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August 30, 2015 / 15 Elul, 5775
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My Big Black Hole

You don't see my kind of loss in America as much as you do here, in Israel.
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A while back, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel picked today’s fast day, the Tenth of Tevet, as a “general kaddish day” for the victims of the Holocaust, many of whom died without a record. So we decided that they died on the Tenth of Tevet.

I discovered this last year, and immediately became filled with a sense of relief.

It gave me something to through which to connect with my murdered loved ones.

An Irish-German friend of mine once told me that he though Judaism was, basically, a form of ancestor worship. His comment has been on my mind for years, and I’ve been using it in conversation and also contemplating it anew often.

I think my seeking a connection to the past was a major component in my taking on observance of the mitzvot, a little over 30 years ago. I was looking for my zeide. Like so many of us, I grew up with one grandmother, on my mother’s side. Everyone else was gone. My dad’s entire family: father, mother, six brothers and sisters, most of them adults with their own children (dad was the youngest) – they all melted into the fire ignited by the nazi death machine.

You don’t see my kind of loss in America as much as you do here, in Israel. Over here, it seems, the majority of people my age who are of Eastern European dissent have grown up with the black hole: one or two parents who survived the Holocaust (or think they survived), and no one else.

I added my late grandfather’s name to my own, with the approval of Reb Moshe Feinstein who used to be my neighbor in New York. My shul name is Yoram Chanina Yanover.

On late, sleepless nights, I troll the Internet for remnants of my family whom I never met. I hit glimpses, here and there. My zeide’s name on a list of people who paid for the publishing of a seffer. A memoir about our town in Western Poland, depicting his haberdashery on one of the streets. His name on a membership list of the local chapter of Aguda.

Then there’s my dad’s stories. They’re not very reliable. Dad skipped over all the difficult parts. His stories were nicely scrubbed of most of the blood and the ashes. In many ways, my father was a kind of Holocaust denier.

The strange thing is that my dad’s own yahrzeit falls on the 6th of Tevet. So I just said Kadish for him this past Monday, and now I get to say it for everyone else.

My father passed away 9 years ago. I miss him terribly. He was my living connection to the family. Now that he’s gone, I continue to speak to him, or rather, to what’s left of him in my head.

May the name of God be exalted.

About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.


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