“Happenings” are not every-day events. There are classes, programs, seminars and lectures – but happenings that leave an indelible mark on the mind, heart and soul are rare. During this past Aseret Y’mei Teshuvah (the 10 preparatory days before Yom Kippur), we of Hineni were “zocheh” – had the merit – to experience a happening that was nothing short of a Kiddush Hashem – Sanctification of G-d’s Holy Name, and for that I would like to publicly proclaim my total gratitude and indebtedness to the Almighty G-d.
It all started some six ago, when the director of our Israel Hineni Center, Mr. Benjamin Philip, who is a native of Holland, informed us that he was able to secure the exclusive rights to the Anne Frank exhibit for our Center in Jerusalem. I was delighted to hear the news, and yet, something bothered me… something that has bothered me for many years about most Holocaust exhibits. And that is that the kedushah – the sanctity, the mesiras nefesh, the dedication, the sacrifice and the unflinching commitment of our people to Torah and mitzvos has yet to be portrayed or transmitted to future generations.
This is not to detract from the poignant story of Anne Frank and the Six Million holy martyrs, but precisely because they were holy martyrs, we must ask, where is the light of Torah that burned so brightly in their hearts…. that light that illuminated the most brutal dense darkness, that light that I saw with my own eyes in Bergen-Belsen, in my revered father, HaRav HaGaon Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, and my holy mother, Rebbetzin Miriam Jungreis a”h. That light was always there, but alas, its story has yet to be told.
As a result, to multitudes of people, the horrors of the Holocaust are not much different from the savage atrocities of Darfur, Bosnia, etc. Indeed, many of our own people have come to equate the two. And perhaps even more damaging – memorials conveying only senseless torture and barbaric suffering leave viewers with a sense of despair, anger and bitterness rather than with a commitment and a determination to live for those who are no longer here and to continue their Torah legacy.
As if right on cue, my granddaughter, Shaindy Wolff-Eisenberg, who lives in Jerusalem with her beautiful young family and conducts many of our Hineni programs, called me with an idea. “Bubbe” she said in her sweet, respectful voice, “I think it’s time for my Bubbe to tell her story so that future generations might come to know that which I have had the zechus to hear time and again. Those stories should be documented for posterity through a film. Bubba, it could be so powerful! It could be so amazing…. and even as the Anne Frank memorial, it could be on permanent exhibit in our own Center.”
Shaindy got me thinking. It would soon be 70 years since the Holocaust and sadly, the number of survivors is rapidly shrinking. And even those who are still among us are more often than not, ill, debilitated and unable to articulate the atrocities that they endured.
The more I thought about it, the more I recognized the wisdom and the urgency of her suggestion. Events started to unfold that really made it happen. One of our Hineni members, who in a previous life (prior to Hineni and her shidduch, which I was honored to make) worked in Network TV and recommended that we contact a producer who had also become a ba’al teshuvah and would be sensitive to this project. When we called him, he enthusiastically accepted the challenge and booked two days at a studio.
I told my story in just one sitting. I did not need a text or a teleprompter. The story was engraved on my heart, on my soul…. I’m not ashamed to admit that I wept openly during that shooting. My friend, Barbara, Hineni’s Executive Director, expressed concern that I was too emotional. But how could I tell that story without tears? It was virtually impossible! So, in one sitting, we completed that narration, and thus it happened that the film, “Hineni’s Triumph of the Spirit” was created.
This past summer, when we led a Hineni Tour to Israel, we took a copy of the film along with us. I wanted the very first public showing to take place in Yerushalayim, for that, in and of itself, would be a powerful testimony to the miraculous survival of the Jewish people. We arrived in Eretz Yisrael during a period known as “bein ha’zemanim” – a time when many Israelis take their vacations, so there was some concern that we might not get the turnout that the film deserved. But on the night of the opening, the lines were long – they snaked down the staircase and through the entire lobby of the Plaza Hotel and we could not accommodate the many people who, Baruch Hashem, showed up.
The response was phenomenal, and upon returning to the States, we made plans to premiere the film in New York City as well. But where and when to do it was the challenge.
Once again, one of my grandchildren came up with an answer. My grandson Elie said, “Bubba, this would be perfect for Aseret Y’mei Teshuvah. It could really inspire people for Yom Kippur.”
Little did we realize at that time that Aseret Y’mei Teshuvah would also fall during the week when Ahmandinejad, the infamous Holocaust denier, who unabashedly proclaims his intention to launch a new Holocaust against Israel, would be addressing the United Nations Security Council. Nor did it occur to us that this September commemorates 70 years since the Holocaust, that unspeakable evil, unfolded only 70 years ago. The concentration camps, the gas chambers, and the crematoria are still in place.
Auschwitz and Treblinka can still be visited, and we have living witnesses in our midst (myself included). Nevertheless, today we are witness to an international conspiracy, which denies that the Holocaust ever took place. Yes, more than ever, this was an opportune time to show our film.
We gathered a hard-working group of dedicated people who became our committee, and so it was, that a decision was made to showcase the film at the Paris Theater (across the street from the Plaza Hotel). When we opened the night of September 22, the same enthusiasm with which the film was greeted in Jerusalem was repeated in Manhattan.
The doors to the theater were supposed to open at half-past seven, but by 6:00 p.m. the lines were forming…. and the people kept coming until the line stretched all the way down the street. It was a spectacular evening – a Kiddush Hashem of awesome proportions. People from every walk of life, from the left to the right, from the totally secular to the observant, were all gathered under the same roof – all united by one idea – “Zachor – Remember and Recommit.”
The Honorable Fred Zeidman, Chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, flew in for the evening and we rendered him well-deserved tribute by presenting him with the “Zachor – Remembrance Award.”
But that which was most awesome, was the fact that Hashem granted us the privilege, not only of presenting this film, which conveys that the eternal flame of the Torah is so powerful that even the most intense fires of the crematoria could not extinguish it. But even more significantly, the film injects that flame into the hearts of a new generation, testifying to the indomitable faith of the Jewish people.
That night was a Kiddush Hashem of colossal proportions that enabled us to bring a sacred offering to our Heavenly Father – an offering that testifies that the Divine Voice that was heard at Sinai is eternally engraved on our hearts – an offering for Yom Kippur.