What Jewish identity can mean

The ghosts of the Jewish Holocaust echo everywhere:

Every night after work, Ellyn Shander sits on her computer for hours, corresponding with people around the world and trying to save friends caught in a conflict between the government and rebel groups in Sri Lanka.

Her family members died in the Holocaust. And now, she fears, her Tamil friends are in similar danger in the South Asian island country.

Tamils are a minority group in Sri Lanka, and the Sinhalese make up the majority of the population. Tamils have been denied rights, such as voting and education, by the Sinhalese, and the Tamil rebel group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam formed to fight for a separate state for the Tamils.

Shander, who lives and has a private practice in Stamford and is an attending physician at Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan, visited Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami with a team of volunteers to provide grief counseling to survivors. They were told not to enter the northern regions of the country because it was dangerous. The greatest concentration of Tamil people live there. But the two Tamil doctors they were with insisted they visit there.

Shander and the group went to a small fishing village in the northern tip of Sri Lanka.

“You know people ask me, ‘How come you work so hard for the Tamil people?’ ” Shander said. “And I tell them, you know what, in the middle of a catastrophe, when you sit with people whose babies who have been torn out of their arms . . . you know, people whose relatives were strewn all over the place, when you sit with them and work in such an intense way, you invite them into your heart and they invite you into their hearts. And it’s a bond that really can’t be broken.”

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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