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April 16, 2014 / 16 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Ani Maamin’

My Machberes

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

This week’s column written with Rabbi Yaakov Klass.

The Daf Yomi Siyum HaShas

The Torah commands that six events be remembered always. Consequently, some halachic authorities maintain that the biblical verses detailing those commandments be recited daily. They are the remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt (Devarim, Re’eh 16:3); the remembrance of receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai (Devarim, Va’eschanan 4:9-10); the remembrance of Amalek’s attack (Devarim, Ki Seitzei 25:17-19); the remembrance of the golden calf (Devarim, Eikev 9:7); the remembrance of Miriam (Devarim, Ki Seitzei 24:9); and the remembrance of Shabbos (Shemos, Yisro 20:8).

Those who took part last week in the 5772-2012 Siyum Daf Yomi at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, will forever remember it as corresponding to receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai.

MetLife has a seating capacity of 82,500, making it the 30th largest stadium in the world and the single largest in the greater metropolitan New York City area. More than 10,000 seats were added by filling the playing field with folding chairs, making for a total of almost 93,000 seats, all of which were sold.

Despite inclement weather, tens of thousands of Jews converged on East Rutherford. The New York City and New Jersey public transit systems were crowded with people traveling to MetLife. Roadways, highways, bridges and tunnels were teeming with vehicles of every description carrying observant Jews to the Siyum. Thousands flew in from cities near and far (from Mexico, California, Toronto, Montreal, Florida, etc.) to take part in the special event.

Awe is the only word that can describe one’s feelings in seeing the huge electronic SIYUM HASHAS New Jersey highway directional signs, indicating the enormity of the event. Traffic stops gave motorists and passengers an opportunity to look around and see so many others heading in the same direction with the same feeling of wonderment. Well before the scheduled opening, large crowds, impervious to the rain, had already gathered to wait for the earliest possible access.

Many brought along their Gemaras. Some had two Gemaras – the final tractate of Shas and the first – to finish and to re-begin. Thousands brought binoculars in order to have a close-up view of the great Torah leaders on hand.

When the doors to the Siyum opened Wednesday afternoon, Av 13 (August 1), everyone underwent a thorough security screening. Once inside, people rushed to acquire HaSiyum, the oversized booklet that was distributed, as well as HaSiyum Jr. for younger participants.

Fully armed with the coffee table-sized HaSiyum journal, the assembled proceeded to their designated seats. Every seat, even the most inexpensive, offered full views by means of multiple huge digital overhead screens. Of course, the more expensive seats were situated closer to the dais and to the venerated rabbis, rosh yeshivas, and chassidishe rebbes. The HaSiyum journal included the final and first pages of the Talmud and the entire closing Hadran formula, (all courtesy of the Mesorah Heritage Foundation of ArtScroll Publications). It also contained Minchah, Maariv, and chapters of Tehillim that were recited.

Right before 7 p.m., the official starting time, an announcement was made advising that due to the weather, traffic, and transit conditions, tens of thousands had not yet arrived and that Minchah was being postponed until 7:15. But right before 7:15 the same announcement was made, this time deferring Minchahto 7:30. As people filed into their seats, open umbrellas were closed and towels were used to mop up soggy seats. Miraculously, the rains greatly diminished at 7:30 and the weather for the rest of the evening was quite pleasant.

* * * * *

Once settled in, the huge crowd davened Minchah, led by Rabbi Yaakov Levovitz. The tefillah was awe-inspiring, leaving everyone wondering how many – if any – times in recent history so many people had prayed together in one group.

The program included a series of inspirational speakers including Rabbi Aryeh Malkiel Kotler, Rosh Yeshiva Beth Medrash Govoha Lakewood, who formally closed the 12th cycle of study; RabbiYissocher Frand, Rosh Yeshiva Ner Yisroel Baltimore, who advised Daf Yomi beginners to have a plan to complete the Daf Yomi study cycle (at the last Siyum Rabbi Frand memorably declared that the study of Daf Yomi is “never too little, never too late, and never enough”); and Rabbi Gedalya Weinberger, chairman of the Daf Yomi Commission, who drew sustained enthusiastic applause in beginning his address proclaiming “Mazel Tov, Mazel Tov, Mazel Tov!

The Train

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

He was having trouble getting up from the platform and into the cattle car. After all, he was only twelve years old and there was no ramp leading inside. An SS thug saw him “dawdling” in front of the car and aimed a boot at the boy’s posterior. The boy jumped out of the way just in time and the SS man fell to his face from the violence of his own kick.

Fearing the German would take his fury out on him, the boy scampered into the train. He hid himself from the Nazi inside a crowded, filthy car until the train pulled out of Budapest’s Nyugati station.

And thus began David Kohn’s participation in what many regard as the most dramatic and controversial train journey in history. For this was the train organized by Dr. Rudolf Kastner, head of the Hungarian Judenrat, on which 1,685 Jews rode to safety.

Kohn, today a well-known medical doctor and expert on geriatric health problems in Haifa, Israel, is one of the diminishing number of survivors from the Kastner train. And he may be the only one who kept and preserved a journal of that journey to freedom.

He was born in a small town in Czechoslovakia, in a region where many of the residents and most of the local Jews spoke Hungarian. After the destruction and division of Czechoslovakia in the wake of the Munich accord, the area passed to Hungarian rule.

The problem was that David’s father had been a patriot and had taken Czechoslovak citizenship, which was frowned upon by Hungarian authorities. The boy was quickly expelled from school there, supposedly because of the father’s citizenship but more likely because they were Jews.

The family moved into Hungary proper, looking for work and a place to live. Then Slovakia was detached from the Czech state by Germany, so for a while they moved back there. The father worked as a forestry manager, a public service job that kept the family safe as deportations of Slovakian Jews commenced.

In 1942 rumors reached them that they were on a list of Jews to be deported. The family stole across the border into Hungary. There they were hosted by relatives who managed to obtain forged residency papers for them.

By 1943 Hungarian Jews were being moved into “concentration” areas – not yet internment camps but rather buildings in which the Jews of a town would be segregated. David was staying with his uncle, a prominent Neolog rabbi, in Czegled, a town outside Budapest near what is today the city’s international airport. They were locked up in a single building, and later moved into the town’s synagogue. Then twenty-three of those in the building were selected to be sent to Budapest for internment. The rest were deported.

David and his uncle were among the twenty-three.

In Budapest they were marched down Andrassy Boulevard, the city’s equivalent of Fifth Avenue with its luxury stores, many owned by Jews at the time. They were taunted by Hungarian anti-Semitic youths along the way and eventually were held inside the Rumbach Street synagogue in the Jewish Quarter.

* * * * *

Rudolf Kastner was a pompous, arrogant and irritating person. He was born and raised in the largest city in Transylvania, the Hungarian-speaking territory now in Romania that has passed back and forth between Hungary and Romania due to the frivolities of war and politics. He rose to importance in the Hungarian Jewish community and had the reputation of being an aristocratic “fixer” with ties to the regime.

When war broke out, Hungary allied itself with Hitler’s Germany. Kastner served as a journalist and community leader, moving from Transylvania to Budapest. Later, as a head of the Hungarian Judenrat, he was able to move about freely throughout the war. His residence and offices stood on Vaci Avenue, three blocks from my office today at Central European University in Budapest, where I teach when I am not in Israel.

Kastner was renowned for hatching assorted schemes, some rather hair-brained, during the war years. He tried to recruit support from Jewish Agency leaders in Tel Aviv for negotiating different rescue schemes with the Nazis, including the notorious “Trucks for Jews” deal, which never came to fruition. In 1944 he met several times with Adolf Eichmann to negotiate the escape of Jews in exchange for bribes or ransom payments.

A Trip Through History

Friday, May 25th, 2012

A week- seven days. That’s how long I spent in the dustbin of Jewish History that is Poland. I went there to learn about, and to see first hand, the country that housed the absolute horrors of the Holocaust, but I also went to see the places that had once housed such rich Jewish life. As such the trip focused, in my opinion, on three aspects of Jewish life in Poland: pre-war, the Holocaust years and then post-war.

Yes, there is Jewish life in Poland today – for the most part centered in Warsaw. The only shul still in use there has a small minyan, somewhere between 15 and 20 men, nothing compared to what it once held. Even though it was a little sad to look at this gorgeous shul being used by a fraction of the population it once served, there was something overwhelmingly beautiful about the shul and the people who davened there.

Since there is such a small religious Jewish community there is only one minyan. This is very different from what I’m used to living in Flatbush where everyone has the shul he davens in and the shul he doesn’t daven in. In Warsaw, not everyone participating in the minyan looked exactly the same, but they were all overjoyed to have the opportunity to daven together. The way that I saw it, the unity that they had was worth way more than being able to boast about large numbers.

We also went to visit the Jewish school in Warsaw. When the principal spoke to us, I gained such an appreciation for having grown up in a place where it is a no-brainer that I would get some sort of Jewish education. He explained that the school hasn’t been around for long and before it was established Jews living in Poland just didn’t get a Jewish education. He himself had left Poland to learn more about Judaism and eventually received smicha from Yeshiva University. He chose to return to Poland and give back to the community.

It made me think about how much I took, and continue to take, my Jewish education for granted. I never thought about what a bracha it is that I grew up with so much Torah knowledge there for my taking. Until I went to Eretz Yisrael for seminary, I never had to leave home to further my education. Now, the school there does not yet have a high school, but there is hope that as kids and adults learn more about Yiddishkeit, they will want to continue learning and seek out more of a Jewish education or at least have a Jewish foundation that will be with them for the rest of their lives.

Like the shul, the school was filled with all sorts of Jews. Unlike the shul, the school also caters to the non-Jewish community. In some cases the families of the “non-Jewish” children are actually Jews who have been keeping that fact a secret for the past 70 years, while in other cases parents send their children there because it has a good education. We visited the younger classes and even sang some Shabbos songs with them. Though we came from two different worlds the spirit of Shabbos and our Jewish roots bound us together.

It was amazing to see these youngsters who will, im yirtzeh Hashem, be the continuation of the Jewish people – in Poland of all places. Their very existence and the fact that they learn Torah is an incredible act of revenge against Hitler and the Nazis.

For obvious reasons a major part of our trip focused on the terrible years of the Holocaust. We literally traveled the country and saw monument after monument marking places where atrocities occurred. Understandably, this part of the trip was the most emotionally draining, however, it didn’t make the trip depressing. As one of the rabbanim who came with us on the trip said, the reason we go to the camps and into cattle cars and gas chambers is not to depress us, but rather to gain a proper understanding and to awaken our senses. The experience is supposed to well up our rachmanus.

I found this is be completely true. I don’t even remember the first time I was spoken to about the Holocaust, but until I saw the reality of what had been with my won eyes, it didn’t fully sink in. As I stood in the cattle car left as a memorial in Lodz, I understood how dark a menacing the cattle cars were. I finally got why people say you were lucky if you were near the window or a crack in the wall – those were the only sources of light and fresh air. I only got a taste of how cramped it must have been when our entire group piled in. During the Holocaust the same car would hold twice as many people as we were. When we sang the Ani Maamin that was composed in cattle car just like the one we were in, I got a glimpse of just how sincere the tefillah of those kedoshim were. At that moment it was so obviously clear that only Hashem could save them.

Human Chain

Wednesday, August 25th, 2004

Two events that seemed to fit the days before Tisha B’Av happened recently. A few days ago, representatives of many communities met in Hashmonaim with Pinchas Wallerstein, the chairman of the Binyamin Region, and with an army spokesman. The army spokesman made a presentation using colored maps of the security fence’s new planned route.

The Israel Supreme Court decision in favor of the Leftists and the Arabs forced the army to redesign the fence route and to bring it much closer to Jewish communities. The court and the U.S. pressure forced the army to ignore land purchased by Jews and Jewish public land. All the army did was design a plan to satisfy the Leftists and the Arabs. The spokesman could not explain, for example, why the planned fence route took a strange detour to within 100 yards of my home nor why it almost touched the houses of part of the City of Modiin in the Macabbim suburb.

The sighs that emanated from Pinchas Wallerstein, who sat next to me every time the army spokesman showed how the fence route cut up a planned Jewish neighborhood or decimated a Jewish industrial area, sounded like the sighs of those mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temple. The conceit and hatred of one Jew for another caused the destruction of the Holy Temple, and the non-religious Leftist hatred of Right wing religious Jews will, G-d forbid, cause the loss of huge sections of Israel for no good reason. We all left the meeting sad and depressed and with little hope that the government would change the route of the fence.

The second event also took place before Tisha B’Av. Over 200,000 Jews of all backgrounds formed a human chain from Gush Katif in the south to the Kotel in Jerusalem in protest against the government’s plan to force every Jew out of the Gaza Strip. As we waited for everyone to arrive, some people read Tehillim while others learned or commiserated with their friends. At 7:00 p.m., we joined hands to form a solid chain, sang Hatikvah and then sang Ani Maamin. We fervently hoped for a change in government policy, but the media reports all spoke with confidence that Sharon and his new coalition will ignore the amazing sight of men, women, children and babies in carriages who all left their homes and traveled to their appointed areas.

We stood in the sun and waited peacefully for the time when we were told to join hands. What an uplifting feeling it was to be part of this human chain. Sadly, the Israeli government can ignore this human outpouring of solidarity and emotion.

I guess we are prepared to begin our fasting and lamenting. (Comments may be sent to dov@gilor.com)

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/human-chain/2004/08/25/

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