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Compassion & Hope: Lessons of the Holocaust

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One of the holiest holiday season's of the year is upon us and consumers are out waging their war on Christmas. We are told to shop, shop, shop and keep the American economy rolling! Most of us, however, are holding onto our money as much as possible these days. The rainy day we did or did not save for is here for the third challenging year.

Last year at this time, there was a lightness of being in the air. We had HOPE. Hope for an economic recovery, hope for better government, financial opportunity, job growth and homeowner restitution. Twelve months later, none of this has come to pass. The growing discontent exemplified by the Occupy Wall Street movement reveals it is far worse than it was.

Further, we watch in sadness as Middle East revolutions we thought were over reignite with more devastation than before. We are dismayed by "the great social experiment" of Western Europe that has fallen apart before our eyes. That Heroic America helped create its prosperity after World War II and Reckless America played a key role is destroying the same economies we helped to build reveals a conflict we have yet to reconcile. Everywhere we look, we witness heartbreak in others and in ourselves.

It's easy to get lost in despair and hopelessness. How did we get to this point of social and economic deterioration? How do we rebuild our nation and renew our sense of hope for a better world?

This weekend, after my yoga class on the Lower East Side, I went out for coffee with an amazing couple: George and Tzipi Weiss. In the course of a conversation about our mutual disenchantment with the economy and U.S. politics, it emerged that Tzipi, a professor of social work at Long Island University, was the daughter of two Holocaust survivors. She said her parents rarely spoke about their experiences, yet despite that she grew up with a heavy feeling. Despair at the brutality and destruction human beings were capable of walked with her through childhood.

Yet when her mother finally spoke of the horrors she had endured, she did not speak of the atrocities. She spoke instead of the small acts of kindness that helped her survive one of the darkest periods in human history. A German woman left an apple on the windowsill every morning in the concentration camp where her mother was imprisoned and saved her from starvation. Another woman took the scarf from around her neck and gave it to Tzipi's mother as she was being transported to another camp. Those who survived, explained Tzipi, made it out alive on the random acts of kindness of strangers. It moved something in my heart to hear her speak with the passion and earnestness of one who has carried the burden of humanity through life and triumphed over it.

As the child of Holocaust survivors, Tzipi explained you could never feel simple joy. You knew you had to grow up to do something important for the world. Tzipi has become an expert and definitive scholar on "Posttraumatic Growth, a study of how to use trauma as a tool for personal transformation.

It reminded me of a talk I attended the week before with Daniel Lubetsky, CEO and maker of KIND Bars, those healthy treats you find at the Starbucks counter. Daniel was the presenter at a "Values & Business Roundtable" event, a strategic partner of my sustainable business web media company "Good-b." He spoke of his youth as the son of a Holocaust survivor and how he grew up wanting to right this great wrong. He ended up creating an organization called "Peaceworks "to develop peaceful economic partnerships between Israel and Palestine. He also started the movement of "Do the KIND Thing" inspiring tens of thousands of random acts of kindness.

After speaking to Tzipi, acts of kindness took on profound meaning.

My thoughts spun around how these two people, who had carried the pain of their parents on their shoulders, had not grown up to be bitter and vicious themselves. Instead they had dedicated their lives to love and healing the human race. How extraordinary is that?

As we begin Chanukah this week, the Festival of Lights, I am inspired by the light that shines brightly in people like Daniel and Tzipi. On the sides of the Dreidel, the children's Chanukah toy, the Hebrew words spell out an acronym that represents the historic Jewish struggle for survival: "A great miracle happened here."

The miracle that happened with Tzipi and Daniel is not only that their parents and the Jewish people survived the holocaust. It is also that the hatred and depravity of those years compelled them to do something "important" for the world. These two beautiful souls and others like them become for us beacons of hope in the world. Their lives prove that while human beings are capable of the most despicable acts imaginable, we can take our deepest suffering and transform it into love.

Tzipi and I spoke about her remarkable son, Hari Prasada, who has rejected Judaism to embrace Bhakti Yoga, a religion that seeks relief of suffering through meditation and the practice of compassion. She said it had hurt her deeply that he left Judaism after what her family had endured. Yet through devotion to her son, she has learned to accept his choice. Upon reflection, I realized how miraculous it was that two generations later, the grandson of holocaust survivors had chosen to dedicate his life to teaching love and compassion.

It proves that random acts of kindness are not random at all. They have the extraordinary power to right great wrongs and inspire us with hope for humanity. As we begin these holy weeks, the goodness that blooms in Daniel and Tzipi dwells within each of us. If we can remember the power that kindness brings, collectively we really could change the world. That this monumental human tragedy has also led to great acts of love is proof that another great miracle has happened here.

Monika Mitchell is the CEO of Good-b.com, a new media company dedicated to sustainable business and the co-author of the newly released ground-breaking book, "Conversations with Wall Street."

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