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While technology (warming trays, thermostats, timers, X10, Shabbat settings on refrigerators and ovens) have largely made the Shabbos goy an anachronism, it was once a necessity.  Illustrious personages such as Martin Scorcese, Mario Cuomo, Colin Powell, and a teenaged Elvis Presley once assisted Shabbat-observant neighbors in the US.  My paternal grandmother (whose parents in America were no longer Shabbat-observant) reported back from a 1930 visit to family in Poland that the Polish Catholic Shabbos goy still faithfully executed her duties every Saturday morning.  The following account by Joe Velarde, posted on Batya’s old blog, is a lovely tribute to the friendship that once existed in Brooklyn between Jewish and Christian neighbors.  Enjoy.

Snow came early in the winter of 1933 when our extended Cuban family moved into the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.  I was ten years old.  We were the first Spanish speakers to arrive, yet we fit more or less easily into that crowded, multicultural neighborhood.  Soon we began learning a little Italian, a few Greek and Polish words, lots of Yiddish and some heavily accented English.

I first heard the expression Shabbes is falling when Mr. Rosenthal refused to open the door of his dry goods store on Bedford Avenue.  My mother had sent me with a dime to buy a pair of black socks for my father.  In those days, men wore mostly black and navy blue.  Brown and gray were somehow special and cost more.  Mr. Rosenthal stood inside the locked door, arms folded, glaring at me through the thick glass while a heavy snow and darkness began to fall on a Friday evening.  “We’re closed, already”, Mr. Rosenthal had said, shaking his head, “can’t you see that Shabbes is falling?  Don’t be a nudnik!  Go home.”  I could feel the cold wetness covering my head and thought that Shabbes was the Jewish word for snow.

My misperception of Shabbes didn’t last long, however, as the area’s dominant culture soon became apparent; Gentiles were the minority.  From then on, as Shabbes fell with its immutable regularity and Jewish lore took over the life of the neighborhood, I came to realize that so many human activities, ordinarily mundane at any other time, ceased, and a palpable silence, a pleasant tranquillity, fell over all of us.  It was then that a family with an urgent need would dispatch a youngster to “get the Spanish boy, and hurry.”

That was me.  In time, I stopped being nameless and became Yussel, sometimes Yuss or Yusseleh.  And so began my life as a Shabbes Goy, voluntarily doing chores for my neighbors on Friday nights and Saturdays: lighting stoves, running errands, getting a prescription for an old tante, stoking coal furnaces, putting lights on or out, clearing snow and ice from slippery sidewalks and stoops.  Doing just about anything that was forbidden to the devout by their religious code.

Friday afternoons were special.  I’d walk home from school assailed by the rich aroma emanating from Jewish kitchens preparing that evening’s special menu.  By now, I had developed a list of steady “clients,” Jewish families who depended on me.  Furnaces, in particular, demanded frequent tending during Brooklyn’s many freezing winters.  I shudder remembering brutally cold winds blowing off the East River.  Anticipation ran high as I thought of the warm home-baked treats I’d bring home that night after my Shabbes rounds were over.  Thanks to me, my entire family had become Jewish pastry junkies. Moi?  I’m still addicted to checkerboard cake, halvah and Egg Creams (made only with Fox’s Ubet chocolate syrup).

I remember as if it were yesterday how I discovered that Jews were the smartest people in the world.  You see, in our Cuban household we all loved the ends of bread loaves and, to keep peace, my father always decided who would get them.  One harsh winter night I was rewarded for my Shabbes ministrations with a loaf of warm challah (we pronounced it “holly”) and I knew I was witnessing genius!  Who else could have invented a bread that had wonderfully crusted ends all over it — enough for everyone in a large family?

There was an “International” aspect to my teen years in Williamsburg.  The Sternberg family had two sons who had fought with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Spain.  Whenever we kids could get their attention, they’d spellbind us with tales of hazardous adventures in the Spanish Civil War.  These twenty-something war veterans also introduced us to a novel way of thinking, one that embraced such humane ideas as ‘From each according to his means and to each according to his needs’.  In retrospect, this innocent exposure to a different philosophy was the starting point of a journey that would also incorporate the concept of Tzedakah in my personal guide to the
world.

In what historians would later call The Great Depression, a nickel was a lot of mazuma and its economic power could buy a brand new Spaldeen, our local name for the pink-colored rubber ball then produced by the Spalding Company.  The famous Spaldeen was central to our endless street games: stickball and punchball or the simpler stoopball.  One balmy summer evenings our youthful fantasies converted South Tenth Street into Ebbets Field with the Dodgers’ Dolph Camilli swinging a broom handle at a viciously curving Spaldeen thrown by the Giants’ great lefty, Carl Hubbell.  We really thought it curved, I swear.

Our neighbors, magically transformed into spectators kibitzing from their brownstone stoops and windows, were treated to a unique version of major league baseball.  My tenure as the resident Shabbes Goy came to an abrupt end after Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, 1941.  I withdrew from Brooklyn College the following day and joined the U.S. Army.  In June of 1944, the Army Air Corps shipped me home after flying sixty combat missions over Italy and the Balkans.  I was overwhelmed to find that several of my Jewish friends and neighbors had set a place for me at their supper tables every Shabbes throughout my absence, including me in their prayers.  What mitzvoth!  My homecoming was highlighted by wonderful invitations to dinner.  Can you imagine the effect after twenty-two months of Army field rations?

As my post-World War II life developed, the nature of the association I’d had with Jewish families during my formative years became clearer.  I had learned the meaning of friendship, of loyalty, and of honor and respect.  I discovered obedience without subservience.  And caring about all living things had become as natural as breathing.  The worth of a strong work ethic and of purposeful dedication was manifest.  Love of learning blossomed and I began to set higher standards for my developing skills, and loftier goals for future activities and dreams.  Mind, none of this was the result of any sort of formal instruction; my yeshiva had been the neighborhood.  I learned these things, absorbed them actually says it better, by association and role modeling, by pursuing curious inquiry, and by what educators called “incidental learning” in the crucible that was pre-World War II Williamsburg.  It seems many of life’s most elemental lessons are learned this way.

While my parents’ Cuban home sheltered me with warm, intimate affection and provided for my well-being and self esteem, the group of Jewish families I came to know and help in the Williamsburg of the 1930s was a surrogate tribe that abetted my teenage rite of passage to adulthood.  One might even say we had experienced a special kind of Bar Mitzvah.  I couldn’t explain then the concept of tikkun olam, but I realized as I matured how well I had been oriented by the Jewish experience to live it and to apply it.  What a truly uplifting outlook on life it is to be genuinely motivated “to repair the world.”

In these twilight years when my good wife is occasionally told, “Your husband is a funny man,” I’m aware that my humor has its roots in the shticks of Second Avenue Yiddish Theater, entertainers at Catskill summer resorts, and their many imitators.  And, when I argue issues of human or civil rights and am cautioned about showing too much zeal, I recall how chutzpah first flourished on Williamsburg sidewalks, competing for filberts (hazelnuts) with tough kids wearing payess and yarmulkes.  Along the way I played chess and one-wall handball, learned to fence, listened to Rimsky-Korsakov, ate roasted chestnuts, read Maimonides and studied Saul Alinsky.

I am ever grateful for having had the opportunity to be a Shabbes Goy.

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Jerusalem Day

Though officially, Jerusalem Day ended hours ago, I’ve been thinking of it all through the daylight hours today.

In Hebrew, it’s called Yom Shichrur Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Liberation Day (rather than Reunification Day, which many people use).  I like the word “liberation” and its meaning.  Yes, Jerusalem was reunified as a result of the Six-Day War, but Jerusalem (and the rest of Judea and Samaria) were actually liberated, meaning that free access to holy sites was restored (at least until the self-delusion of Oslo), free passage was made possible between Israel and these places and with it, increased opportunity for development and improvement of quality of life.

Of course, many of us believe that this liberation didn’t go far enough; these lands weren’t annexed, and in the corrupt, incompetent hands of what would one day style itself the Palestinian Authority, freedom has been severely limited.  (The Jewish areas, under the control of a politically liberal Defense Ministry, have also been choked off, especially of late, from realizing their potential due in part to a dogged insistence that these lands must remain in escrow for a twenty-third Arab state.)  The Arabs here are not much freer under their current government than they were under the neglectful thumb of Jordan.  Had Israel chosen to annex these lands and enfranchised part or all of their inhabitants, history might have been quite different, both for Jews and Arabs.

But even this partial liberation has made its indelible mark on the Jewish psyche.  We are no longer living in a Jerusalem that is not really Jerusalem.  Our Jerusalem, that we built and rebuilt and rebuilt again is in our hands.  We are free to live in any part of it, including those parts which were once Jewish, but over time were overrun by Arabs.  We are free to excavate and explore our history there, uncovering archeological evidence which confirms our presence and sovereignty there dating back 3000 years.  We are free to visit its historical and holy sites, to restore them and provide access to them for tourists, pilgrims of all faiths, and residents alike.

Madmen talk of redividing the city, of awarding half of it (including the Old City, which never saw an Arab before the seventh century) to terrorist organizations committed to Israel’s destruction, in which to build the capital of their new Islamist state.  Such madmen, though, underestimate the bond between the Jewish people and the city of Jerusalem.  They haven’t prayed for 2000 years for a return to Jerusalem.  They haven’t asked God every day to bless this city, or prayed for its rebuilding.  They don’t see it mentioned over 600 times in their holy books.  In short, because it isn’t theirs, they can talk of dividing it, Solomon-style, between the two peoples who claim it.  The difference, of course, between the Solomon story and contemporary Jerusalem is that the baby was in Solomon’s hands when he suggested cutting it in half.  With Jerusalem, it’s in our hands.  We are the rightful heirs to it, and we’re not about to let it go.

As God’s hand was clearly behind our liberation of Jerusalem and the rest of Israel (as beautifully documented in Jameel’s post for today), so may it continue to be as others try to take it from us.

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I received the following message about Lag B’Omer via email from my rav in the US, Rabbi Benjamin Samuels:

This Sunday marks the 33rd day of the Omer, Lag Ba’Omer, the day on which the plague that took the lives of Rabbi Akiva’s students subsided so many years ago.  Lag Ba’Omer is treated as a semi-holiday, and according to Ashkenzic practice, the mourning practices of the Omer are suspended, and according to Ramo, are fully ended.  Haircuts and marriages may take place from here on out. 

Since Lag Ba’omer fall on Sunday this year, many authorities permit haircuts on the preceding Friday, i.e. tomorrow, in honor of the Shabbat.

 This Lag Ba’Omer find a way to celebrate with family and friends.

Traditional practices include bonfires; singing and dancing; studying the Zohar, as it is its inspirational author, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s yahrzeit; pilgrimages to Rabbi Shimon’s burial place atop Mt. Meiron near Tsfat in Israel; first haircuts of three year old boys; roasting whole lambs; and my own childhood favorite, kickball at the park.

Most importantly, we celebrate Lag Ba’Omer as an affirmation that the health and healing of our people relies on our unity and shared destiny and that we can only approach and stand at Sinai to receive the Torah, כאיש אחד בלב אחד – as a single body with a common heart.

Wishing all a good Shabbos and a happy Lag Ba’Omer.

Since making aliyah, we’ve learned the ropes about Lag B’Omer in the Zionist Paradise.  Here are the rules:

1) Start collecting wood well in advance.  Don’t let your kids dismantle park benches (I’ve seen it done), but scrounge around the edge of town to get fallen branches, or save up prunings and yard waste from the year.  (And when foraging, watch out for snakes; they wake up in the spring.)

2) Close all windows prior to sundown.  And keep them closed.

3) Learn the safety rules of bonfires.  The week preceding Lag B’Omer is National Fire Safety Week in Israel, and fire stations all over the country host school groups (I accompanied Banana’s two-year-old gan to the one in Beit Shemesh) and teach the kids how a proper bonfire should be constructed, lit, and extinguished.

4) Find a good spot away from buildings with minimal vegetation near it.

5) Stock up on campfire foods (hot dogs, baked potatoes wrapped in foil, and marshmallows)

6) Bring instruments (guitar, accordion, your voice)

7) Nap the afternoon before.  Especially the kids.  (This should be easy, since this year Shabbat precedes Lag B’Omer.)  Teenagers often stay out all night, and when our kids were out shrieking at nine o’clock in the morning on Lag B’Omer, a neighbor gently informed us that the sanctity of a quiet morning is observed on Lag B’Omer just as it is on Shavuot (when many have the custom of staying up all night studying Torah).

We used to have a lovely (makeshift) bonfire pit near our shul which has since been paved over.  But sabra neighbors (who apparently have firm ideas about bonfires) have found a new spot a little farther away, and the mom and I have coordinated wood, a mangal (portable charcoal grill), and food to make this possibly our most festive Lag B’Omer ever.  Beans asked if we could take a table to eat our food on.  No, honey, with smoke in our hair and soot under our fingernails, this is a dirty-butt venture.

Have a happy, safe Lag B’Omer.

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The Cap’n and I attended Peach’s second grade class’s ceremony marking Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror) and Yom HaAtzma’ut (Independence Day) this morning.  To see the little girls reading Psalms, enacting a soldier’s leaving home and family and returning safe and sound (baruch Hashem), remembering each of the five members of the Fogel family who were murdered in Itamar, parading in costumes from dozens of countries from which Jews made aliyah in the last 63 years, and doing a dance with Israeli flags ending up in formation of the number “63” was a sight we did not even imagine when we made aliyah nearly five years ago.  Seeing Peach among other Israeli kids, seeing how Israel  is not an abstraction for her but her home, hearing her fluent Hebrew, seeing how she understands the Jewish people’s connection to this land, our history here, the Torah, and the injustice of those who would kill or expel us from here, is so much more than we ever bargained for.

I began to tell the kids at dinner last night, after we had stood for the 8:00 PM air raid siren ushering in Yom HaZikaron, the difference between the day here and Memorial Day in the US, but I just couldn’t.  When kids and their families here commemorate fallen soldiers and victims of terror, it’s Avraham David Moses, an Efrat teen who was murdered in the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva massacre a couple of years ago; Shmuel Gillis, the Efrat oncologist who was shot on the road (inside the Green Line) on his way to work at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital; Yosef Goodman, the son of the owners of our local pizza shop, whose parachute got tangled with his officer’s, and who cut the strings of his own chute to save his officer’s life, falling to his own death; and Daniel Mandel, whose mother works at the same company as the Cap’n, who was killed in the line of duty when searching for wanted terrorists in Nablus in 2003.  Soldiers are not boys from Kentucky and Nebraska who volunteer for an army career, but whom we’ll never see.  Soldiers are Tzvi, Honi, Natan and Doron, Re’ut and Miriam, the boys and girls who live on our street.  White sales, parades, and government commemorations on national television are far more removed (for better and for worse) than what our children experience now.

Living in Gush Etzion is an amazing experience.  We are near where King David was born, and possibly where he herded sheep in his boyhood.  We are near the path that Avraham likely followed when traveling to Jerusalem with his son Yitzhak in the akeida (binding) story.  We are across the road from one of the battlegrounds of the Chanukah story, where the Jews fought Assyrian Greeks riding war elephants, and where Elazar, brother of Yehudah Maccabbee, was killed.  And Gush Etzion was the scene of fighting in May 1948, when the Jordanians overran the land Jews had purchased and farmed for years, and massacred the remaining fighters.  Visitors to Kfar Etzion, a kibbutz which has a field school and a heritage center, can learn more about the foundation of the kibbutzim here and their destruction in the War of Independence in a video presentation which takes place right over the bunker which sheltered Gush Etzion’s last fighters.  The following video tells a similar story:

May the memories of the fallen be blessed, and may we live to see the end of the need for such sacrifice.

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Upon sitting down to my computer this morning, I was besieged by news stories, Facebook entries, and blog posts reporting and commenting on the announcement of Osama Bin Laden’s assassination by the United States Special Forces.  While I refrained from singing, dancing in the streets, and passing out candy (like some people I could name), I did permit myself a smile and a warm, fuzzy feeling all day thinking that the world had one less malignant fanatic in it.

While I concur with some people who have said that this will make no difference, that it will in no way stop the momentum of Islamic genocidal designs on the world, Michael Totten points out that it in no way hurts us, and in no way benefits Al Qaeda.  True enough.

But one of the more incisive comments I saw was put out by my rav in Newton, who wrote the following in a post to the shul’s list:

While I would not deny a victory song and dance to the families of the victims of 9/11 or to our armed forces and to our Commander-in-Chief, my own prayer of thanksgiving was not of celebration but of somber relief and satisfaction that no matter how dark the times, no matter how dastardly and destructive the crimes, in the end good will prevail and justice will be served.

It is this same sentiment that I gleaned from having read Professor Deborah E. Lipstadt’s extraordinary new book on The Eichmann Trial, whose 50th anniversary is being commemorated this year.  I had the great privilege of travelling to Poland and Budapest on a heritage tour with the ever amazing Prof. Lipstadt just a few years ago.  Adolf Eichmann was a transportation specialist who applied and honed his expertise in commercial shipping to the mass transportation of the human chattel of Jews to concentration camps during the Shoah.  I was not yet born in 1961 (I was born in 1968) and have no experience or memory of the trial.  Upon reading Lipstadt’s riveting account, I was, at first, but then not really, surprised to learn that Israel was attacked in the news media for its own strike against one of the masterminds of the Holocaust.   As opposed to a strategic assassination as in the case of Bin Laden, Israel apprehended Eichmann from his safe haven in Argentina and then brought him to justice through a comprehensive trial in Jerusalem.   While many celebrated Israel’s bold capture of one of the worst war criminals, Israel was also, at least at first, excoriated by significant media outlets in the US and world press, for example, the Washington Post and Time Magazine, for “animal vengeance” and the administration of “jungle law” (p. 24 ff).   Bin Laden and Eichmann alike were buried at sea to prevent their burial sites from becoming sites of pilgrimage and veneration (p. 147).  Lipstadt’s book is worth reading for her gripping narrative of Eichmann’s capture and trial, as well as her trenchant analysis and critique of Hannah Arendt’s legacy.  Lipstadt’s thesis and contribution to Holocaust studies, however, is that the Eichmann trial empowered, encouraged and validated survivor testimony ultimately enabling the survivors themselves to shape the ongoing memory and memorialization of the Shoah.

It is worth noting that while NATO in Libya and the US in Pakistan can get away with summary execution and collateral damage (i.e. the deaths of non-dangerous civilians), Israel gets broadsided at the UN for doing just that with Hamas terrorists.  Yom HaShoah v’HaGvurah is as good a time as any to renew our determination to defend ourselves, no matter what anyone else says.

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Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) begins tonight.  This year, I’ve collected a selection of oddments – thoughts, articles, and a new book – to share.

First the thoughts, in no particular order:

1) Discomfort over the Shoah haunted the Israeli psyche for decades after the end of World War II.  The inability to comprehend the scope and savagery of the Shoah made the Eichmann trial a pivotal event for young Sabras, who came to understand two things: that Jews did not willingly queue up to die; and that the monomaniacal pursuit of their end was a higher priority for some Nazis (like Eichmann) even than winning the war.

2) Isn’t it strange that at the same time that the Arab world blames European guilt for the Shoah for the creation of the State of Israel, they deny it ever happened?  (PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s “doctoral dissertation” contended that the Shoah was wildly exaggerated and that Zionists worked with the Nazis to murder Jews, while Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad denies the Shoah ever happened, but promises to finish the job himself.)

3) Had there been an Israel, the impact of the Shoah on the Jewish population (then and now) could have been dramatically reduced.  Had the British not reneged on every promise made to the Jews in Mandatory Palestine, there would have been an Israel much earlier.  Had the Jews actually been given the promised territory from the Jordan to the Mediterranean for the establishment of the “Jewish home,” Israel might still have had to fight its defensive wars against hostile Arab countries, but the homegrown Palestinian Arab terrorism would likely have been lessened rather than allowed to fester in now-disputed territory.

Carl Christian Vogel von Vogelstein, Portrait of a Young Woman Drawing

Now on to more substantial things.  There have been two articles in the past month in the Jerusalem Post (8 April and 22 April) about Nazi-looted paintings being returned to their rightful heirs.  Two paintings have been returned to the heirs of the Rosauer family in Vienna, one by Carl Christian Vogel von Vogelstein (1788-1868) and the other by Johann Baptist Lampi the Elder (1751-1830), both having been in German museum or government custody.  In addition, a landscape painting by Gustav Klimt is being returned to the grandson of its former Jewish owner by the Austrian Museum of Modern Arts.  (The heir to the Klimt painting has offered to help fund an expansion of the museum as a gesture of gratitude.)

In other news, a Toronto couple was recently featured on the Regis and Kelly Show.  Husband and wife met at Bergen-Belsen as teens when the 16-year-old girl saw the half-dead 18-year-old boy moving underneath a pile of dead corpses, extracted him, and nursed him for weeks.  They became separated when he woke up one day, saw no one around, and crawled to the nearest road where he was picked up by the British.  They met up later in Toronto, where each had gone to live, and the rest is history.  The couple, married over 60 years, are the parents of four, grandparents of 11, and great-grandparents of one.  It’s definitely not everyone who, when asked where they met their spouse, can answer, “Under a pile of corpses.”

How much is too much to spend on a wedding gown?  Some brides spend hundreds, others thousands.  (Mine was given me by a friend, but I still had to fork out the dough for alterations and a veil.)  So how does two pounds of coffee beans and a packet of cigs sound, in exchange for enough white silk to make a wedding gown and a white shirt for the chattan?  That’s what it cost Lilly Friedman’s fiancé, Ludwig, when the two of them decided to get married while living in the Bergen-Belsen DP camp.  The gown was later worn by Lilly’s sister at her wedding, then by a cousin.  Friedman says she lost count of how many brides wore the gown after 17.  It now hangs in the Bergen-Belsen Museum.

Alice Herz-Sommer, 107, and the oldest survivor of the Shoah, credits music with saving her life.  Although she lost her husband, family, and friends, she and her son (one of only 130 children to survive Terezin) survived and later made their lives in Israel and London.  Here is a trailer for a film entitled, “They Played For Their Lives,” in which Herz-Sommer and others attest to the power of music to lift spirits, to restore dignity, and to preserve life.

Deborah Lipstadt’s new book on the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem, entitled The Eichmann Trial, is being published at the 50th anniversary of the trial’s beginning.  Since the most prominent book published on the subject to date is Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann In Jerusalem, comparisons are both inevitable and instructive.  Arendt is reported as having had her mind made up about the trial before arriving (e.g. that Eichmann was not a vicious anti-Semite, that the Judenrate, Jewish councils, bore much of the responsibility for sending Jews to their deaths, and that the purpose of the trial should have been to administer justice, nothing else), while Lipstadt (perhaps because of her own day in court against an anti-Semite) sees the trial as having more than a simple juridical purpose.  Its impact on Israeli society, the effect of having survivors not directly connected with Eichmann testify about what happened to and around them, cannot be underestimated, she says.  Both Prime Minister Ben-Gurion and Gideon Hausner, the chief prosecuting attorney, set out to teach young Israelis about their people’s history through the trial.  With her decades of additional perspective, access to certain documents made available only in the last decade (including a memboir written by Eichmann in prison), and a more compassionate understanding of the uneven playing field between Nazis and Jews, Lipstadt offers a very different account of events.  Her book also focuses more on the mechanics of the trial, a step-by-step unfolding of events, where Arendt (who did not attend every session of the trial) focused much less on the process of the trial, and acted more as commentator than reporter.  For those unfamiliar with how the trial unfolded, Lipstadt’s is undoubtedly the more informative of the two books.  (I found Arendt’s background on each European country’s attitude and behavior toward the Jews to be instructive and interesting to compare, contrasting Denmark’s effort to save every Jew to the unrestrained violence in Romania, which exceeded in hysteria even the Nazi’s.)  Here is a Jerusalem Post editorial about the book and below, a video of Lipstadt talking about the trial.

I read recently that there is a movement afoot to recognize the righteousness of Jews who worked to save other Jews in the Shoah.  Until recently, Yad Vashem has declined to do this, reasoning that while the risk to non-Jewish rescuers makes for a simple criterion to recognize them, the same criterion cannot apply to Jewish rescuers, since they were all slated for extermination.  Alas, I cannot locate the article on the Jerusalem Post’s totally unhelpful website, but gleaned that that policy will soon come to an end, and a way has been found to identify and recognize Jewish rescuers officially.  Since Jews helped one another survive, resist, and escape in thousands of ways, large and small, from sharing a crust of bread, to stealing prayerbooks from the kapo’s private rooms, to assassinating Nazis and their collaborators, it will be interesting to see what criteria are formulated for this new (and much belated) form of special distinction.

On the road to becoming a traditional Jew, I read stacks of books about the Shoah.  While I learned something new from nearly every one of them, the ones which still stand out in my mind are Alfons Heck’s A Child of Hitler: Germany in the Days when God Wore a Swastika and The Burden of Hitler’s Legacy, autobiographical works about his boyhood in Germany when he was inducted into the Hitler Youth and became part of the machinery of Nazi Germany.  As an adult, Heck met Helen Waterman, a Jewish survivor of the Shoah, and together they traveled the lecture circuit, providing perspective from both sides of the barbed wire fence about life in the Third Reich.  The second book is Rena Kornreich Gelissen’s Rena’s Promise, a firsthand account of a Jewish teen’s survival with her sister.  Details which have stayed with me since reading it 14 years ago include her description of her peaceful, religious home, in which she would lovingly shave her mother’s head (her mother was a sheitl-wearer); her and her sister’s separation from their family at Auschwitz and assignment to “Kanada,” the clothing sorting detail, during which they found themselves one day sorting clothes belonging to their aunt, uncle, and cousins (by which they learned that they had been gassed); their selection as subjects for Mengele’s experiments on women, which they escaped by simply marching out of line to a building where they changed clothes, then got themselves reassigned to another work detail; and throughout the tale, the reinforcement of the observation made by a guide from Yad Vashem on our own tour of Poland, that people who had someone to live for had much greater odds of survival than people who went through the Shoah alone.

No single post can possibly contain all there is to say on this subject.  If anyone has come across links to helpful websites or blogs, or has any books or resources to share, please feel free.

May our enemies continue to be thwarted.

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Baruch dayan haemet

Refael Daniel Aryeh ben Tamar, the 16 year old Beit Shemesh boy critically injured in the recent missile attack on a school bus by Gaza terrorists, succumbed to his injuries and passed away yesterday.

In slightly better news (but only slightly), the exhaustive joint Shin Bet, IDF, and police investigation into the murder of the Fogel family in Itamar last month at last turned up two teenage vermin from the Arab village of Awarta.  The unrepentant teens, spawn of families with terrorist histories and rap-sheets, said they hoped to die martyrs, but they have it backwards; the Fogels died martyrs, and they will simply enjoy the good life in Israeli prison with the rest of their ilk who have been caught.

However, I would like to make an offer to any other would-be martyr: Come to my house, and I’ll be glad to help you die.  For free.

I don’t like going into the seder thinking more about Amalek than Yitziat Mitzrayim, but one did eventually lead to the other, and as Rav Binny Freedman said in his parasha shiur last Shabbat, the Exodus is not the end; it’s only the beginning.

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