About thirteen years ago, in the summer of 1996, I spent a summer in Eastern Europe, working at a Jewish summer camp in Latvia and Ukraine. The itinerary called for us to spend four weeks in camp in Latvia, followed by a short break, and then on to Ukraine for another three weeks or so of camp.

It was during the short interlude between both camps, that I found myself traveling with two brothers, who were colleagues of mine to Kuldiga, Latvia. Why Kuldiga? Well, apparently, my colleagues' grandparents had hailed from this town, and they were determined to see what had survived in what had been a rich and vibrant Jewish community.

The journey was beautiful, We wound our way through fairly typical countryside, passing by many small villages that seemed practically unchanged in centuries. Small wells dotted the landscape, chickens and geese were honored citizens even in the main streets of the towns — in short, a scene that is replicated in thousands of towns and villages all across Europe frozen in time.

I had read enough about history, however, not to be lulled into falling for this false ideal. The deafening silence of the once large and beautiful Jewish communities was more than sufficient to see, just how much had changed and would never be the same.

We arrived at our destination in the early afternoon, and after a quick stop at what had been a large Synagogue, and another (even quicker) stop at what had been the Jewish cemetery, we recognized that nothing Jewish had survived. A visit to the local archives confirmed what we had already heard from many of the old timers: that the Jewish community of Kuldiga, representing more than half of the total population of prewar Kuldiga, was now just another statistic consigned to history.

The fate of the Jews of Kuldiga mirrors the fate of the Jews of the entire continent. In 1941 the Jews of Kuldiga were imprisoned in the large synagogue and held there for several days by Nazis and Latvian sympathizers, before being divided into smaller groups and shot in the nearby forests.

Men, women, and children, stripped of their clothes, dignity, and hope, were forced to march into the forests, where they were summarily shot and thrown into pits.

I never really appreciated the full horror of this tragedy until I became a parent, a few short years after this visit. It was only then that I began to grasp the magnitude of this tragedy.

It was the thought, of what may have gone through a mother’s mind, minutes before her young child was killed in front of her eyes that really brought this message home to me. What exactly can a parent tell their child, minutes before their own death? The ground that allowed the millions of children, stripped, abused, and humiliated, to walk their final steps, demands that we scream, "why?!?"

This question is unfortunately not a modern question; indeed, it is a rather ancient question. Moses was the first to ask this question, when he was instructed to return to Egypt, to inform the Jewish nation that G‑d was sending him to lead them out of Egyptian slavery to the Promised Land. Moses asks G‑d what his answer should be, if the people ask him what G‑d’s name is.

G‑d’s response to this question is rather puzzling. Thus should you say to the Jewish people: “I shall be who I shall be”. What kind of question and answer is this? If the people believed in G‑d, they would not ask for a name! How would this response satisfy the question, in any event?

Essentially, what Moses was asking a rhetorical question of which divine manifestation would the Jewish nation experience during this chapter of history.

The G‑d of our Patriarchs, Abraham Isaac and Jacob, revealed through the many miracles that enlivened their lives, or the G‑d of two hundred years of Egyptian oppression, culminating in the barbaric slaughter of hundreds of Jewish babies by the epitome of evil sadism, Pharaoh!

The G‑d of Auschwitz, Dachau, Treblinka, and the thousands of “Kuldiga’s” who’s Jewish identities would be wiped off the face of the land? Or the G‑d of Israel, and the revealed miracles of our survival in the land of Israel?

G‑d’s response of “I shall be as I shall be” must be read in the context of their original Hebrew, which is cognate with an expression of solidarity, that of G‑d sharing in and participating in the pain and suffering of the Jewish nation.

It is only that the infinite creator is ultimately beyond the pale of our comprehension, that there is no known answer for the European holocaust, just as there is no known answer for all the other suffering and mayhem that exists in this world.

Our strength and hopes lie in this: to recognize, in what is unrecognizable the spark and element of G‑dliness embedded in our life experiences. While this requires a tremendous reservoir of spiritual faith, ultimately a better time will come when even the unknowns will be revealed through the merciful manifestation of divine mercy with the coming of Moshiach.