Greetings family and friends. I have been teaching 7th graders about the Holocaust for about 6 years. Every year I learn something new and experience something new. Today was no different. I was given the honor to help create and lead the Yom Hashoah service at HUC this morning. We invited the Israeli Rabbinical Students to join us and one of the students helped us to create the service. I knew today would be hard, but I don't think I was prepared really for the rush of emotion I experienced and continue to experience today.
I have been in Israel during Yom Hashoah before. I have even helped students to grapple with the seriousness and emotion of this day. It's different in America. Our care and remembering is not different in America, but there is something different about being in Israel on this day. As 10:00 A.M. comes around and the siren begins, it's a very hard moment, or moments. As you see all the cars come to a sudden stop and experience all of the drivers getting out of their cars in respect and rememberance...it's an experience you can't and won't experience anywhere else. As a matter of fact, there was a baby who cried from the moment the Siren started until the Siren finished. I couldn't help but think how appropriate that was. That little baby, who truly couldn't have comprehended the significance of this day, captured the feelings of all of us in his cry.
Each year on Yom Hashoah, I am reminded of our family friend, Max Krautler, who we drove ride to Kabbalat Shabbat services every week. He didn't have a car, so he depended on us to bring him to Synagogue. He was the first Holocaust survivor I ever met. When I first asked him to speak at my elementary school about his experiences, he refused. It was too hard for him to bring back all of that emotion and those awful experiences. Then, a couple of years later, he approached me. I have never been so interested in someone's life as I was in his. I always felt a special connection to "Grandpa" Max. I used to go to his house on the weekends just to spend time with him. I remember the first time he showed me his tattoo, his Nazi number. I will never forget you, Max, and the immense struggles you lived with your whole life.
At the end of the Shoah ceremony, one of my classmates told a story of two women from Hungary who met on the train to Auschwitz. They occupied the awful 3 day journey by getting to know each other. One of the two girls told the other she had a male friend back home who would be perfect for her. They vowed to meet back at her home town once the war was over and their hell was over.
While in the camp, one of the girls kept alive by the promise of meeting this new male friend. She also dreamed of being reaquainted with her new friend. After the war, she went back to Hungary to look for her friend. Miraculously, she found her friend, was introduced to the male friend, fell in love and married him. She today has 3 children, and many grandchildren. One of the granddaughters is the girlfriend of my classmate.
It is stories like this that help me to realize that we're still here, and we have so much hope for the future. It also reminds me how important Israel is for the Jewish people to survive. I may not always agree with what Israel does, and I may struggle with life in Israel at times. But the bottom line is that I am able to live in Israel, and this is a benefit I shall never take for granted. As long as Israel lives, we will never forget, and we will always remember.
“No one yet knows what awaits the Jews in the twenty-first century, but we must make every effort to ensure that it is better than what befell them in the twentieth, the century of the Holocaust.” - by Benjamin Netanyahu