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October 9, 2015 / 26 Tishri, 5776
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Posts Tagged ‘Bergen Belsen’

Dusty Windows (Part Six)

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

I continue to hear from readers who bemoan the escalation of anti-Semitism throughout the world. Once again Jews are being demonized, though in many cases “Jew” has been replaced by “Israel.”

How do we understand this hateful obsession with Jews? As I’ve been emphasizing these past several weeks in my series of “Dusty Windows” columns, everything in Jewish history is replay, going all the way back to our first bondage in Egypt.

Our sages teach that our forefathers in Egypt merited redemption because they did not alter their Jewish names, mode of dress, or language. These basic values were sadly missing among our assimilated brethren in Europe in the years prior to the Holocaust. It was so common for Jews to have only secular names that one of the Nuremberg Laws mandated that every Jew assume a Jewish name in addition to his secular one – Israel for males and Sarah for females. For example, Eva became Eva Sarah; Oscar became Oscar Israel. Even if a Jew wished to escape his identity, Hitler reminded him that he could not.

As the prophet Ezekiel proclaims, “That which enters your mind shall not be…. Let us be like the nations, like the families of the land. As I live, this is the word of the Lord. Surely I will rule over you with an outstretched arm, with an outpouring of fury.” G-d will not allow us to assimilate even if we so desire. If we refuse to acknowledge we are Jews, there will be those who come forward to remind us.

In a documentary on the Holocaust, a survivor related that when one of the Czech transports arrived at Auschwitz, it was apparent that many of the Jews aboard had deluded themselves into believing their group would be treated differently from the “Ostjuden” (“Eastern Jews,” as the Germans referred derogatorily to Polish Jewry).

Not long after their arrival, the Czech transport was taken to the gas chambers. The survivor reported that when the people realized their fate, they panicked and then broke into spontaneous song. No, not a Jewish song or a Jewish prayer but the Czech national anthem. They sang that song because in the last moments of their lives they felt a need to give voice to their spirit and they knew no other song.

Can there be anything more tragic than to be killed because you’re a Jew and yet not know what it means to be a Jew?

It is not my intention to cast aspersions or judge; I tell this story only so that we may learn from the past and not repeat the tragedy of yesterday.

Think for a moment. If, G-d forbid, our generation today would be called upon to sing a song of faith, what song would the majority sing? How many of our brethren today even know their Jewish names? And what of the other two attributes that rendered our ancestors worthy of redemption – the retention of their Jewish dress and their unique Jewish language? Jewish dress is not reflected only by a tallis and yarmulke but also by modest, dignified clothing for women as well as men. And language means not only prayer and knowledge of the holy tongue but also refraining from speaking lashon hara and other hurtful, vile words.

How different is our generation from those that preceded us? Have we become wiser? Have we learned from our past?

I know there are many committed Jews among us, but there were many in pre-Holocaust Europe as well, and unfortunately that did not change the reality of the multitudes that assimilated, nor does it change it today. We are a nation with one destiny, responsible for one another. This is not my personal belief but the Word of G-d given to us at Sinai.

Hitchcock Holocaust Documentary to be Screened

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

A documentary about the Holocaust by Alfred Hitchcock will be screened for the first time as the renowned late director intended, a British newspaper reported.

“Memory of the Camps,” as the film is titled now, will be screened on British television early next year to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Europe, according to the Independent. The screening will be in concert with a new documentary by the British producer Andre Singer.

The film was restored by the Imperial War Museum using digital technology and with a missing sixth reel replaced. New narration also was recorded.

Hitchcock, a British filmmaker who won many prestigious awards for his work,  had created the documentary using footage filmed by British and Soviet army film crews of the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945. However, the film was not screened immediately after the war, and five of its six reels were placed in the Imperial War Museum.

The film was resurrected in the 1980s and screened first at the Berlin Film Festival in 1984, and was broadcast the following year despite its poor quality on PBS without the missing sixth reel.

See the film here.

The Yellow Star

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

A little more than six months ago, my sister-in-law passed away after battling a serious illness. For more than 30 years she had given symposiums on the Holocaust to youngsters in the Philadelphia area, and we talked about her activities many times on our visits to the U.S. After her passing I was determined to do some kind of volunteer work for Yad Vashem in her memory.

I contacted a wonderful person there who works on the Names Project, recovering names of victims that have yet to be placed in the database. Believe it or not, there are still nearly two million names that are not on the list – millions of wonderful people who lived, worked, studied and raised families in cities, shtetls and villages who must not be forgotten. Many of the survivors or family members are elderly, or their memories have been clouded by the passage of many decades. And so the saying “if not now, when then?” is never more applicable.

After my initial meeting with Sara Berkowits, my contact at Yad Vashem, I received some training from another field worker who is also recovering names through interviews, visits to shuls, etc. He gave me the names of survivors to be interviewed in order to reclaim these missing names. Although excited about the opportunity, I was nervous about how to do the job properly, how much the survivors would actually remember, and if they would even allow me to come into their lives and homes. What I was not prepared for was how wonderful and eye opening the experience – every discussion actually – was going to be.

The very first interview I conducted was with an elderly man born in Romania. My friend, Rafi Freudenberger, and I listened intently to his stories (there is another department at Yad Vashem that records personal stories, but we were interested to hear about their families in order to get to the actual names), and heard the names of Transnistria and Bukovina. I asked him to repeat these names many times, having never heard such names before. Oddly enough, in the weeks following that first interview, I came across many articles that mentioned those same places, and the tragedies that befell the Jewish communities there. Many thousands of Jews were caught between the claws of Russia, Romania, and Germany. In October 1941 the entire Jewish community was deported en masse to Siberia.

As Mr. Geller was elderly, I limited the time we spent at his home sorting out the families and the names he recalled. I scheduled a second meeting with him for the following week. But after speaking to his wife the day before I was to return, it became clear that the process of remembering was just too much for him. I would have to give to Yad Vashem only the few names that I had gathered.

Recently, I spoke to another survivor who was born in Den Haag in Amsterdam. Shlomo first gave us a detailed list of family members who had perished in the Shoah – where they were born; where and when they died. He showed us a detailed list from the government of Holland that had all the information, and he wanted to correct some erroneous details that Yad Vashem had listed. At one point he opened up a drawer with documents and pictures. One of the pictures was that of a family wedding, and every person was wearing a yellow star – a badge of honor and pride. Unfortunately most of the people were killed in the Shoah, including his parents.

At one point I asked Shlomo about the bookcase and the very old-looking volumes. He told me that the non-Jews had taken these and many other volumes from his father and grandfather’s homes. The ones I was looking at were the “survivors.” The others had been taken, their bindings sold and the precious pages destroyed.

Shlomo’s story of his family was also the story of a very special cousin who went through Bergen-Belsen and Trobitz with him. (Of the 2,500 prisoners who were transported from Bergen-Belsen on April 10, 1945, 600 died from disease or malnutrition.) Both lost most of their family members there. Joe Holstein, my wife’s cousin, lost his parents and one brother in Bergen-Belsen, and lost another brother in Trobitz. One of his five sons was named after his two brothers. Shlomo’s parents died only a few weeks before the end of the war, and he has not gone back since. But cousin Joe and his wife returned to visit the graves at Trobitz, and took pictures of Shlomo’s relatives’ gravestones as well.

Joe raised six wonderful children, but died of a heart attack at the sound of the first siren of the first Gulf War. Like Yosef of biblical fame, Joe had also been a yoetz (Joe was a school guidance counselor). And during the year that my wife and I met, he advised us on many different matters. Twenty-one years later Joe has many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Each of them is testimony to the fact that am Yisrael chai – the Jewish people are alive and thriving in the Holy Land.

The Power Of The Shofar

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

In my last column I wrote of that which we must do in response to the wake-up calls that have been knocking incessantly at our doors these past few months.

We all know that nothing in Jewish life happens by itself – our Torah teaches us that a man does not even stub his toe without it being declared in the Heavens above, so everything has its own message and its own significance.

In Jewish life, there are no random happenings. Every day has its own energy, so it is not by accident that the “messages” that have more recently called out to us have come specifically during this Rosh Hashanah season.

While I wrote in my article that, b’ezrat Hashem, I would try to spell out what these wake-up calls demand of us, I must also be totally realistic and concede that while many will agree that, yes, changes must be made, they are convinced, even as they say so, that it is too late for them. They are what they are and can no longer alter that.

But it is precisely because of this that the wake-up calls were sent to us specifically at this season. We are in the month of Elul, when the sound of the shofar summons us.

The shofar – a primitive instrument that to a stranger sounds like a lot of noise – has a magical power. It is capable of penetrating even the most dormant hearts and souls. Over the centuries we may have assimilated, we may have been lost in the melting pots of foreign cultures, but the magic call of the shofar has never lost its power to resuscitate us.

Therefore, before I write about what the wake-up calls demand of us, I would like us to focus on the shofar – which during this month of Elul is sounded every day in the synagogue, reminding us of the sanctity of our calling and our ability to change. Allow me to take you back to my earliest childhood, a time when the call of the shofar spoke to me for the very first time.

I recall standing next to my mother in synagogue as the shofar was sounded. A feeling of awe and trepidation descended on the congregation as the call of the shofar reverberated. Time stood still. No one moved, and though I was young, I was struck b the sanctity of it all.

Overnight, everything changed. Our synagogue became a wistful memory as the suffocating darkness of the Nazi concentration camp Bergen Belsen enveloped us. But even in that hell on earth, as Rosh Hashanah 1944 neared, we yearned to hear the ancient sound of the shofar and were prepared to make every sacrifice to see our dream fulfilled.

Through heroic efforts and at great risk and sacrifice, we managed to collect 200 cigarettes that we bartered for a shofar. Adjacent to our Hungarian compound was a Polish camp, and they somehow got wind of our treasure. When Rosh Hashanah came and we sounded the shofar, our brethren in the Polish camp crept close to the barbed wire fence separating us so that they too might hear its piercing cry.

Nazi guards came running and beat all of us mercilessly, but even as the truncheons fell on our heads, we cried out, “Baruch atah Hashem, Elokienu Melech Ha’olam, asher kiddishanu b’mitzvosav v’tzivanu l’shmoa kol shofar – Blessed art Thou L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to listen to the sound of the shofar.”

Many years later I was speaking in Israel in Neve Aliza, a village in Samaria. It was late summer, just before the Yomim Noraim, and I related the story of the shofar of Bergen Belsen. When I finished, a woman in the audience stood up. She had a handsome face and appeared to be a little older than I was.

“That shofar you spoke of,” she said. “I know exactly what you are talking about because, you see, my father was the rabbi in the Polish camp. You may not know this, but the shofar was smuggled into our camp and my father blew it there.”

I looked at her, dumbfounded. My eyes filled with tears. There were no words to express the awe that filled my heart.

“I have the shofar in my home,” she went on to say, and with that, she ran to her house and returned with it a few minutes later. We wept, we embraced, we reminisced, all the while clutching the shofar in our hands.

The miracle of that shofar left us breathless. The entire world had declared us dead. Hitler’s “final solution” had taken its toll. Millions of our people were gassed and burned in the crematoria, but the shofar triumphed over the flames. And G-d granted me the privilege of rediscovering it in Eretz Yisrael, in the ancient hills of Samaria. Who would have believed it – the shofar from Bergen Belsen in our Holy Land held by two women who were young children in the camps and who by every law of logic should have perished in the gas chambers.

After almost 2,000 years of wandering, oppression, torture and Holocaust, we returned to our land and the shofar accompanied us. Indeed, who would have believed it?

Now, if the shofar – an inanimate, primitive instrument – can survive the centuries without losing any of its powers, if it can continued to awaken dormant Jewish hearts and charge them with their mission, then surely, every Yiddishe neshamah is a powerhouse into which the shofar can be plugged to create a light that will illuminate the entire world with the Divine light of Torah.

So yes, we can change, because in each and every Yiddish neshamah exists a Divine light – a light that emanates from Sinai and can never be extinguished.

(To Be Continued)

The Tragic Vacuum (Part Two)

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

For the past several weeks we have been discussing the anti-Semitism that plagues our generation and the horrific consequences that, G-d forbid, this might portend for our people.

Last week I began, in a general way, addressing the remarks of the UCLA student who in a letter to this column (“A Secular Jewish College Student Responds,” March 11) posited that anti-Semitism is a relic of the past and that Jews of the older generation suffer from Holocaust “paranoia” – a paranoia that has no validity in our egalitarian 21st century, which is intolerant of anti-Semitism and Jew-baiting.

The following is the first segment of my direct response to that student.

My Dear Friend:

You write in your letter that Jews suffer from Holocaust “paranoia,” so even though I happen to be a Holocaust survivor who suffered the agonies of the infamous Bergen Belsen concentration camp, I will refrain from referring to our horrendous past which saw Jewish blood flowing and six million holy souls cast into gas chambers and crematoria. Nor will I refer to the satanic, barbaric years throughout the millennia when our people were slaughtered and the entire world remained silent.

Rather, I will limit myself to that which we are witnessing today; to that which we can see with our own eyes and hear with our own ears – indeed, that which you yourself are seeing and, like so many others, fail to comprehend.

Just consider for a moment what happened last month in Itamar to the Fogel family. Following that tragic event, we held a memorial at our Hineni Center. I would like to share with you some excerpts from my remarks that evening:

“I deplore the abject silence of the world in face of the horrific murder of the Fogel family. The Fogels were a loving, peaceful mishpacha. They were celebrating the holy Sabbath, and as the angels of Shabbos that followed them home from synagogue departed, the angel of death suddenly arrived in the gruesome guise of a ferocious monster.

“Only a beast could have killed a mother and father, children and an infant, slashing their throats. Only a beast could have done that. But then again, even beasts would not slash throats even beasts would not be guilty of such barbaric savagery. This could not simply be put down to ‘murder.’ Simply stated, there is no word in any language that can adequately describe the nature of this evil

“The silence of the world is truly deafening. Can you imagine what the international repercussions would be if a Jew committed such a crime against a Muslim family? The world would be in an uproar. The UN would hold a special session to pass resolutions against Israel. It would eclipse every other major upheaval in the world, including the uprisings of nations in the Middle East, the civil war in Libya and the earthquake, tsunami and atomic fallout in Japan .”

As a survivor of Bergen Belsen, I experienced Jew-hatred firsthand, and I see the pronounced changes in the tenor of contemporary anti-Semitism as opposed to the brand of anti-Semitism promulgated during World War II. In every generation, anti-Semitism is marketed differently in order to make it more palatable to the masses.

During the time of Hitler, it was acceptable to excoriate Jews because of their “racial inferiority.” Today, that type of Jew-hatred is not considered politically correct. It has been replaced by the equally pernicious anti-Zionism that loudly proclaims it is not against Jews the civilized world protests but against the “oppressive policies of Israel.” But we all know only too well that anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism are one and the same. If Israel is branded, every Jew, no matter where he lives, no matter what his persuasion, is branded. We need only recall Daniel Pearl on his knees, his wrists bound behind him, waiting for the executioner to cut off his head, proclaiming his sin to the world: “I am a Jew!”

No, this new anti-Semitism is not only directed against the Jewish state but against every individual Jew, and the conspiracy of silence is not limited to the hypocritical United Nations. Shamefully, its poisonous effects can be felt everywhere, including in the media and on the Internet.

Just consider that the Israeli government released photographs of the slaughter in Itamar and posted them on YouTube. But the photographs were removed with dispatch – to be precise, within two hours! Contrast this with the pro-Arab propaganda on Facebook calling for the liquidation of Israel. It took weeks of maneuvering to remove it. In the interim, three thousand hits an hour were reported.

And there is more. When innocent Jewish blood is spilled, there is mostly silence, but when so much as a stone is moved to build a Jewish home in East Jerusalem, Judea, or Samaria, there is loud and vehement protest. And consider that these killers are celebrated as heroes in the Muslim world. Impressive dedications and tributes are made in their honor – monuments are erected, streets are proudly inscribed with their names, and celebrations are held everywhere. After the massacre of the Fogel family, there was dancing in the streets of Gaza, with candy distributed to children, teaching them the greatest act of valor is to kill Jews.

Think about all this and then consider that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, the only country in that region of the world that treats all men equally. It is the only country in which medical care is given to killers wounded while carrying out their bloody acts. It is the only country where captured murderers are not executed, and it is the only country that exchanges hundreds of these brutal savages for just one dead soldier whose tortured remains are delivered in a box.

I could go on. But for now, suffice it to say that the sentiments and forces that led the way to the Holocaust are again gathering strength right before our very eyes, even though so many refuse to see it.

The Secret Power Of The Jews

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

Every Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur our Hineni organization is privileged to hold the most spectacular services. We take over one of Manhattan’s grand hotels and convert the ballroom into a beautiful synagogue. The davening, the ambience, the entire atmosphere is something so awesome that there is no way that I could possibly describe it and do it justice.

In our generation, synagogues, congregations and minyanim have come to reflect the many hues of Judaism: Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox. And even when within the Orthodox there are so many shades: Chassidishe, Yeshivish, Modern Orthodox, to the totally assimilated, our Hineni minyan is refreshingly all-inclusive. Like the lulav and the esrog that encompass the four species, so our congregation embraces every Jew. We are all one, and it is as one that we stand before G-d during these holy days.

My sons, Rabbi Yisroel and Osher Anshil, who are the rabbis of Hineni, and my son-in-law, Rav Shlomo, who is our ba’al tefillah, never have to stop to call the congregation to attention or wait until everyone quiets down. Everyone is enveloped in genuine, heartfelt davening, be they newly returned Jews or Torah educated, their prayers soar. The prayers are explained and over the years, I have found these explanations very helpful – not only to the uninitiated, but also to the well schooled.

Just because one may be well versed in our tradition does not mean that he/she perceives the depth, sensitivity and beauty of the tefillos. We all need reminders so that we may be ever mindful in front of whom we stand. Nor is knowledge of the Hebrew language a guarantee of kavannah. Genuine prayer that flows from the heart needs help and inspiration.

A couple of years ago, I shared with you the story of Hendryk, a man in his late 90s who lived through the horrors of the Holocaust and had not heard the sound of the shofar for over 65 years. His daughter prevailed upon him to come and attend our services. When he heard the awesome sound of the shofar, his heart melted; tears gathered in his eyes and later, at our seudah, we welcomed him with Shalom Aleichem as the men danced around him and celebrated his return to our people. This year, as he reached his 100th birthday, he was called On High, and he ascended with the sound of the shofar in his neshamah.

I could write a book about all the people, young and old, and the shidduchim that have come about over the years. But I would like to share with you just one story of a beautiful young girl from New Caledonia – a faraway, French-speaking island off the coast of New Zealand. There is almost no Jewish life there – not even a synagogue – but someone gave her my book in French translation and it penetrated her heart. She discovered her Yiddishe neshamah and made her way to New York to study Torah with me.

In no time at all, we enrolled her in Bais Yaakov of Montreal and one of our devoted Hineni members became her New York surrogate Jewish mom, so for Yom Tov, she too was with us. She was among the first to be in shul and it was a nachas to see her daven. Baruch Hashem, we have many such stories of Jews coming home.

At our minyan, we also have people who were nurtured in Torah homes, who have in-depth knowledge, and it is truly inspiring to see how one group interacts with the other and together creates a magnificent symphony in praise of Hashem. There is no factionalism at Hineni. We are all Hineni – Here I am, ready to serve my G-d. It is not by coincidence that in the Holy Tongue, Hineni is a word that connotes both the male and female gender. Hineni applies equally to individuals as to the many. Hineni represents a beautiful unity, warmth and love, and it is that which permeates our minyan and Please G-d, penetrates the Heavenly Gates.

In one of his drashos my son related a difficult-to-believe story that was circulated on the Internet before Yom Tov. An Israeli rabbi traveled to Munich to visit his daughter who works as an Israeli emissary in Nuremberg. As he went through security, chaos broke out. The German officials were thrown into disarray when they found a shofar in his suitcase. Soon, guards surrounded and questioned the rabbi, wanting to know exactly what that item was. Agitated, the rabbi tried to explain that it was a shofar that he was carrying and asked a fellow Jewish passenger from England how one could say “shofar” in German.

The rabbi’s answers didn’t satisfy the Germans and they escorted him to a customs area for further questioning. The rabbi began to lose it and told them in English, “Sixty years ago, you knew exactly what this was as you liquidated us because of our religion.”

As the conversation became more intense, the fellow Jewish passenger from England became concerned that the rabbi would be arrested. To diffuse the tension, he suggested to the customs officials that they google “shofar.” After further investigation, the guards asked the rabbi for one final test to ensure that the shofar was safe and ordered him to blow it. The rabbi was more than happy to oblige, but he did not do so by blowing one quick toot. Rather, he blew a whole Tekiah, Shevarim Teruah, and Tekiah Gedolah.

As the sound of the shofar reverberated through the Munich airport, people looked up in awe, and there was even applause.

The irony behind this story struck me. How can one logically explain the fuss the Germans made over the shofar? After all, even a simpleton could see that there was nothing menacing about a horn. One does not have to be a rocket scientist to realize that a shofar is nothing more than a ram’s horn. There is nothing mysterious, nothing hidden in that ancient, primitive instrument nothing that the naked eye could not detect. And yet, these educated, high-tech Germans were thrown into disarray, felt constrained to google and investigate. How could one possibly explain it?

As my son concluded the story, some people smiled and chuckled, but different thoughts ran through my mind. That story took me back to Rosh Hashanah in Bergen- Belsen.

More than anything else, we wanted to blow the shofar, so at great sacrifice and risk, my father and the other rabbanim in our camp arranged for a shofar to be smuggled into our compound. With tears and trembling, we blew the shofar, and as the sound echoed throughout our camp, the Nazi guards, yemach shemam, came running to beat us, but not before we pronounced the brachah, “Lishmo’a Kol Shofar – Blessed art Thou, O L-rd our G-d, who has commanded us to hearken to the sound of the shofar.”

Many years later, I was speaking in Eretz Yisrael in the Shomron, in a small community called Neve Aliza. It was before Rosh Hashanah, so I related the story of the shofar from Bergen-Belsen. A woman in the audience stood up. “Rebbetzin Jungreis, the story that you just told – I know it well. We were in the Polish camp adjacent to yours and the shofar from your camp was smuggled into ours, and my father was the rav who blew the shofar for us.” And then she added the incredible words: “I have that shofar with me.”

With that, she ran home and returned with the shofar in her hands – and there we were – two women who were children in Bergen-Belsen holding the shofar from Bergen- Belsen in Eretz Yisrael. If you just think about that you must see the miraculous Hand of G-d.

Yes, the Germans at the airport were quite correct. They sensed that that shofar had power – power that defies time; power that is mightier than all the tyrants and armies of the world; a power that can outlive the Hitler, yemach shemo, of each generation and century. Yes, that is the power of the shofar. It is the call from Sinai. It is the call of the Jew. Yes, that is the shofar that has the power to announce the coming of Mashiach and soon, its sound will reverberate throughout the universe as G-d gathers His holy flock from the four corners of the world and brings them home to Jerusalem.

In Honor Of G-d’s People (Part One)

Monday, March 29th, 2010

I write this column during the month of Nissan, the month when we usher in the awesome Yom Tov of Pesach, and once again, I find myself on a plane en route to New York from Eretz Yisrael. This time, I am returning from an extended trip that encompassed programs in two large cities in France – Paris and Marseilles, then a hop over to Budapest, and from there to Yerushalayim, where I spoke in Binyanei HaUmah, as well as to a group of beautiful young people…students and professionals.

Throughout my journey, I once again discovered that spectacular magic engraved in every Jewish heart, which in Yiddish we call the Pintele Yid – a tiny Jewish dot – the letter Yud.

The letter Yud is truly amazing. It is the only letter in our sacred alphabet that can never be altered. You cannot make it longer and you cannot make it wider, for if you do, you change its character. Similarly, the pintele Yid that G-d engraved upon our souls can never be altered. Once one is born a Jew, one is a Jew forever…. he cannot “un-Jew” himself!

To be sure he can renounce his faith, he can forsake his people, but just the same, he remains a Jew, albeit a sinning Jew. There is no procedure that can remove the pintele Yid from his soul. The pintele Yid is timeless and I have seen its miraculous power, its ability to reinvent itself and come to new life in the most unexpected places, under the most unusual circumstances.

And now, before Pesach, as we celebrate our national anniversary, I feel a need to publicly proclaim praise of the Jewish people who, despite all odds, preserved this pintele Yid in their hearts. Knowingly and unknowingly, and sometimes even despite themselves, they clung to that pintele Yid, even when all outward vestiges of Torah seemed to have disappeared from their hearts.

As I mentioned, during this past week I spoke to our people in France and Eretz Yisrael. In Paris and Marseilles, as in Yerushalayim, the response was overwhelming. People came by the thousands from every walk of life…. young and old, religious as well as secular, and there would have been thousands more, but there was simply no facility large enough to accommodate them.

Why were they coming? What were they seeking? Not entertainment – nor were they motivated by curiosity. Their quest stemmed from their innermost souls, and as diverse as their backgrounds may have been, they were all united by a common yearning – to rekindle the pintele Yid, that Jewish spark from Sinai in their neshamos…. and that, in- and- of- itself, is mind-boggling.

Consider only that for almost 2,000 years we have been groping in the darkness of exile. We have encountered every force of destruction – from persecution – Holocaust, to assimilation and intermarriage. Our satanic foes have attacked us in every shape and form. Sometimes they waved a bloody sword, and sometimes they stretched out a friendly hand, but whether they came with fire or with an invitation to join their ranks, their end goal has been the same – to capture our souls, and to eradicate our faith. But our pintele Yid has proven to be more powerful than their swords or the blandishments of their society.

To be sure, there have been many among us who did succumb and fall, but there have been still many more who triumphed and against all odds remained Jews. I met these Jews – I saw them emerge from the embers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, Dachau, and Bergen-Belsen. If there was just one survivor from a shtetl, he built a synagogue, a yeshiva. These houses of Torah dot Jewish communities throughout the world, and today, they boast multitudes of students who dedicate their lives to Torah and mitzvos.

These yeshivos have odd-sounding names that recall the shtetlach where the voice of Torah was once heard. Hitler’s, yemach shemo, armies were able to destroy the bricks and the mortar, but not the light of Torah that dwelled within. The parchment may have been scorched, but the holy letters of the Torah took flight and now, the pintele Yid is giving life to a new generation that lives by Torah.

But it was not only the fierce fires of the crematoria that we resisted and triumphed. We prevailed against the enticing flames of assimilation as well. And I, who have encountered both fires, can testify to this. As a child, my journey took me to Bergen-Belsen, and now, as a great-grandmother, my journeys take me to cities, universities and Jewish communities throughout the world, and on each journey I marvel in awe at the presence of that pintele Yid that I find in every Jewish soul.

And so, on this Pesach, 5770, I would like to declare praise to Hashem and proclaim with certainty that the pintele Yid that He engraved in every Jewish heart is as powerful as ever. It need only be awakened for its light to emerge.

Indeed, ” Mi ke’amcha Yisrael – Who is like Your people, Israel?” Is there any nation, which in face of so many calamities would have remained so loyal? Our prophets of old proclaimed in Your Name, “Zacharti lach chesed n’urayich – I remember the kindness and the love of your early youth [when you followed me blindly into a barren untilled desert].”

Thousands of years have since passed Almighty G-d, and we are still following You in the barren desert. Our forefathers have paved the way and enabled us to walk with You even in the most treacherous wastelands. Yes, we are still following You in their barren desert.

It is this miracle of our Jewish survival that I find so wondrous on each and every occasion that I go out to speak. It is this miracle that gives me renewed energy to trudge through yet another airport, to catch yet another plane, to go through yet another sleepless night and to embrace my people with love no matter how exhausted I may be. I have spoken on every part of the globe and I can testify that the light that You, G-d, have kindled in our souls still flickers. I have seen hardened hearts melt, and cold, indifferent eyes glisten with tears…. I have seen young and old come to new life. I have seen the pintele Yid in the Jewish soul.

Yes, I can testify to all that even as the fumes of the gas chambers snuffed the life out of our tortured bodies, we continued to follow You. And today, as a new anti-Semitism rears its ugly head, albeit packaged in the guise of anti-Zionism, we follow You. And we follow You as the 49 measures of Egyptian decadence and immorality, dressed in 21st century garb attacks us with renewed force. Yes, I have seen it all – the fires of the Holocaust, the fires of assimilation, but, throughout, I saw the flame of faith which enabled us to remain Your eternal people, bearers of Your Covenant, and that is the pintele Yid, the secret of the survival of our people.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/rebbetzins-viewpointrebbetzin-jungreis/in-honor-of-g-ds-people-2/2010/03/29/

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