendler insisted on saving also their names, their Jewishness. She wrote each child’s new name and old name on a piece of paper. These names went into jars, which she buried under an apple tree behind a house on Leharska Street ( a block whose neighbors successfully hid 40 to 50 Jewish children)--across the street from the SS barracks.
Stories about survivors and their rescuers ought to resonate over the decades, informing generations about survival and courage in the face of genuine evil and impossible odds, but of course most stories endure much longer than the lives of the people who are their subject and of those who knew them. And tyrannical governments, like that of Communist Poland, suppress stories that do not fit their paradigm. Like trainloads of Jews in wartime Poland, stories like Irena Sendler’s vanish too. Decades of Holocaust
Research produced scant mention of her. In such plowed ground what could a trio of American high school students unearth? Quite a bit, Life in a Jar tells us.
To paraphrase a USA Today article, Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project tells the story of three Protestant girls in Kansas who in the fall of 1999 discover the story of a Catholic social worker who saved the lives of thousands of Jewish children in the Warsaw Ghetto. Liz Cambers, Megan Stewart and Sabrina Coons, under the guidance of social studies teacher Norm Conard, researched and authored a one-act play about Sendler, Life in a Jar, for National History Day, an extracurricular activity. They performed the piece in competitions, gaining recognition and learning more and more about the rescuer whose story had been mostly lost to history. Ripples from their work reached across the ocean and across time. When author/pediatrician Mayer learned about their story and about Sendler’s, he wrote Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project . In it, the girls’ story (and likewise, Irena’s story within theirs) shows that ordinary individuals can and do make a difference. The Life in a Jar Foundation. An outgrowth of the girls’ work, helps students and teachers develop similar projects; their Irene Sendler Project team has given over 300 performances of the play.
On May 18th, Kathleen and I drove to Falmouth High School, where we watched Megan Stewart Felt, one of the original young Kansas playwrights, and her fellow cast members, perform the play she c0-authored fifteen years ago. We spoke with Megan and her teacher “Mr. C.”, Life in the Jar Foundation co-founders and staff members, about their work and told them how much their story and Irena’s story had affected us. We bought another loaning copy of the book. Before the play, we listened to work by poet Anna Bat-Chai Wrobel, a teacher at the high school and a daughter of Holocaust survivors. Through the brief but moving poetry reading and the bare bones production, we sat in almost empty auditorium, transfixed by what we were seeing and hearing. By their presence and their stories, these people had made the auditorium a special place, holy. Like Irena Sendler, they had shown what an individual can accomplish.
Irena sendler did not begin rescuing doomed Jewish children with a grand plan. One small act led to another. Like seasoned trackers, the Kansas teens followed Irena’s trail one step at a time, not knowing where it would lead. They did small things, which gathered in importance. Most of us will not experience what Sendler and the Kansas high school students did. But we never know when a personal encounter will blow our extinguished life back into full flame, allowing us to see a choice that might lead to somewhere good. It happens to the least among us. At he end of Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral,” the short story’s self absorbed narrator haltingly sketches a cathedral at the request of his wife’s blind houseguest, allowing the stranger to place his hand atop his own as he works on the drawing. Then, at the blind man’s urging, he closes his eyes and continues drawing. Deftly led by the wise blind guest, he ventures beyond his protective cynicism to glimpse what his emotional blindness has never let him take in: life from another person’s perspective. Finished his drawing, he keeps his eyes closed, even when the blind man asks him to look at his work and tell him about it.
My eyes were still closed. I was in my house. But I didn’t feel like I was inside anything. “It’s really something,” I said.
Like Carver’s narrator, I closed my eyes at one point during Sunday’s presentation. I felt the presence of the missing---lives lost and saved. Saw mothers surrendering their little ones to a woman, a stranger, knowing that they will never see them again, praying that this Polish woman will smuggle their children out of the Ghetto to where they might survive Hitler’s Hell. I opened my eyes and watched and listened that had little chance to survive but did. I knew the sadness and fear of those mothers and fathers and rescuers but also their love, courage and steadfastness. Felt the weight and power of the simple act of remembering.
If the world is going to see HOPE the church needs to maintain that same kind of love, courage and steadfastness.