Photo Credit: Courtesy National Library of Israel
Chana Senesh in school uniform at age 16.

The 20th of Cheshvan is the Yahrzeit of Rav Moshe Nosson Nota Lemberger, the Makava Rav (1909-1982). Born in Hungary, he was the foremost student of Rav Shimon Greenfield (Maharsha”g). The Makava Rav followed his teacher’s approach of focusing on pshat and utilizing logic (often innovative) to understand Talmud and Halacha. He was the grandson-in-law of the Rav of Makava and studied under him and was appointed to the Bais Din in Makava in 1936. In 1944, with the death of his grandfather-in-law, he was appointed Rav of Makava. Shortly thereafter he was deported with his family, first to Bergen-Belsen and then to Theresienstadt. He worked there in the bakery and spent his free time writing his Torah insights on the slips of paper that were given to him by other prisoners in exchange for bread. These were published after the war.

After he was freed by the Russians, he was given an ID card and told that he must carry it with him at all times. He refused to carry it on Shabbos and on his first Shabbos of freedom, he was arrested by the Russian police for failure to show his identification. Despite his wife’s bringing the ID to the police station and his repeated protests that he was Jewish, he was told that he would probably rot there for a long time before seeing a judge. He spoke Yiddish to another inmate, which sounded like German to the Russians, and they decided he was a German spy.


One guard asked him, “Why should I believe that you are Jewish?” He tried convincing the guard by reciting passages from Torah, Talmud and Rambam, but the guard said that the Germans were known to have studied many aspects of Judaism, and perhaps he knew that as he was a German-Jewish expert. Finally, the guard told the Makava Rav that he was Jewish. And the guard said that he remembered that when he was a child in cheder there was a special tune that was used to learn the aleph-bais. He said that he highly doubted that the Germans would have bothered to learn that. Whereupon the Rav began to say, “Kometz Aleph, Aw. Kometz Bais, Baw. Kometz Gimmel, Gaw.” The guard freed him.

He returned to Makava to serve as Rav and to help survivors rebuild their lives but found himself harassed by the Communist authorities and in 1952 left Hungary for Israel.

He settled in Kiryat Ata, where he rebuilt the Makva community. He opened a yeshiva and served as rosh yeshiva until his passing.

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On the 21st of Cheshvan Chana Senesh (Szenes) (1921-1944) was executed by the German authorities. Born in Budapest to a secular Jewish family, her father was a journalist and playwright who died when she was six. She was raised by her mother who sent her to a Calvinist school. It was there that she had her first taste of anti-Semitism when she was not allowed to participate on a sports team. Over time this led to her joining a Zionist organization and studying Hebrew.

After graduating high school with honors, she moved to Palestine in 1939 to study agriculture. She subsequently joined a Kibbutz where her skills and leadership qualities were apparent to all. She also followed in her father’s footsteps as a writer and produced poems in Hebrew some of which are still known and popular today most famously Halicha L’Kaisaria.

In 1943 she decided that she had a responsibility to help the Jews of Hungary. She was chosen to join a Jewish brigade of the British army and was trained in wireless use and parachuting. She was transported with her cohort to Europe where she and the others were ordered to parachute into their native countries and rally local support against the Germans. After several months she parachuted into Yugoslavia and after another delay she finally crossed into Hungary in June of 1944. She was immediately arrested and accused of spying. She was stripped and tortured for several days in an attempt to force her to give away the wireless code so that other spies could be caught. The efforts came to naught.

Her mother was arrested and brought to the prison. She had not seen her daughter in years, thinking Chana was in Palestine, and yet here she was with a bloated face from beatings and teeth knocked out. Her mother was threatened with death if Chana would not reveal the codes, but she still refused. For several months she and her mother were kept separately in the same prison.

When the Germans took over the Hungarian government, her mother was freed, and Chana was put on trial. She admitted to intending to free Jews and spoke very sharply to the court. She was sentenced to death. Subsequently she was told that if she asked for clemency her sentence would be reduced but she refused, and she was executed by firing squad. Friends were able to claim her body and have her buried in a Jewish cemetery. Six years later her body was brought to Israel for burial.

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The 23rd of Cheshvan is the Yahrzeit of Rav Yaakov Dovid Gordon (1873-1947), “Chief Rabbi” of Norfolk. Born in Lithuania, his father died when he was five years old, and he was raised by his aunt and uncle. Following his eleventh birthday he attended a succession of yeshivos including those in Telshe and Eishishok. In a letter written in 1891, Rav Leizer Gordon, Rosh Yeshiva of Telshe, praises him for his great diligence and mentions that even though relatives had encouraged him to relocate to America he demurred as his only interest was studying Torah. He also received a letter from Rav Shimon Shkop that was filled with glowing praise.

After his marriage in 1895 he was accepted, into the very exclusive Kovno Kollel. He received smicha from Rav Tzvi Hirsch Rabinowitz of Slabodka, as well as from the Rosh Kollel. He then moved to Chicago where he spent a year and a half. Following that he was invited to become the head of the United Orthodox Synagogues of Norfolk where he spent the last forty years of his life. He was very active in the Agudas HaRabbonim. In 1946 he published his first sefer and left a large quantity of manuscripts which the Agudas HaRabbonim was responsible for translating from Yiddish to Hebrew and publishing (much of the information here comes from the introduction to one of those seforim and was compiled by Rav Shmuel Pliskin of Baltimore at the behest of the Agudas HaRabbonim.)

In his will he left any money he had to an organization for refugee rabbis in Israel, and his large library was donated to the Telshe yeshiva which had by then relocated to Cleveland. He passed away in Sinai Hospital in Baltimore.

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Chayim Lando is the practice manager at Maryland Neuro Rehab & Wellness Center and has been a Jewish educator for over three decades. His favorite activities are studying and teaching Talmud and spending time with his grandchildren.