Thursday, April 19, 2012

YOM HASHOAH: We are all survivors

Today is Yom HaShoah.  
The Holocaust Remembrance Day. 

"Those who endured the horrors of the camps are not the onlyHolocaust survivors. That group includes a wide range of Jews from all over the world. At the beginning of the 1980s, Ed Koch, mayor of New York City, invited me to his office. He is  a warm Jew, sensitive and emotional, a great lover of Israel and the Jewish people.
At our first meeting, he introduced himself to me and declared that he was also a Holocaust survivor. Out of politeness, I refrained from asking him what exactly he survived and where he had been during the Second World War. I wanted to give him a chance to tell his story himself. He said that he had been born in the Bronx and had lived his whole life in New York, but insisted that he was a real survivor. Smiling, I dared to ask how that could be- and Ed Koch began to explain.
Years earlier, he had traveled to Germany for an educational trip. At one of the stops, the guide showed the group the globe that had sat on Hitler's desk. "It reminded me of Charlie Chaplain's movie about the great dictator. But unlike the one in Chaplain's movie," Koch recounted, "that big globe had lots of numbers written on it in black marker. When the guide spun the globe, Europe blackened with numbers. Other continents had far fewer black marks. The guide explained that when World War II broke out, Hitler recorded the Jewish population of each country. After all, they represented his life's goal. Albania, for example, bore the number 1 for the single Jew living there. Our enemy decided that he would not rest as long as that one Jew from Albania, a total stranger to him, remained alive. The territory of the United States bore the number six million.[The population statistics are slightly inaccurate] That includes me," said Ed Koch with undisguised anger. "So I am also a Holocaust survivor-if the Allies hadn't stopped the Nazi beast, no doubt I would have been destroyed."
I shook his hand warmly and said, "Today I have learned an important lesson from you, and I will carry it home with me to Israel. I've heard that not all Jewish communities feel a connection to Holocaust Day. From now on, I'll tell them about the Jew born in New York who lived all his life in an American city, but who feels like a Holocaust survivor..."

A story From Rabbi Israel Meir Lau's book "Out of the Depths" (p. 241-242)  


Imagine this: you are on a cramped train en route to an annihilation camp with your family, when your father throws you out the window hoping that you will survive. You then remain hiding until you are betrayed by one of your classmates. They arrest you and send you to Auschwitz-Birkenau. What are the odds that you will  survive? Would you have hope? Where would you be now? Come and meet Annie Bleiberg , an Holocaust survivor, to find out where this story continues. 

Tonight, April 19, 2012 , 7.30 PM. Sha'are Shalom, 
54 Steamboat Rd, Great Neck, NY.  

(Israel and Zionism Committee of UMJCA and MYC)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

YOM HASHOAH: My personal testimony

My parents were not born in Europe. Neither were my grandparents. In our family, from my mother side (Syria) and from my father side (Morocco) no one was sent to a concentration camp. My parents, my sisters and me, we were all born in the peaceful Argentina.

Every year in Yom haShoah, in the Jewish day school I attended in Buenos Aires (Bet-Sefer Talpiot) we watched with my classmates the horrific black and white documentaries which showed the trains of death, the corpses, the crematoriums, the gas chambers. I cried, we all cried. For our brothers and sisters. For the elders and infants, brutally murdered by the Nazis, yemach shemam.....

But one time, when I was in High School, we had a different kind a Yom haShoah. Our principal, Mr. Eliezer Shlomowitz, invited a Holocaust survivor to speak to us, which at that time was not the standard way of commemorating Yom haShoa.

After telling us his personal shocking story, and how he survived Auschwitz, he told us:

"I know that you have not seen the Shoah for yourselves. I know that for you the Shoah is History.  Modern Jewish history. Well documented and all, but at the end of the day, it is just history. But today, you have heard my story, and you have seen me. Now you bear on your young shoulders a tremendous new responsibility. Now you have become witnesses of the Shoah. How so? Because MY EYES saw the horrors of the Shoah. MY EYES did not see the Shoah in the aseptic black and white documentaries, where you can't see the red of blood. MY EYES saw it all. They saw the most intense and hideous colors. Now, I want you to look at MY EYES. So one day you will be able to tell your children: 'I haven't seen the Shoah myself. But MY EYES have seen THE EYES that SAW the Shoah. Now, my son, look at my eyes and bear witness yourself

I looked at his eyes. Old, gray and fatigued eyes.  And that was when the Shoah became part of my personal memory. That is when I became a Shoah witness

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

SEFIRAT HAOMER: At what time the new day begins?

Yesterday, we explained that the counting of the days of 'omer connects between the Holiday of Pesach, the commemoration of our physical freedom, and Shabuot, the day we received the Tora.  Without getting out of Egypt, it would not have been possible for us to becomes God's chosen people. In Egypt we were, albeit involuntarily, under the command of Pharaoh.  Only once we were set free by Pharaoh (beshallach Par'o et ha'am) we were free to choose being under God's commandment, following His instructions as prescribed in the Tora. 
The days of the Omer are counted at night. Because for us the new day starts at night. 

At what precise time the new day starts and the old day ends is a complicated technical Halakhic matter. 

Very briefly: there are two possible astronomic indicators for the new day:
  1. Sunset. and 2. The appearance of the stars in the dark sky. 
All Rabbis agree that before sunset it is still considered day # 1. And all agree that after three medium stars are visible, it is considered day #2. The time in between sunset and the stars (twilight zone or ben hashemashot) fluctuates between 15 min (13 ½ to be precise!) to 30 minutes or more, depending on many variables (geographic location, year's season, etc.). Regarding Shabbat, for example, we take the strictest stand receiving Shabbat before sunset and ending Shabbat after the stars are visible.

In our community, the starting time to count the 'omer is 15 minutes after sunset. (In exceptional circumstances Rabbis would authorize to do it earlier, but never before sunset).

Preparing ourselves  for Yom HaShoa

Click HERE to watch 
a moving video filmed at the Holocaust memorial in Miami Beach. With Kenneth Treister,  the sculptor/architect of this amazing memorial work of art.  

Monday, April 16, 2012

SEFIRAT HAOMER: Counting the days

In the times of the Bet haMiqdash, during the second day of Pesach, an offering was presented in the altar of the Temple which consisted of a preparation of one 'omer of barley flour, signaling that from that moment the Jews are allowed to consume from the new harvest (chadash). 'omer is a Biblical unit of measurement of approximately one gallon, and by extension, it became the name of that important offering. 

Following the Biblical instructions the offering of the 'omer also indicated the beginning of a period of seven weeks or forty-nine days until the Holiday of Shabuot (Vaiyqra --Leviticus-- 23:15-16).

This is known as Sefirat ha'omer --the Mitzva of counting 49 days from the 'omer to Shabuot. Thus, the Holiday of Pesach, our physical or political freedom, is connected with Shabuot, when we achieve our 'mental'--spiritual and cultural-- freedom by receiving the Tora.  
Our rabbis explained that unlike physical liberty, mental freedom does not happen overnight. It is a long process of deprograming. In the case of the people of Israel, it consisted among other things of getting rid of all the former habits of slave-mentality and learning to take charge of their own lives. They also had to recognize and leave aside the pagan and immoral practices of the idol-worshipping Egyptian society (tum-a) which were obviously incompatible with the principles of our Tora. In Pesach we got out of Egypt. And during the days of 'omer we had to get Egypt out of our system in preparation for the big day:  The giving of the Torah and the establishment of our covenant (berit) with the Almighty celebrated at Mount Sinai.
The counting of the Omer takes place at night and it is preceded by a by a blessing: ...Asher Kideshanu beMitzvotav veTzivanu al Sefirat ha'Omer. Then we proceed to count the day and the week. Today, for example, we count 9 days; that is: one week and two days from the 'omer.  
(to be continued...)
Preparing ourselves  for Yom HaShoa
Click here