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April 18, 2014 / 18 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘reunion’

Conquering the Shoah: Reflections on the 70th Anniversary of My Father’s Deportation

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

Seventy years ago this autumn, the Nazis rounded up my father, grandparents and some 6,000 other Jews, shipping them from southwest Germany to the Gurs internment camp in southern France.

The deportation in packed railway trains cast my family into an anguished struggle for survival and spelled the disappearance of an oft-forgotten segment of German-Jewry – the observant country folk of the Rhine River Valley.

To this day my father, Kurt Lion, now 84, remembers the 7 a.m. pounding on the family door, the cries of “Raus! Raus!” and his mother’s terror as they found six Nazis screaming on the doorstep.

It was October 22, 1940, and the Nazis had begun an operation to deport Jews from the Franco-German border region – including Germany’s Baden province where my father was born.

The Nazis shrieked for the Jews in my father’s village of Ihringen to assemble on the main street within twenty minutes – and each was only allowed to carry a small suitcase of belongings.

My father remembers that a crowd of the gentile villagers had turned out to gape at the expulsion of Ihringen’s last remaining Jews – but some did more than gape, seeing them off with cruel jeers.

Vibrant Jewish Life

At my father’s birth in 1926, the village of about 3,500 people had some 250 observant Jews, engaging mostly in farming and commerce. Most of Germany’s half million pre-war Jews lived in the bigger cities and were decidedly assimilated.

Not so with the country Jews farming along the Rhine River. But because of their small numbers, history has largely overlooked them and their lives characterized by cattle and vegetable farming, wine-making and small-scale commerce mingled with Torah observance.

In his earlier years my grandfather had been a kosher butcher and chef who had worked in a hotel in Karlsruhe – a German equivalent of Grossinger’s. By middle age, he engaged in cattle dealing and farming in Ihringen.

His brother Benjamin ran the kosher butcher shop in the village. He even exported kosher meat to nearby Basel, Switzerland because the Swiss restricted kosher butchering.

My father’s maternal uncles ran a large kosher wine- and vinegar-making business. Their father, Jacob Guggenheim, had, in his younger years back in the 1800s, single-handedly saved Ihringen’s important grape crop from a blight threatening the region’s vineyards. Knowledgeable in agriculture, he grafted hardier stock onto the vines, ensuring they could withstand the disease.

For the rest of his life, he was honored with the nickname “The Master” by area Jews and gentiles alike who gratefully remembered his rescue of the village’s grapevines.

My father’s earliest memories are of friendly interaction between Ihringen’s mostly Protestant population and its Jewish community, one of the biggest among the region’s villages.

Ihringen’s concentration of Jews was reflected in its large well-kept Jewish cemetery filled with Hebrew-inscribed gravestones, the final resting place for some 1,000 souls.

My father remembers his early childhood visits there, the tidy plots and grave markers studded with piles of small stones, a sign of the living honoring the dead in a tradition linking the generations.

The most visible marker of Ihringen’s thriving Jewish community was its century-old three-story synagogue, one of the most prominent buildings in the village. My father remembers gazing up at its stained glass windows and depictions of the twelve tribes of Israel when he prayed and studied there with his father.

During my father’s earliest years, Jews continued to enjoy prosperity and peace in Ihringen and throughout the region.

Persecution, Deportation and Death

But that all changed with Hitler’s rise, with Nazi laws stripping Jews of all rights, and with Kristallnacht, when the synagogue was burned to the ground. My grandfather and his brothers were held for several months in Dachau. My grandfather, then in his late 60s, never recovered his health though his spirit remained unbroken.

During this terrible time, Ihringen’s Jewish population had steadily shrunk as many moved to the anonymity of bigger towns and the more fortunate secured visas to emigrate. By 1937, my father’s two elder sisters were among the latter, managing to relocate to New York City.

But on that fateful morning of October 22, 1940, my father, grandparents and the other Ihringen Jews were subjected to an ordeal that remains vivid in my father’s mind.

SS officers backed by rifle-toting soldiers escorted the Jews to the village hall and announced their expulsion while their neighbors looked on. My father remembers that a number of them showed sadness, but none said a word of protest.

Others in the crowd shouted anti-Semitic slogans. The most hateful were the teen-aged boys, proudly sporting Hitler Youth uniforms and taunting the deportees. One spit at my father and jeered, “You’ll be dead soon, Jew!”

At this point, when my father recounts the scene, his voice seems to change from that of an old man to the teenager he was seventy years ago. He proudly recalls that he spit right back at the German and answered, “I’ll be back to bury you!”

My family and the others were forced onto a truck and driven to a nearby town where the Germans had gathered up another thousand Jews from the area. Without explanation they were crammed into an old passenger train with blacked-out windows.

So began a terrifying four-day journey with little food, pails for toilets and conditions so crowded that many had to stand or sit in the aisles. Today my father’s voice grows hoarse remembering the suffering of the sick and elderly on that train and the stunned faces of people who had ridden that same rail system in times past, times of normalcy that were now gone forever.

The stop-and-go journey, plagued by numerous delays, ended some 800 miles to the southwest in remote southern France. There, the French Vichy government had set up internment camps on the orders of the Germans.

For the next 18 months, my father endured lice, hunger and deprivation as he nursed his ailing parents, first in the Gurs camp, later at Rivesaltes two hundred miles away. His father, Philip, 69, died from the horrible conditions; his mother Rosa was eventually transported to Auschwitz where she was gassed. She was 59.

Both had reiterated to him the same burning wish – that someday he make it to America for a new life and a reunion with his sisters. My father, just 16 then, vowed to survive and avenge his parents’ suffering.

Escape – and Striking Back

At Rivesaltes, he was forced to hide in crawlspaces to evade the SS squads that increasingly sought young Jews for lethal work details. Certain he must flee to live, he slipped away with falsified papers provided by a Swiss nun permitted to do charity work at the camp.

The nun vowed to save as many lives as she could and the papers classified my father as “French-born.” This enabled him to secure a place in an agricultural school run by the Jewish refugee charity ORT (Organization for Rehabilitation and Training) on a farm 300 miles to the north in La Roche.

After four months, my father was suddenly arrested and taken to the Casseneul holding depot for shipment to a concentration camp. But that night, he managed to escape by squirming through a sewage pipe and jumping into a nearby river.

Attaining freedom, he lived on foraged food and eventually was able to get identity papers for himself under a gentile name. With this alias, he found work as a laborer for a farmer in a village in East-Central France.

There, he managed to replenish his strength. But with his increased strength, something else within him grew stronger – his desire to strike back against the Germans for their crimes.

And strike back my father did, first by attacking German troops while fighting in the French Underground. Later, after D-Day, when the underground was formalized into a reconstituted French military, he served as an aerial gunner in an American-supplied “Free French” B-17 bomber that rained explosives on Germany in raids coordinated by the U.S. Air Force.

After a dozen successful bomber missions, my father’s plane was shot down and he ended the war performing other duties for the French military.

Conquering the Shoah

With Germany’s surrender, he returned to Ihringen in a French military jeep and found the Jewish cemetery there vandalized.

The villagers were wary at seeing a uniformed French military man. But their wariness turned to outright fear when they recognized him – a Jew deported from the village five years before but now returned with the conquering Allies.

With a hand on his rifle, he ordered those who had gathered around his jeep to clean up the cemetery. A few had been there jeering at his expulsion and now they trembled, their faces drained of color.

“You’re not so big now, are you?” my father said. “Go clean up the cemetery. I’ll be coming back to check.”

The villagers, still white-faced, nodded in wordless fear.

He was stationed in the area and returned several times to the village over the next few weeks. And soon the cemetery was indeed cleaned up.

Another victory for my father in those months after Germany’s collapse was the help he was able to provide Jewish refugees newly freed from the concentration camps. Jewish soldiers from among the Allies, most notably the British army’s “Jewish Brigade” drawn from Palestine, had set up a smuggling network; my father worked with it to help refugees escape the graveyard of Europe.

With his French military status he had access to military vehicles and “borrowed” them for what he called “unauthorized refugee transport.” In concert with the smuggling network, he made numerous trips taking refugees, hidden under blankets, from inside Germany across the Rhine River to the French city of Strasbourg.

During a furlough, he revisited the ORT school in La Roche, where the Nazis had arrested him. Now he happily discovered it was being used as a place to prepare freed camp inmates for transport to Israel. A Zionist shaliach lived there, teaching Hebrew and farming skills.

My father had a French military van at his disposal and was able to transport a number of the refugees to a beach outside Marseilles, where they awaited boat pick-ups for clandestine crossings to Palestine.

A few months after that furlough, in April 1946, my father immigrated to the United States.

Just as his parents had wished, he reunited with his sisters. In the ensuing years, he married my late mother Giselle, herself a Holocaust survivor, raised my two sisters and me in northern New Jersey and crafted a successful career as a textile designer.

In 1969, my father visited Israel for a joyful reunion with a man who had been in the camps with him.

At the reunion, my father was amazed and delighted to see several familiar faces – a few of the other boys who had been at the ORT school with him. They had been bedraggled refugees when he knew them. But now they were Israelis, citizens of the thriving Jewish state, which gave my father enormous satisfaction.

Three years later in 1972 my parents traveled to Europe and visited Ihringen with a dual aim – my father wished to show his birthplace to my mother and also “to show the Germans in the village that I was still around and doing just fine.”

They immediately paid their respects at the Jewish cemetery and discovered it choked with weeds. My father angrily stormed into the village hall and confronted the burghermeister.

“You Germans made sure there weren’t any Jews left here to take care of our graves,” my father fumed. “So now the responsibility falls to you to do it, to treat them with respect.”

Stung, the burghermeister nodded his assent. As he did, my father suddenly noticed a carved wooden clock hanging on the wall above the desk. It was the very same clock that had hung in his parlor throughout his childhood, a century-old timepiece that his father had carefully maintained.

Reaching up, my father lifted the clock from the wall and pointed to marks on the back identifying it as “Lion property.”

My father brought that clock back home with him. Ever since, it has had pride of place hanging in my father’s living room, its hourly chime poignantly cutting across the years.

When my father had arrived in America, his only pre-war possession was a small Hebrew-German prayer book, a memento of his lost Jewish life in Ihringen.

Five years ago when his grandson, Sam, became bar mitzvah, my father brought our family to tears by presenting the book to him with a heartfelt message.

My father explained that his bar mitzvah had occurred less than six months after Kristallnacht when German Jewry was perched on the very brink of extinction.

The tiny prayer book, inscribed “from the Jews of Ihringen” was the sole present my father received for his bar mitzvah – and he cherished it. So much so that on that terrible October morning when his family was expelled to the camps, he took the prayer book with him. Throughout the war, he managed to keep it safe.

He hid the book in his clothing, stashed it near where he slept or buried it.

After he landed his farm laborer job, he hid the book under a loose brick in the farmer’s wine cellar.

The book remained there undetected until the war ended. In early 1946, preparing to immigrate to America, he returned to retrieve it.

For most of his life here, my father kept the book in a night table by his bed. But five years ago he decided to pass it along to his grandson to mark the boy’s bar mitzvah.

In an emotional note, my father told Sam that “All of our relatives, the living and even those who passed long before” would rejoice at his bar mitzvah. “They would be proud,” he said, that Sam would be carrying the family into a new generation, the latest link in the chain of Jewish continuity.

And then, with a smile of love and pride, my father presented his grandson with the book, an embodiment of his own survival and, in a wider sense, that of the Jewish people.

Ed Lion, formerly a reporter with United Press International, is a writer who lives in the Poconos.

Return to Dachau: A Unique Gathering (Part I)

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010
Last March I received an invitation to the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp. It was signed: KZ-Gedenkstätte Dachau.”
I was taken aback. Is Dachau still a place on the face of the earth?
Sixty-five years ago I, a fourteen-year old scary skeleton, could barely comprehend the overwhelming news of freedom Americans liberation. Over the years with the birth of children, grandchildren and thank G-d, great grandchildren, the hell of Dachau has begun to recede into the distance. And now: an invitation to return.
The invitation told of a special exhibit and film commemorating a most phenomenal event: the miraculous survival of seven young Jewish mothers and their babies born in a Dachau sub-camp in the winter of 1944/45. Six of the seven babies, living in parts of the world, were expected to attend the exhibit.
In an earlier column I described the fate of my fellow Augsburg camp inmate, Miriam Rosenthal who, seven months pregnant, was shipped to Auschwitz to be gassed. The Russian occupation of Auschwitz forced her jailers to take her to Kaufering at Dachau where she was put into a wooden barrack with six other young pregnant Jewish women. Labeled the “Schwangerkommando” (pregnant commando), they had to do forced labor until their date of delivery and immediately after giving birth. They gave birth one by one without medical or nursing assistance, suffering from cold, starvation and appalling sanitary conditions — to seven healthy babies!
When  Dachau was taken by the Americans on April 29, 1945, the seven young Jewish women — Eva Fleischmann, Sara Grun, Ilboya Kovacs, Elisabeth Legmann, Dora Lowi, Miriam Rosenthal and Magda Schwartz –were liberated with their live infants born in the death camp. All seven infants – George, Jossi, Leslie, Marika, Agnes, Judit and Suzi – grew to adulthood in various parts of the world – seven saved, while one and a half million Jewish children were murdered in the Nazi hell.
Of the seven mothers only Eva Fleischmann and Miriam Rosenthal are alive today. However, neither Miriam Rosenthal from Canada nor Eva Fleischmann from Slovakia could undertake the arduous journey to attend the exhibit.
For me this phenomenal exhibit was the impetus to return to Dachau. I wanted to be present at the reunion of the Dachau babies, now sixty-five year old grandmothers and grandfathers. I wanted to experience first-hand the commemoration of seven divine miracles.
When I met Miriam’s baby, Dr. Leslie Rosenthal and his wife, grandparents of nine, Miriam’s brother, Mordechai Schwartz, came painfully to mind. I agonized over the irony that while Miriam and Leslie survived the Nazi hell in Germany, Mordechai lost his life to British Jew-hatred in the Jewish National Home. A committed Zionist, Mordechai went to Eretz Yisrael in 1934 and as a committed Jew was executed in 1939. During the bloody Arab riots against Jews, he killed one Arab as the latter hurled violent threats at him and all Jews in Eretz Israel. Despite numerous justified defense pleas the British Mandatory authorities carried out Mordechai Schwarz’s death sentence.
At the reunion of the surviving seven, Leslie Rosenthal remarked: “The babies, that’s what I call them:  my camp brothers and sisters…. We could be the last living link to the Holocaust, so that’s quite a responsibility.”

(To Be Continued)

Is It Really 50 Years?

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

   Who are all these ladies with the gray hair and/or sheitels? We are all looking into each other’s faces for a glimmer of recognition. Thank goodness everyone has a nametag; it makes it so much easier to identify each person.

 

   Who are we? We are the Central Yeshiva University High School class of 1959 and we are gathered at Yeshiva University for our 50th reunion. Not a one of us can believe 50 years have passed since that day we walked down the aisle at graduation. And to watch us hugging and laughing, no one else would believe it either. All of us feel like young women for a few hours and the cares and aches are forgotten for the moment.

 

   There is something about the passing of so much time that makes things like physical appearance and life’s ups and downs seem unimportant. No one is judgmental. Everyone is genuinely interested in catching up. Where do you live now? Are you retired? Do you ever see so and so? Do you remember when ?

 

   Esther L. and Deanne C. (all initials represent maiden names) were two of several women who brought along our Senior Yearbook and it was fun to look at each other and then at our pictures and the sayings of long ago. I counted about 16 girls out of a graduating class of 96 who made aliyah (the number may actually be higher) and we all applauded for them. About six of us are no longer alive and we paid tribute to them. A number of our classmates could not attend because of illness and we missed them.

 

   After an hour and a half of catching up and enjoying the delicious spread provided by Yeshiva University, we were officially welcomed and then the program was turned over to us. Susan S. read a wonderful poem she had written for the 25th class reunion. I was living in Israel at the time and was not even aware that we had had a class reunion. Susan had updated the poem and I had to confess I had no idea she was so talented. Rebecca G. was next and she too brought back so many memories.

 

   The next speaker was Linda G. who had traveled all the way from Los Angeles to attend (but of course a 50th reunion doesn’t happen every day). Judy C., a rebbetzin now, gave a dvar Torah and Elinor L. read a beautiful tribute to our deceased classmate Brenda Behrman, written by Brenda’s daughter. Deanne C. recounted how it was to be an out of towner that freshman year so long ago.

 

   I spoke about my own impressions on coming to a “big school” from the small class in Bais Yaakov of Brighton Beach. I also spoke about our late classmate, the author Penina Spiegel, and brought everyone up to date on the accomplishments of another classmate, the pioneering medical researcher Ethelea Cohen. And I reminded my classmates of some of the songs from our Freshman Sing, which brought about lots of laughter.

 

   Yeshiva University had a photographer on hand and we took a group photograph. I hope I’ll remember who’s who without the benefit of the nametags.

 

   The hours passed quickly and soon it was time to say goodbye. None of us knows what the future has in store and whether we will get to meet once more. But for a few hours, the years melted away and we were schoolgirls once again.

Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities – 3/13/09

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

Esther – An Update (Part 1)

Dear Readers,

Many of you will no doubt recall the columns that were devoted to “Esther” who had first written of her heartache and her guilt-ridden conscience back in May of last year. Gradually we learned that Esther (the name she chose to veil her real identity) was just barely facing and surviving each day in her prolonged state of wretchedness brought on by events of years back…

Esther let us in on her feelings of devastation, enormous guilt and unending sorrow over the death of a fine young man whom she believed she had “killed” with her insolent rejection. In her own words… “Twenty-three years ago I murdered a wonderful young man and haven’t had a day of true peace ever since.” (Chronicles 5-16-08)

Were that not enough of a burden to bear, she then suffered a mother’s worst nightmare when her then-husband left her and absconded with their two young sons. “They were stolen from me,” Esther wrote of her harrowing ordeal. “When my children vanished, I died a million times over the years. As a mother, my heart bleeds and cries and is torn apart.”

We cried along with Esther and this column did what little it could to lift some of the poor woman’s melancholy and to offer her hope of “…being reunited with the children you carried under your heart and whom you were so cruelly dispossessed of.” Our response to her second letter (Chronicles 8-1-08) expressed the consolation that “G-d has instilled in the human heart of a parent a special bond to his/her child and in the heart of a child a special feeling for his/her parent – a kesher not easily broken.” (Chronicles 8-8-08)

Unbeknownst to Esther at the time, across the globe the column was being read by none other than one of her sons – who lost little precious time in contacting whom he had a hunch was his birth mother, whom he was separated from when he was but a toddler.

Following an emotional reunion of mother and long-lost son who, it turned out, resides in Israel with his wife and young daughter, Esther wrote to us again (Chronicles 10-31-08) – this time with her spirits somewhat uplifted. “You saved my life and brought me back not only a son but a full-fledged family! I am suddenly very aware that there is happiness and joy in the world and the tears of both keep mingling…”

Having returned from her trip abroad where she spent the Yamim Tovim with her son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter, Esther updated us: “You can imagine that over the holiday season we talked for hours on end, catching up on lost years – my son’s growing-up years in particular. At one point I asked him to let me meet his stepmother. (He calls her Ima… and me they called Ima’le!)

Happy ending, one might conclude, by any stretch of the imagination. But wait – there’s more. While her son continues to be a beacon of light to the mother he was fortunate to become newly acquainted with and for whom he displays the greatest respect and love, Esther has been experiencing a roller coaster of emotions.

“I’m really, really thinking about my son urging me to move to Israel,” Esther confided in an e-mail exchange. “I don’t have anything here…but I never thought of Israel because after all I had nothing there either. What would YOU do IF you were in my exact position?”

As she was mulling the pros and cons (were there any cons?), her tenderheartedness shone through – despite all the hardships she had suffered: “What do I do? If I go, I’ll be closer to a family I never had and I want very much to be close to. On the other hand, am I going to infringe on the adoptive mother? Will I be stepping into her territory ?”

And then – Esther’s dilemma suddenly became miniscule when the Mumbai tragedy struck. It was broadcast around the world and Esther was beside herself with grief. She cried along with Moishe’le: “I am devastated. I was watching the funerals in Israel…and watched how little Moishe is crying for his ‘Ima.’I'm still crying for the poor, wonderful souls that were torn away…”

True, Esther was one of many thousands of devastated souls, but with everything that she had been through, I worried about Esther’s fragile new beginning and dared to ask her if she still cried over “Aaron” – the man whom she had loved yet had spurned so many years ago. “NO. I do not cry any more,” she replied. “I still have a strong yearning (is that the word?) for that long ago time…and the wish that I had done things differently. But my newfound family gives me a lot of energy.” I sighed with relief; Baruch Hashem…

In the meanwhile, the subject of aliyah kept resurfacing. “I have been discussing it with my son and his wife. They call often and every conversation includes the discussion of why I should not stay and why I should come.”

Esther’s boss (“a very nice man and nice to me always…”), her employer for years now, has not only encouraged his devoted employee to “to think about it [moving to Israel] in a positive way” – he furthered her motivation by telling her that he’d give her three months pay to help her along in her new start. “I almost hugged him!” wrote Esther in another of our e-mail exchanges.

By mid-December, she finally had it down pat: She would go to Israel to be with her family for Pesach, would assess her surroundings and hopefully come away with a more definitive decision about moving there and about the where-to-settle issue.

Esther, I was discovering, was more than just softhearted. She was also considerate and very grounded in her thinking: “…Close enough to my son, I guess, but far enough not to be in their way…”

(To be continued)

Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities – 8/08/08

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

Dear “Esther”,

At the outset, allow me to say how profoundly sorry I am that (part of) my response to your first letter caused you additional suffering. Your clarification in last week’s column of your earlier correspondence (Chronicles 5-16) sheds somewhat of a different light on the devastation that you’ve been made to endure for all of these long years.

Though we are taught to do teshuvah every day of our life here on earth, we are also admonished to serve Hashem with happiness and to believe that He is a merciful Father eager to forgive our wrongdoings. Having suffered so unbearably, for so long, you must surely believe that G-d has forgiven you for the foolishness of your youth and that your ocean of tears has by now more than wiped your slate clean.

Forgiving (yourself) does not have to mean forgetting. Though you never got to communicate to Aaron in this world how much you care for him, reciting a verse of Tehillim or giving tzedakah l’iluy nishmas is an act of tremendous chesed and of immeasurable benefit for his neshamah.

Getting back to your letter, who of us could possibly begin to fathom your pain? No reader could have been left untouched by your heartbreaking portrayal of how your children were taken from you.

You say your babies were too young to have retained any memory of you. Today, however, they are adults and should have, by now, been apprised of their true parentage for their own physical and spiritual wellness; physical – for genetic accuracy in case of medical urgencies, and spiritual – because a Jew in his/her lifetime is always referred to by mention of his/her mother’s given name, as for example, “Yitzchak ben Sarah” (exceptions: when called up to the Torah; in a kesubah). Moreover, one’s mother’s name is not ever interchangeable.

Such revelation, if not, heretofore, made known, becomes obligatory before the child is escorted to the chuppah. Yes, your sons could have been lied to with any number of fabrications to effectively cancel any motivation to find you.

Yet there is good reason for you to let emptiness and bitterness give way to hope and optimism – hope of being reunited with the children you carried under your heart and of whom you were so cruelly dispossessed. Presumably there were other people involved, if only as onlookers, and someone out there knows the truth – that the children you gave birth to were taken from you against your will under extenuating circumstances.

Even if your ex brainwashed everyone around him to believe that you were truly insane and incapacitated as a mother, there is still hope. For now that you have finally allowed your oppressive pain to seep out, your story is being read by countless people globally. Anyone recalling an incident similar to the one you have described will alert someone else and so on.

It is well documented that adopted children generally grow up with an innate curiosity about their roots. That craving is even more prevalent among our people and many have left no stone unturned in trying to unearth details of their birthmother. G-d has instilled in the human heart of a parent a special bond to his/her child and in the heart of a child a special feeling for his/her parent − a kesher not easily broken.

During the Spanish Inquisition, when Jews were tortured and burnt alive if discovered practicing their religion, there were those who succumbed to coercion and converted in order to avoid heinous persecution. One particular Jewish youngster joined a monastery and grew up to be a most vicious member of the clergy who sent many Jewish souls to the stake to be burnt alive.

An elderly Jew caught observing his religion was once brought before this rasha who, to his consternation, found himself literally unable to convict the old man. The words simply would not come out of his mouth. After repeated attempts to pronounce a death sentence came to naught, he took the Jewish man to a private room and questioned him about whether he had ever lost a child. When the Jew confirmed that he had, a description of a birthmark proved them to be father and son. The son was so shaken by this episode that he escaped shortly thereafter and did teshuvah.

The first step you must take is to stop castigating yourself. If you will succeed in freeing yourself of the guilt that has been eating at you, you will be able to stand a little straighter, believe in yourself a little more and subsequently realize that the torment you’ve undergone has cleansed you of the transgression you so readily confess to. (Even Gehennom, a “purifying” process, is limited to a year’s duration.)

You end your letter by expressing a sense of relief at having released a bit of your onerous load. Why not consider penning a manuscript of your story (a project that can reap benefits beyond expectations)? Besides serving as a catharsis for your overburdened heart, it would be a bestseller and possibly lead to a reunion with your children.

Ask any male or female who tragically never knew his/her mother, due to tragedy, what they wouldn’t give to be acquainted up close with the woman he or she shares an eternal bond with. (Keep in mind that your children’s father was able to maneuver their direction in life for only as long as they were minors under his care.)

Time not only heals . . . it also alters many things. It’s time, Esther, for you to recognize that you, too, have grown. You have become a better and wiser person who is deserving of the finer things that life has to offer.

If only we could abolish the ugliness of hatred in our hearts and learn to replace intolerance with compassion, benevolence and understanding, the sadness of Tisha B’Av would soon be replaced with a day of rejoicing. If only.

Fifty Years Of World Bnei Akiva

Wednesday, January 17th, 2007

         I recently joined an overflow crowd of more than 1,000 current or former Bnei Akiva members for a reunion at the Jerusalem Theater. We gathered for the concluding session of the 11th World Bnei Akiva Convention: A Salute to Yoske Shapira.

 

         Greeting old friends and acquaintances was a true pleasure, especially for the participants of the first Bnei Akiva Hachshara in Israel, held during 1956-1957 in Kibbutz Yavne. It was the 50th anniversary of our year in Hachshara, and we were happy to celebrate it with the delegates to the 50th year of the World Bnei Akiva Organization.

 

         Bnei Akiva, over 70 years old in many countries, combined its individual branches at its first convention in 1956 to form the world union. Only a few of the original Hachsharaniks were able to show up for the reunion but we were excited to find one or two friends from Hachshara who many of us hadn’t seen in 50 years. Despite the years, it was with a warm feeling of friendship that we reminisced and reacquainted ourselves. In the theater, our group (spouses included) sat in a reserved section and was presented with beautiful roses to mark our golden anniversary.

 

         We were fortunate to be joined in the theater by the 100 Bnei Akiva delegates present. But due to the huge turnout, a large TV screen carrying the program was set up in the lobby to accommodate the guests who were unable to be seated in the theater.

 

         The evening’s highlight was the honoring of Yoske Shapira, who served for 20 years as the first director of World Bnei Akiva. In later years, Yoske was the founder of Tehillah, which assisted new immigrants. He also founded Children, which worked with youth in the Diaspora and was in memory of children murdered in the Holocaust, and Oze, which assists young children in poor neighborhoods. Yoske was also a minister in the Israeli government from 1984-1989. He is credited with initiating the Bnei Akiva Hachshara programs in Israel.

 

         Bnei Akiva played a very important role in my life. Without Hachshara in Israel, my wife, children, grandchildren and I might not be living in Israel today. During my formative years, my religious family was too poor to pay even the minimal tuition in yeshiva and I was forced to attend a public high school. Without Bnei Akiva, I might never have remained religious.

 

         Later, when I entered the computer profession, jobs often required work on Friday evenings and Shabbat. It was only the influence of my Bnei Akiva friends and the religious strength I had gained in my youth that gave me the ability to refuse to work on Shabbat and to raise my children in a wholesome religious environment.

 

         Bnei Akiva is the largest Zionist youth movement in the world. The World Bnei Akiva convention is held every five years to review past accomplishments and to plan for the next five years. At this year’s assembly, Zev Schwartz was confirmed as the new director, replacing Gael Greenwald. He succeeded Yitzchak Stiglitz, who assumed responsibility from Yoske Shapira. They were all honored at this 50th anniversary celebration.

 

         One hundred young delegates from 25 countries of the earth’s four corners were represented, including from the U.S., Canada, South America, Europe, Russia and South Africa. Many plan to settle in Israel in the coming years, while some plan to return to their native countries and serve as future Jewish leaders.

 

         The central theme of the convention was pioneering (chalutziut). In that spirit, each delegate pledged to do their utmost to encourage both Jewish religious practice and the making of aliyah.

 

         During the convention, the young delegates visited Sderot, the city under constant rocket attack, along with the northern cities of Israel. They also spent some time participating in mitzvah projects.

 

         It is very thrilling for the youngsters to gather at a convention with others from around the world who share the same Zionist religious agenda. Please encourage your children to join Bnei Akiva, attend Camp Moshava and come spend a year in Israel on the Bnei Akiva Hachshara.

Czestochowa Jews And Their Descendants Meet On Sukkot (Continued from last week)

Wednesday, October 25th, 2006

An exhibit commemorating the Jewish community of Czestochowa, which has been traveling the world for the past two years, culminated in the gathering of more than 200 people who went there for a special reunion during Sukkot. These remnants and descendants of a community of more than 30,000 came from the U.S., Israel, South America, Australia and Europe.

 

 

 

 


The first sukkah built in Czestochowa in 65 years was filled to capacity

by reunion members and many official guests.

 

 

 


 


Sigmund Rolat, grandson in hand, leads the march from the place of selection to the Umschlatz Platz, from where 30,000 Jews were sent to their deaths in Treblinka.


 


 



 


 


Rabbi Michael Schudrich, chief rabbi of Poland, leads prayers in the

cemetery in memory of those killed by the Germans.

 


 


 


Anyone who would like a complete set of pictures from the Czestochowa trip may contact Shmuel Ben Eliezer at Bshir3@aol.com

Following Zeh Yellow Brich Road: Journeying Jewishly Bezalel Alumni At The Makor Gallery

Wednesday, December 29th, 2004

The Bezalel Academy Alumni 2001 Exhibition:

A Reunion Of Emerging Israeli Artists
Peter Maltz, Aharon Ozery, Sivan Gur-Arieh, and Anat Litwin
December 12, 2004-January 16, 2005
The Makor Gallery at the 92 Street Y
35 West 67th Street, New York
http://www.makor.org


Sitting stiffly on the very throne from which Pharaoh would later deny G-d and His children’s freedom, Joseph surveyed his brothers bowing before him. His first dream fulfilled, he must have missed his father terribly. He decided to finally reveal himself. “I am Joseph,” he cried abruptly, and the brothers became overwhelmed with the culmination of journeys past, reunions present, and journeys and exiles to come.

The theme of journeys sits quite prominently in the canon of Jewish literary themes – from Abraham’s journey to the Land of Israel, to Yaakov’s flight from Esau; from the exodus from Egypt, to the Babylonian exile, to our present 2,000 year old journey to every corner of the world.

Journeys have a lot to do with disorientation, with loss of identity and language, and with cleansing and bildungsroman (coming of age). The Biblical root “nsa” implies both travel and burden, suggesting a heavy trek – whether physically taxing or psychologically grueling.

Artistically, journey suggests process, and it attends to who, how and what questions more than why ones. Many times, viewers conceive of art as a set of finished pieces, framed and hung on the museum walls. But they fail to recognize that the works underwent many processes – mostly invisible to the viewer – and layers. To many artists, the how-I-got-there outweighs the final piece.

This aesthetic, which developed momentum in the mid-60′s, is called “Conceptual Art,” and it crowns “the idea or concept… the most important aspect of the work… The idea becomes a machine that makes the art,” according to artist Sol LeWitt. To the Conceptualists, art effectively was about journey, an intellectual journey, and the finished product need not demonstrate remarkable brushwork to depict naturalistic, mimetic form, so much as a manifestation of conceptual meditation.

Makor, under the curatorial efforts of Anat Litwin, currently houses “Bezalel Alumni,” an exhibition that explores journey and reunion, attending specifically to six Bezalel alumni. Just approaching its 100-year anniversary, Bezalel is an academy of fine arts, design, and architecture – the most prominent one in Israel, according to its website. When I visited the academy last time I was in Israel, I remember being impressed with the works’ gustiness.

The artists at Makor have been separated for four years – they live in London, Tel-Aviv, Mizpe Abirim in the Galilee, Chicago, and New York – and the exhibit responds to their four years together, their separation and individual aesthetic trajectories, and now their reunion.

Anat Litwin’s “Strawling” features a 60-square foot sculptural network of drinking (party) straws that range in color from neon orange to lemon yellow to hot pink to yellow-green, applied with black electric tape over a skeletal structure of what appear to be hanger wires. The whole structure, hung from the ceiling in a corner of the gallery, is not unlike alfalfa sprouts dyed in highlighter ink colors.

The press release offers, “The name of the sculpture, Strawling, addresses both the material of the straws and the action and movement of wandering with no specific direction or destination.”

Neither Merriam-Webster nor the Oxford English dictionary registers “strawling,” which may have something to do with “strolling.” Anat describes it as “kind of fun, kind of goofy” – a union of “idea” and “sublime” – and the work certainly recalls Tara Donovan’s work with straws, as in “Haze, 2003.”

The notion of using disposable elements – forms that are not strong enough alone to last – and turning them into an assemblage, engages notions of kitsch and mass production as purely mechanical processes and objects. The piece, much like the art of Felix Gonzalez-Torres, who spreads licorice candy on the Guggenheim floor from time to time and calls it “Untitled (Public Opinion),” becomes very much about the process of assembling the parts, and implies a journey of obtaining straws and licorice.

The photographs by Peter Maltz exhibit a sardonic quality. “Chicken,” which he relates to kaparot, features a cobalt blue background with touches of pink, offsetting a very orange and yellow looking chicken that seems to be swallowing a brown royal figure, perhaps a chess king or a knight action toy. The complimentary colors produce a fiery sensation, and color and light figure prominently into the work. The photograph may suggest a replacement relation by which the chicken will atone for the king’s sins, or conversely, it seems to indicate that the atonement process itself engulfs the atoner. The elements clearly suggest a narrative into which the viewer has walked mid-story, and this mysterious element serves to disorient the viewer.

“Bread” illustrates a slice of bread stained with a blood red liquid substance, flanked by broken glass. If “Chicken” relies on light, “Bread” invokes a terminology of texture; the liquid, the sharp transparent glass shards, and the ochre bread lend the photograph a particularly compelling oomph. Maltz cites the bread and blood as elements of Christian iconography, but it is a fractured iconography in which the glass has shattered. The viewer wonders what form the glass held, pre-shattering, and how it came to break. Again, the hidden narrative makes the viewer hyper-aware of a meta-text – a story from which she/he has been intentionally cut off – which presents its own sort of journey meditation.

The two pillars in Aharon Ozery’s “Totem” involve tree branches from the Galilee forest contained within a totem of industrial artificial rings, almost like a stretched Slinky toy. Ozery introduces scale, as all good sculpture must, with “architecture (pillar)” and “ritual structure (half pillar).” Ozery’s “Guns” features ten wooden sticks, also Galilean, with what appear to be butt-stocks on the ends. The viewer wants to call them guns, only to realize they are really merely sticks arranged gun-wise, in a sense that maintains the optical illusion. They lean against a wall, immediately next to “Craves for Caves,” a contraption of wood and yellow cloth that allows the viewer to look inside a corridor at multiple vantage points and to observe a Buddha sculpture standing upside down, while spinning around and laughing.

All Ozery’s pieces have spiritual – and often religious – undertones, arriving at their spirituality through found objects, very natural and simplistic. By using a vocabulary of transformation, of turning objects into visual cognates, Ozery’s work subjects the materials to a form of voyage.

Clearly, the Makor work – which also includes more of Maltz’s photographs, two series of Litwin’s, including one of perforated marks on canvas, and Gur-Arieh’s video work – has a funkiness and energy to it. Makor’s efforts to curate a show that attends to courageous, conceptual work that is also Jewish ought to be applauded. Ultimately, though, I feel there is more room for exploration in the theme of journey.

Chassidic thought finds meditative aspects to journeys – especially individual ones – while Jewish texts are ripe with collective journeys the Jewish people assumes.

Journey suggests kinetic movement, and the works always set themselves opposite the static home. Journeys can be spatially bound or time bound, or they can be interior journeys with no limits. They might involve maps, or they may be aimless wanderings without a destination in sight along the road less traveled. Journeys can be quite nuanced, far more than the few distinctions above. Perhaps Makor lacks the gallery space to explore Journey further in depth, but the current exhibit engages the issue head on, and really scratches convincingly at a very interesting surface.

Menachem Wecker edits the Arts and Culture Section of the Yeshiva University Commentator. As an artist, he has trained at the Massachusetts College of Art. Menachem may be contacted at: mwecker@gmail.com.

For more information on Makor, visit http://www.92y.org/. For more information on the Friends of Bezalel, visit the website at:
http://www.bezalel-friends.com/support.html. For more information on Bezalel, visit http://www.bezalel.ac.il/sitee/homepage.asp.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/following-zeh-yellow-brich-road-journeying-jewishly-bezalel-alumni-at-the-makor-gallery/2004/12/29/

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