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Post  Admin on Tue 09 Jul 2019, 2:19 pm

Messages from Your Loved Ones After They’re Gone
Jul 7, 2019  |  by Rabbi Benjamin Blech
Messages from Your Loved Ones After They’re Gone
Obsessed with death, a child of a Holocaust survivor creates an app that enables you to leave meaningful messages to loved ones.

The two saddest words in the English language, it’s often been said, are “if only.”

Our lives are like a breath; our days like a fleeting shadow (Psalms 144:4). Our loved ones pass away and we can no longer share their presence. “If only…” is the universal cry of the bereaved desperately seeking continued connection and conversation with those who made their lives meaningful.

If only I could hear my mother’s voice once again reassuring me of her love, granting me more of her wisdom. If only my father could be here with me to give me strength and courage. If only I would’ve asked them the questions I never bothered to ask. If only I would’ve gotten to truly know them as my closest friends. Death, it would seem, has closed the door to any further interaction. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of death is its final verdict of silence from beyond the grave, its cruel response to “if only” with the harsh judgment that now nothing more is possible, it is simply too late.

Thanks to Gaby Eirew that seeming inevitability may have changed.

Gaby is the child of a Holocaust survivor. Her mother, Denise, was smuggled out of the Drancy camp in France in 1942 as a four-year-old by the French resistance, while her parents, unbeknownst to her, were murdered in Auschwitz. Denise was also given a fake postcard pretending to be from her parents, saying that if she cried for them, they would not come back – a way of protecting her, because it was feared that if she displayed any emotion about her parents it would draw attention to her true Jewish identity, and put her life at risk. Gaby’s mother never really knew her own parents, nor could she ever truly grieve for them.

Gaby Eirew with her mother Denise.

That awareness surely played a role in Gaby’s personal reaction to death of her parents in the space of a month followed very shortly by the sudden passing of her best friend. She found herself overwhelmed by her own grief while at the same time trying to imagine the impact her friend’s death had on her three young children.

"I imagined my kids like hers, growing up with everything that they knew directly from their mum stopping there and then. I wanted to write to them all and reassure them and tell them the most useful things, but I could not sum her up. Some things I realized the children would hear from their father and grandparents, but some things would surely have to come straight from her," Gaby told BBC. The tragedy that befell Gaby’s own mother, never really getting to know the woman who bore her and gave her life, was now repeated albeit by other circumstances with the passing of her best friend.

Gaby became obsessed with death, with its finality and with its closure of possibility for further sharing. She went around, as she put it “like a lunatic”, asking hundreds of people, “what have you prepared for your death? What messages have you left for your loved ones?”

The app empowers you to continue your conversations with loved ones by way of messages prepared before taking leave from Earth.
And so was born the idea for a remarkable app that would help children both to mourn for their parents as well as in a sense to keep them alive. A free app that would help them to continue their relationship. It has been used by tens of thousands of people in more than 30 countries to leave a legacy of video messages for their families.

With technology, we can achieve a small measure of immortality – our image, our voices, our wisdom, our advice, our memories – on video recordings. If, when we leave on lengthy trips or seek to maintain contact with family living at a distance we make use of Skype, why not – Gaby reasoned – continue our conversations with loved ones by way of messages prepared before taking leave from Earth.

So Gaby surveyed thousands of mourners to find out what they most missed aside from the physical presence of the deceased. In that way the prerecorded messages could be relevant in the most personal of ways. And the findings were fascinating.

When she asked people what they most wished they could have asked their parents, "The single most important thing that people said they wanted to hear was that their parent was proud of them, that they loved them and to hear them say that with their name," Gaby says. "So often people were told that their mum or dad loved them so much, but they needed and wanted to hear it". demonstrating the importance, as parents, to take advantage of the opportunities to say those words to our children during our lifetimes. We just don’t say them often enough.

Sometimes mourners wanted to hear a very specific set of words. "They wished they could ask their parent, 'I remember you whispering something to me every night, what was it? I want to hear it again.' It could have been a prayer, or nursery rhyme or other words that became part of a nightly ritual and helped them know they were loved before they fell to sleep”. This reminds us of the importance of the seemingly unimportant – the rituals of everyday communication which convey our love and our values, such as putting our children to sleep by reciting with them words of the Shema.

Another discovery was that bereaved children often carry a huge amount of guilt. "For a parent to say in a message 'I'm sick, I'm dying, it's not your fault, I don't want to die, I'm happy you get to live on and you get to have a full life,' that's really important." And conversely, that will remind us that while are alive we must be careful not to give them lifelong guilt by implying that their disappointments are the cause of our failures.

Gaby was also surprised to hear many of the more mundane – and quite specific – questions that children had for their parents. What floor cleaner did you use? That smell reminds me of my childhood. What perfume did you wear? I want to wear it too. What is the recipe for that soup you used to make? Satisfying children's curiosity about these kinds of details can really help with grieving, she says. And perhaps the importance of these questions to mourners can make us far more sensitive to the importance of creating memories during our children’s lifetimes when we are still with them – memories like the smell of the kitchen preparing for Shabbat and the odors of the holidays and their special foods.

Essentially, Gaby summarized, they were looking for advice and guiding principles that would help them make important decisions as their lives unfolded without their parents. What a remarkable realization it should be for us that the most important thing we can leave our descendants is a legacy of values rather than a lucrative financial inheritance.

Gaby's app, called RecordMeNow, is essentially a series of prompts that helps people to create a video library for their children, broken down into subject areas, based on Gaby's findings. A key aim was to get parents to record that simple message in video form for posterity

Gaby’s mission, to have people record meaningful messages to their loved ones before their passing, has a biblical precedent. That is what Jacob did as he called his children to his deathbed for a final blessing. Jacob knew that his words of guidance would have far greater impact with the realization by his sons of his imminent death. Death lends unparalleled significance to the words of someone we dearly love.

The RecordMeNow app is like a digital update to this idea. For the time being it is one of the best ways I know of achieving a lifespan even longer than 120.

Rabbi Benjamin BlechMore by this Author >

Rabbi Benjamin Blech, a frequent contributor to Aish, is a Professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University and an internationally recognized educator, religious leader, and lecturer. He is the author of 19 highly acclaimed books with combined sales of over a half million copies, A much sought after speaker, he is available as scholar in residence in your community. See his website at rabbibenjaminblech.com.
Click here to purchase Rabbi Blech’s new book, Hope Not Fear: Changing the Way We View Death.

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Post  Admin on Thu 04 Jul 2019, 9:35 pm

 Talking with Angels
Jun 29, 2019  |  by Menucha Chana Levin
Talking with Angels
Margit (Gitta) Mallasz, swimming champion, artist and writer, saved 100 Jewish women and children in Budapest.

Margit (Gitta) Mallasz was born in 1907 in Ljubljana, Yugoslavia, now Slovenia, to an upper-class family. Her father was an officer in the Hungarian army and her mother was Austrian. At the age of 15 Gitta moved to Budapest where she became a champion swimmer. Her best friends, Lili Straus, a sports teacher, and Hanna Dallos, a graphic designer, were both Jewish. After Hanna married Joseph Kreutzer they opened a graphic art studio and asked Gitta, who also had a talent for graphic art, to work with them.

Gitta and her brother in 1914
As anti-Semitism grew more widespread in Budapest, Gitta became the official manager of the studio for Hanna and Joseph. When the World War II began, the Jewish couple relocated to a small house outside Budapest, keeping a cautiously low profile. In March, 1944, when the Germans invaded Hungary, the friends closed the studio and returned to Budapest. Two months later, after the Jewish ghetto was created, Joseph Kreutzer was arrested and never seen again.

Then one of Gitta’s friends introduced her to Father Pal Klinda, a brave priest who sheltered Jewish women in a sewing workshop producing military uniforms. When Father Klinda asked Gitta to take charge of the workshop, she agreed if her friends Hanna and Lili could work there too.

Hanna and Joseph, Gitta, and Lili

Since the workshop was contributing to the German war effort, it was legally permitted to employ Jews on condition they were registered and authorized. Father Klinda and Gitta defied that regulation and sheltered many unauthorized children of the Jewish workers.

In October, 1944, the Arrow Cross, a fascist organization took control of the Hungarian government and started a brutal reign of terror for the Jews in Budapest. Thousands were tortured, abused and murdered in the final six months of the war and their property stolen or destroyed. During this fearful time, Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg saved thousands of Budapest Jews using Swedish protective passports. Other foreign diplomats such as Giorgio Perlasca, Carl Lutz and George Mandel-Mantello also organized false documents and safe houses for them in Budapest. However, despite these valiant efforts, only 200,000 Jews (about 25%) managed to survive the Holocaust.

The situation in Gitta’s workshop grew more dangerous as the Arrow Cross militia searched for Jews throughout the city. Then a group of SS men moved into a villa right next door to the workshop. In November 1944 Arrow Cross men, headed by Father Andras Kun, a virulent anti-Semite, broke into the workshop. The vicious Father Kun wanted to destroy the Jews that were being save by Father Klinda. Claiming the workshop did not have a permit, Kun insisted that Gitta should give him a list of names of the Jewish workers. He threatened to shoot her if she refused.

Realizing some of the Jewish women had already managed to escape, Gitta provided Kun with a smaller number of names. The remaining women were taken away but fortunately one of the workers notified Father Klinda. He managed to save them and brought them back to the workshop.

After this petrifying ordeal, Gitta persuaded a German soldier to give her a document certifying the workshop was legal under the auspices of the SS. She even had the courage to complain to the SS men in the villa next door that her workshop was being harassed by the Arrow Cross.

Despite her brave efforts, the Arrow Cross men returned one month later. Gitta called the SS men and began negotiating with the Arrow Cross intruders. That gave most of the women enough time to escape through a hole in the wall which she had prearranged in case of necessity.

Thanks to Gitta’s foresight, 100 women and children managed to escape. Tragically, 16 were captured, including her close friends Hanna and Lili, and taken to the Ravensbruck concentration camp.

Eva Langley-Danos was the only survivor of these 16 women. Upon her return from Ravensbruck, she wrote an account of their fate. This account, together with the testimonies of the women and children who were sheltered in the workshop and escaped, later enabled Yad Vashem to verify the story.

After the war, each priest got what he deserved. Father Klinda was honored by Yad Vashem while Kun was executed.

Gitta remained in postwar Communist Hungary to support her impoverished parents and other family members, despite feeling stifled under Soviet oppression.

Fifteen years later, after her parents died and her nephews and nieces reached adulthood, Gitta “chose freedom” by fleeing the iron curtain to France in 1960.

Her life changed completely. She resumed her career as a graphic artist and married for the first time at age 53.

Although mourning the loss of her close friends, Gitta still had one tangible possession she had brought from Budapest. Consisting of several notebooks, these were transcripts of instructions Hannah claimed were given to her by an angel early in the war. After many years, Gitta decided to translate these spiritual notebooks from Hungarian into French and publish them as a book. “Talking with Angels” became a best seller and was translated into many other languages. Gitta always rejected the idea that she was the author of the book insisting, “I am merely the ‘scribe’ of the angels.”

However, for a hundred Jewish women and children from Budapest, Gitta herself was the courageous ‘angel’ who had saved their lives.

Spending her final peaceful years in the French countryside writing her books, she died on May 25, 1992 at the age of 85. In 2011, Gitta Mallasz was recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem.

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Post  Admin on Wed 03 Jul 2019, 9:17 am

 With Strings Attached
Jun 30, 2019  |  by Emuna Braverman
With Strings Attached
My boyfriend’s family showers us with gifts and money and expect a say in the most important issues in our life.

Dear Emuna

My boyfriend and I have been together now for three years. We are very serious and eventually plan to marry, travel, have children, etc. I am crazy about him and vice versa. However, his family lacks boundaries and is constantly trying to dictate our future together. They have always given us money, gifts, etc. and now plan to pay for our house and wedding. I was not raised to accept things being handed to me so this is very tough to accept.

I have also learned that the money and gifts come with strings attached. These strings have not been formally stated but they have said they want to have a say in when we have kids, how many kids we have, where we live, where our kids will go to school, what I need to do to be a perfect wife to their son, etc. I’m in an uncomfortable position because I don’t know how to address this issue and never have had to in the past.

I should also note that my boyfriend’s older brother is the most disrespectful towards me and his mother always defends him. He is very misogynistic and believes that I have no right to work as a woman and should be a housewife. I love my boyfriend so much and I would hate for our relationship to take a turn for the worst. He has recently begun defending me and also stood up to them about what he actually wants with his future, but now they blame me for his “deviant behavior”.

All Tangled Up

Dear Tangled,

You raise a lot of serious issues here. The first and the most important are the “strings” from your family to be. King Solomon writes in Proverbs that “one who hates gifts shall live”; in other words we don’t want to be dependent on others. I respectfully recommend that you immediately start to disengage from this unhealthy pattern you have begun. Refuse all presents, pay for your own wedding (even if it has to be smaller) and accept apartment living until you can afford your own house.

I know this sounds drastic but while you are taking from them, you put yourself in a position of dependence and you give them power. If you are financially independent, you will be better able to set boundaries. It is very difficult to give with no strings attached (although there are those healthy parents who do) but the strings here are ridiculous, inappropriately invasive and destructive. It is none of their business when you have kids, how many kids you will have, where they will go to school and so on. That level of involvement (read: power) in your lives is very significant and not their place.

In fact, even without money involved, I would be worried about in-laws who imagine that they should have a say in these matters. You say that your boyfriend has recently begun defending you. I am sorry to say this and I don’t want to cause a rift in your relationship but he has to do much more. He doesn’t just have to defend you; he needs to defend the relationship. Quite frankly, he needs to tell your parents to butt out, that these issues are none of their business and that they have no say in any of these areas. He can say it politely and respectfully of course but he should be very clear that this is non-negotiable.

If he can’t or won’t do this, it is doubtful you will be able to have a successful marriage. Parents need to keep out of their children’s marriages. The Torah makes it absolutely clear that you must be his first priority, as it says, “A man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife” (Genesis, 2:24). If he can’t accept and fully internalize this, if he can’t take your position against them and, if necessary, create a distance from them until the relationship can be normalized, then you will not be able to make a marriage work. I hate to say such a thing but it’s better to know in advance.

He MUST make it clear to his parents that if they continue to make these demands on the two of you, they will lose their relationship not only with you (which may be their goal) but with him as well. If he is able to do this with his parents, then his brother should be easy. And basically irrelevant. You can avoid him more. He doesn’t have as much emotional power or pull and certainly no financial one. The real issue is his parents.

So, again, your boyfriend has to stand up to his parents, very assertively, and insist that they back off from their invasive involvement in your relationship. And the two of you need to come to an agreement about living within your means and not take these gifts, so you won’t be beholden to people who may love your boyfriend but have attached too many strings that reflect their own agenda. Be strong and good luck.

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Post  Admin on Mon 01 Jul 2019, 9:28 am

World War II Hero Speaks Out
Jun 30, 2019  |  by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller
World War II Hero Speaks Out
Robert Hilliard wants us to follow his courageous example of standing up for what’s right.

Robert Hilliard isn’t done speaking out. In an Aish.com exclusive interview, he explained why standing up for what’s right is just as important to him today as it was over 70 years ago after the Holocaust.

During World War II, Hilliard was a young private in the US Army, tasked with reporting on local news items for his company’s newspaper. After the liberation of Nazi concentration camps, Pvt. Hilliard was shocked to see that American and other Allied soldiers were continuing to keep Jews prisoners, in some cases acting with extreme levels of brutality and cruelty that echoed the Nazis.

In a 1997 memoir, Hilliard wrote about how he and another young Jewish private, Ed Herman, stood up for what was right.

Surviving the Americans: The Continued Struggle of the Jews After Liberation (Seven Stories Press, 1997) recounted the terrible scenes that Hilliard and Herman witnessed in the immediate aftermath of World War II. They were stationed near a makeshift hospital being run in a monastery near Munich, which housed both Jewish and Nazi patients. Despite their dire condition, the hospital staff ignored the Jews, lavishing attention on Nazi soldiers instead. To Hilliard’s and Herman’s shock and horror, many of their fellow American soldiers did the same.

The author in uniform at Kaufbeuren Air Base, June, 1945

After donating supplies to the Jewish survivors and encouraging other soldiers to do the same, Hilliard and Herman decided to implement a radical plan. They penned an impassioned letter describing the neglect Jewish survivors were receiving. They tried to wake up American readers, declaring that by standing idly by, “YOU ARE TO BLAME!”

Using their base’s newspaper printer, Hilliard and Herman copied their letters. “We mailed them out by the hundreds,” Hilliard recalled, “to wives, friends, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and neighbors, to synagogues, clubs, organizations, fraternities and sororities, to Jewish community groups, to everybody and anybody who might care enough to send a package, or contact a senator or congressman or any other politician who might by conscience or constituent pressure be goaded into asking questions and getting action.”

Their letter spurred scores of people to send emergency food and medicine to the survivors – and Hilliard believes that a copy reached President Truman who ordered sweeping changes vastly improving the way American troops treated Jewish survivors.

speaking about genocide

At the age of 94, Robert Hilliard is continuing to speak out, educating people about what he saw in the aftermath of the Holocaust and urging them to follow his example of standing up for what is right. He spoke with Aish.com via telephone from his home in Florida, where he lives in retirement with his second wife Joanne and continues to write.

“I grew up in Brooklyn during the Depression,” Hilliard explains, “and I saw what that did to people.” One of his earliest memories is watching a grown man during the Depression punching a steel grate, crying and “Saying I have no job, I have no place to live.”

“What kind of existence is this when you have all these people living high on the hog...and you have people starving?” Hilliard wondered to himself. It seemed profoundly wrong to him that people who were secure and comfortable could ignore their fellow humans when they were in such distress.

“You either say okay I’ll get mine, or you say I’m a human being and I’m not going to stand for this.” From an early age, he decided to not stand and ignore suffering.

at entrance to Jewish Hospital at St. Ottilien

It was this inner determination that gave him, along with Ed Herman, the strength to persevere in 1945, doing all they could to help their fellow Jews and to educate others about their plight.

After World War II, Hilliard married, raised a family, and started a career, first working for the US Federal Government and later as a professor of Mass Communication at Emerson College near Boston. He lost touch with Ed Herman for a time, who had stayed in Europe after the war and worked to help smuggle Jews into the land of Israel, and later lived in New York.

After he retired, however, Hilliard once again started speaking out about his experiences following the war. He started working on his memoirs and got in touch with Herman to make sure he accurately remembered the activities he was writing about. As both men moved into retirement, they decided to make this next phase of their lives one of education and activism. They began travelling the world together speaking about the Holocaust and their roles in helping bring attention to the plight of Jewish survivors in the weeks after liberation and spreading the message that “bigotry, discrimination and racism in any form is harmful and should not be tolerated.”

Since Ed Herman passed away in 2007, Hilliard has felt a renewed sense of urgency. “I tell people if you see something wrong in your country, then you need to take a stand against it and try to stop it. I tell young children you have to take a stand if you see anything that smacks of racism or bigotry.”

He hopes that his example will inspire others to oppose evil wherever they see it.

“We were two young soldiers,” Hilliard says, “who saw something wrong and decided to do something about it. We stuck our necks out and thank God we were successful.”

“We cannot change history but we can change the future,” Hilliard says. “Don’t run away from the problems you see. Do what you can to make the world a little better, a little sweeter.”

About the Author

Dr. Yvette Alt MillerMore by this Author >

Yvette Alt Miller earned her B.A. at Harvard University. She completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Jewish Studies at Oxford University, and has a Ph.D. In International Relations from the London School of Economics. She lives with her family in Chicago, and has lectured internationally on Jewish topics. Her book Angels at the table: a Practical Guide to Celebrating Shabbat takes readers through the rituals of Shabbat and more, explaining the full beautiful spectrum of Jewish traditions with warmth and humor. It has been praised as "life-changing", a modern classic, and used in classes and discussion groups around the world.

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Post  Admin on Tue 25 Jun 2019, 10:04 pm

A Critical Pre-Camp Parental Safety Talk
Jun 23, 2019  |  by Elisheva Liss, LMFT
A Critical Pre-Camp Parental Safety Talk
In addition to protecting our children from becoming victims, we need to minimize the likelihood of their becoming perpetrators.

As we label the socks and pack up the duffels, we scan the emails about the “pre-camp safety talks” and try to arm our kids with a specific type of personal awareness. Our communities have, thankfully, been making progress in the area of educating children towards body boundaries, good vs inappropriate touch, reporting to safe adults, and general safety. There is still a lot of room for improvement, but I would like to add a piece that I’m not sure gets as much attention, but could help this cause:

We tend to focus on trying to make efforts to protect our children from becoming victims, which is vital, but equally important is educating our children to minimize the likelihood of their becoming perpetrators as well. And I’m not only talking about the teens.

Very, very often in therapy, we hear that a child’s first experience with sexual touch was with another child. Sometimes the other child is a bit older, but other times, they are peers. Sometimes these experiences register as consensual, but sometimes they register as traumatic. Even when it does feel enjoyable for them, often their bodies and minds encode the episodes with guilt, shame, disgust, and other feelings and associations that create problems and impact sexual, emotional, or relational functioning later on in significant ways. What some may not realize is that a child who knowingly or unwittingly takes advantage of another child in this way, is also at risk for psychological damage, not to mention legal repercussions.

So when you are sitting your child down and discussing how no one is allowed to hurt them, touch them in private parts, ask them to look at or touch them in sexual ways, etc., please take the extra minute or two to teach the reciprocal message as well: You are likewise not allowed to hurt, stare at or touch anyone else’s private parts, or ask them to do that for you.

The thought of one’s own child being at risk for such a thing is difficult to imagine, but this is going on in most camps and schools, often right under the noses of caring adults and counselors, and often involving children from wholesome families. And sometimes, (though not always) children acting out sexually with one another, is an indicator that one or more of the kids have been touched inappropriately by an adult or older teen, and is mimicking the behavior.

If you have a teen child who will be responsible for younger children, I would encourage them to not to even allow themselves to get into situations where they are isolated one on one with a younger child; it decreases the likelihood of secretive, inappropriate touch, and the danger of mistaken or false allegations, both of which can ruin lives.

So while we need to continue to educate children for their own protection, we should also add education and instruction that promotes the safety of others around them too, and hopefully shrink the epidemic of child sexual abuse to whatever extent possible.

This article originally appeared on Nefesh.org

About the Author

Elisheva Liss, LMFTMore by this Author >
Elisheva Liss, LMFT maintains a private practice in Far Rockaway, NY. She treats adults and couples, specializing in issues of intimacy and sexuality, and frequently lectures on these topics, as well as Torah, and general mental health. She can be reached at: speaktosomeone@gmail.com

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Post  Admin on Mon 24 Jun 2019, 12:23 am

The Orthodox Jew in SS Uniform
Jun 22, 2019  |  by Akiva Bigman
The Orthodox Jew in SS Uniform
Posing as an SS officer behind enemy lines, Brickman's job was to catch Nazis attempting to flee Germany for South America.

Haim Brickman was just five years old when he learned that his stepfather had been a Nazi officer. It was the 1960s, and the newly blended family had just relocated to the Philadelphia suburbs for Haim’s stepfather William’s, academic career. While rummaging through some boxes in the basement, Haim discovered an SS uniform, officer insignia, Nazi flags, documents in German and worst of all, a picture of his stepfather in full Nazi uniform.

Shocked at what he had found, Haim ran up the basement stairs, his mind racing. Could my mother have unknowingly married a Nazi? What else is he hiding from us? What crimes was he involved in?

Panting and out of breath, Haim entered the kitchen and yelled out, “Mommy, Daddy is a Nazi!” Haim’s mother smiled. That was the moment when he learned his family’s big secret.

William Brickman, far right,
with his fellow agents, in Nazi uniform
Haim is my uncle. I have known about his stepfather for a few years now, and every year I am reminded of his past on Holocaust Remembrance Day. This year, though, I decided to look into the matter. I’ve been collecting countless documents from personal archives and a few institutions in Israel and the US. Naturally, not everything was preserved in full. Some of the stories lack detail, while in other instances, there are discrepancies between the various documents and Haim’s childhood memories. But nevertheless, what I have been able to learn makes for a fascinating and inspiring story.

This is the incredible story of William Zeev Brickman, a professor of education, an American spy and an emissary behind the Iron Curtain.

William Wolfgang Brickman was born in June 1913 in Manhattan, the son of Shalom-David, a German Jew, and Lahia-Sarah, a Jewish woman originally from the Polish town of Jedwabne, the infamous site where the Polish locals murdered their Jewish neighbors.

As a member of an Orthodox Jewish family, Brickman mostly spoke Yiddish at home, while he learned English and other languages out on the street. His father died when he was young, apparently the result of a self-inflicted umbilical hernia aimed at helping avoid the military draft back in Europe.

William was a towering, vibrant boy. When he registered for college, he decided to play it safe and major in something he knew he would be good at. With a background in German and Yiddish, he decided to register for the German and education programs at the City University of New York.

Agent 004
During the 1930s, Brickman got his doctorate in German, Latin and education, managing to overcome the hostility and often anti-Semitism of some of the academic staff. His knowledge of Yiddish from home and knack for languages in general allowed him to develop great expertise in a number of languages, including full mastery of various local dialects. According to his academic resume, he could read 20 European languages, in addition to Latin and ancient Greek, three Asian and two African languages.

By the late 1930s, Brickman had a blossoming academic career, but World War II broke out and threw a wrench in his plans. In March 1943, one year after the US entered the war, he was drafted into the air force as a historian and German-language expert. In a letter of recommendation for an officers’ course, Brickman’s direct commander at his base in Fort Worth, Texas described him as “a scholar turned soldier, who proudly made the transition from civilian to military life.”

Brickman had requested to be drafted as an officer in the air force’s medical or chemical warfare units. All signs point to him having been convinced the war would serve as a sort of continuation of his academic career, but once again, fate would have other plans.

Brickman was drafted to the Office of Strategic Services, the US intelligence agency that would later become the CIA.
In late 1944, following the allied invasion of northern France, it was clear the demise of the Third Reich was a matter of time. The US military was on the lookout for German speakers when Brickman’s name came up. He was summoned to interviews that were presented to him as ascertaining whether he would be a good fit for the occupation forces in Germany after the war. Brickman was supposed to serve in the occupation forces’ postal service where his knowledge of German would be considered an advantage, they said.  He scored high marks on the language exams, and was accepted to the role. He didn’t know it at the time but his peaceful life was about to get a lot more interesting.

According to the military documents, Brickman was to be stationed with the US Counter Intelligence Corps 970th division, which operated in liberated territories in order to catch Nazi agents that had stayed behind. Between Jan. and Feb. of 1945, Brickman took an intelligence course at Fort Ritchie base in Maryland, in preparation for his being stationed in liberated Germany. According to Haim, at this stage there was yet another change in plans – Brickman was drafted to the Office of Strategic Services, the US intelligence agency that would later become the CIA.

At first, Brickman was alarmed. Beyond the challenges of being stationed overseas, he did not want to leave behind his mother, who was alone and suffering from a serious illness. As an Orthodox Jew, he also feared that on such a mission, he would not be able to maintain his religious way of life. Nevertheless, Brickman would soon be identified as Agent 004. Later on, his relatives would joke that Brickman had in fact preceded Agent 007, otherwise known as James Bond.

Setting the trap
Service in the OSS was particularly challenging, and Brickman’s unit was to be stationed inside Germany, behind enemy lines, in the twilight of the Third Reich. Their objective: to capture senior SS officers that tried to escape and evade capture. The plan was to parachute into the border area between Germany and then-Czechoslovakia – an area known for being a center where Nazis would head in order to flee the country, in particular to Argentina, and pose as senior officers to catch those attempting to flee.

For reasons that remain unclear, instead of parachuting in, the forces crossed the border by foot, setting up camp in Regensberg, Germany. This was made easier by the fact that the allied forces had already made significant progress, and the battle for Berlin was already in its advanced stages. The Germans began to destroy documents and archives, and the chaos that pervaded made it impossible to check the identities of agents posing as Nazi officers, thus allowing the agents to carry out their missions.

His unit offered Nazi officers a way out of the country, interrogated them and then foiled their escape plans.
The official military documents I found while researching this article do not add any information or details about this period. All I know is what Brickman himself said about this time in conversations with his stepson. As Brickman told it, his unit offered Nazi officers a way out of the country, interrogated them and then foiled their escape plans. Their working assumption was that the only people in the area with the means and desire to leave Germany would be senior officers in the SS and the Wehrmacht.

Their method went something like this: Some of the agents in the unit would go out in public, mainly to the bars the Nazi officers were known to frequent. After having given the appearance they had been drinking, the agents would begin to brag about how they could help those who had the money flee the country for South America. When someone would turn to the agents and ask for their help, they would direct them to a specific cabin where the agent would say they would find a Nazi officer with the connections and ability to get them out of the country. The Nazis would arrive at the cabin at night where they would be greeted by a secretary who would ask them a few questions about where they served, their ranking and the like. The secretary would then call Brickman, who would be waiting in the office inside.

Brickman would be dressed in SS fatigues, on his shoulder the insignia of a military rank higher than that of his guest.

According to Haim, his stepfather “made sure not to take things too far. He wanted to remain credible, but he wanted to be more senior than the Nazi in order for him to obey him and treat him with respect.”

In his conversation with the Nazi, Brickman would investigate the officer over his actions in the war and the places where he had served, before agreeing on a payment for his evacuation. Eventually, Brickman would send him a rendezvous point on the Czechoslovakian border and an agreed upon date when a group would prepare to leave for South America. When that date arrived, the Nazi officers would show up to the meeting point. But instead of finding their guides for the trip out of the country, they would find other OSS officers, who would take them hostage and transfer them to allied prisons. Other senior officers were taken to Nuremberg.

In one case, Brickman’s unit had received information about the presence of very high-ranking SS officer in one of the villages in the area, and the agents set out to arrest him. Brickman entered the room, gave him two minutes to pack before leaving. The officer protested, saying he had many possessions and needed more time. Brickman made it clear that if he was not ready, he would be arrested and dragged through the streets naked. Two minutes later, the officer was ready.

Brickman was involved in a mission to catch Martin Bormann, one of the heads of the German Nazi regime. While the allies suspected he was hanging around the Czechoslovakian border, there were no pictures of him available, so he could not be identified. Brickman arrived at the village where Bormann was born and located the school he had attended as a boy. It was there he found a photograph of Bormann, which he distributed to his fellow agents. According to Haim’s account, his father managed to get to the village where Bormann had apparently been hiding, although he did not ultimately succeed in catching him.

After the war, Brickman went back to working with the Counter Intelligence Services, where he was made responsible for Germany’s Deggendorf district. At one point, he was stationed with the security unit tasked with securing the area where the Nuremberg trials were being held in 1945. In this role, a disguised Brickman would try to infiltrate the site in civilian clothes, with the aim of exposing weaknesses in the security system there. From time to time, when he would walk around among the Nazis’ cells, he would run into a prisoner he had helped capture. He would take the opportunity to remove his military hat and reveal his kippah underneath. “He wanted to show them that fate had been reversed, and the victims had become the masters,” Haim said.

In the months after the war, Haim would often serve as a witness at Jewish wedding ceremonies for concentration camp survivors conducted by a rabbi from the US military.

Brickman set himself a goal of collecting as many materials as possible from the Nazi era during his stay in postwar Germany, in order to preserve and document them for the sake of historical remembrance.

William Brickman stands in front of an
anti-Semitic poster in the Soviet Union
Among these documents, some of which are now at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem, others now housed in Brown University’s archives, one can find a collection of files and pamphlets from the Nazi era. There is also a copy of the Nazi party’s 1933 campaign platform, numerous Reichsmark bills, various limericks and everyday documents distributed by the regime. One of the more important findings that Brickman managed to take with him from Germany was an elegant album produced by the Gestapo that detailed the various torture methods used by the secret police. The album was donated to the Yad Vashem archives in 1960, along with uniforms, flags, pins, a collection of stamps and various other items from that period.

Postcards from behind the Iron Curtain
Upon his discharge from the army in April 1946, Brickman returned to the academic track. He studied with the well-known philosopher John Dewey, and during the 1950s, taught at New York University’s Department of Education where he headed the department’s history program. In 1960, he transferred to the University of Pennsylvania where he served as the head of the comparative education department.

Brickman has 25 great-grandchildren who reside in Israel.
Taking advantage of his knowledge of a variety of languages, Brickman’s research focused on the comparison of different education systems around the world. He wrote dozens of books on education, published dozens of articles in periodicals and Jewish magazines and edited a journal in the field.

In 1958, Brickman married Sylvia Mann, the daughter of a Jerusalemite family that had immigrated to the US. Mann was divorced with two children, Haim and his sister Simcha. It was in the early 1960s, when Brickman became a faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania that the family moved to that house in Philadelphia, taking with them William’s large collection of books and various objects that would expose Haim to his past.

According to Haim, William didn’t talk much about that time in his life. But Haim does recall how his stepfather would embarrass him whenever they would go see a James Bond movie together. “He would erupt in laughter in the middle of the movie. It really embarrassed me as a child,” Haim said.

Brickman died in the US in 1986 and was buried in Jerusalem. He now has 25 great-grandchildren who reside in Israel. At his funeral, he was lauded for his contribution to Jewish education in the US and his efforts to obtain federal funding for Jewish day schools.

The original version of this article appeared on Israelhayom.com

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Post  Admin on Thu 20 Jun 2019, 11:23 pm

The Heroic Soviet Jewish Activist You Never Heard of
Jun 17, 2019  |  by Adina Hershberg
The Heroic Soviet Jewish Activist You Never Heard of
Hillel Butman played a key role in exposing the plight of Soviet refuseniks to the world.

Most Jews have heard of Natan Sharansky, but few know of Hillel Butman (pronounced Boot mahn), a giant of a man who recently died at the age of 87.

“Hillel Butman was the first, before the rest of us,” Sharansky said. “Already in 1966, a year before the Six Day War, he founded the Zionist Youth Movement in Leningrad. Who thought about Zionism back then, before 1967? It was very rare. He established an underground organization; taught Hebrew, literature and Judaism; established secret ‘ulpanim’ in which the young people met; and he tried to scream to the world the cry of the Jews in Russia who wanted to go home to Israel. Dozens of people, and then hundreds of people and then thousands of people got carried away by this movement.”

Butman was born in Leningrad in 1932 into a typical Jewish Russian family. His family was neither religious nor Zionist, nor did they know anything about Jewish history or Palestine. But they were not assimilated. His father had a seat in the Leningrad synagogue where he attended High Holy Day services. He enjoyed singing Yiddush songs. The family ate matzah during Passover.

When World War II broke out, Butman was a young boy. He and his family were evacuated to Siberia. When he returned to Leningrad in 1945 and completed school, his life changed dramatically. “I came out of the walls that defended me,” he recalled. “I began feeling antisemitism from two sides—‘above,’ meaning the government, and ‘below,’ meaning the streets.”
MORE https://www.aish.com/jw/s/The-Heroic-Soviet-Jewish-Activist-You-Never-Heard-Of.html?s=mm

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Post  Admin on Wed 19 Jun 2019, 8:09 am

Sabotaging the German V-2 Rocket
Jun 15, 2019  |  by Lori Samlin Miller
Sabotaging the German V-2 Rocket
The heroic actions of 200 inmates at Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp is the subject of new film, “Dirty Bomb.”

The short film, Dirty Bomb reveals a relatively unknown story of resistance during the Holocaust.

Jewish slave laborers were brought to the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp, a satellite of Buchenwald, where they were forced to build the V-2 ballistic rocket, the brainchild of aerospace engineer Werner von Braun who was then working for the Nazis. Around 60,000 prisoners passed through the Mittelbau camps between August 1943 and March 1945. Two hundred Jewish inmates chose to sabotage the creation of the V-2 bomb.

According to historian Norman Davies, “due to a curious oversight in the Treaty of Versailles which did not include rocketry in its list of weapons forbidden to Germany,” von Braun was able to pursue his career in rocket technology in Germany. His pioneering work for the Nazis began at the German resort town of Peenemünde, where the world’s first liquid propellant rocket, the V-2 bomb, was initially developed.

Werner von Braun at Peenemünde Army Research Center

The creation of the V-2 bombs gave the Nazis the most powerful and sophisticated weaponry in the world. The V-2 contained both a powerful motor and an automatic guidance system that enabled the rocket to reach a height 50 miles above the earth while traveling up to 120 miles before striking its intended target. Several thousands of lives were lost when the bombs exploded in Britain, and it is estimated that 20,000 Jews lost their lives while constructing these V-2 bombs.

Werner von Braun would go on to have an illustrious career. He and over 1,600 other German engineers, technicians, and scientists were secretly moved to the United States after the war. While working for the United States Army, von Braun developed the intermediate-range ballistic missile program, and later developed rockets that launched Explorer 1- the United States’ first space satellite. Von Braun and his team were absorbed into NASA, where he served as director of the Space Flight program and became the chief architect of the Saturn heavy lift launch that used V-2 technology to send the Apollo space shuttle to the Moon.

Germans from Nordhausen burying the dead of Mittelbau-Dora

Following the Royal Air Force’s attack on Peenemunde that bombed and seriously damaged the facility, production was halted and a new underground site was constructed by slave laborers at the Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp. Here, a new secret underground production facility would resume the work of assembling and storing the deadly V-2 bombs for the Nazis. The slave laborers at Dora Mittelbau were often selected from other camps and reassigned due to their special training, such as electrical or mechanical skills. Thousands of prisoners died while digging huge tunnels into the mountains as they constructed a large underground factory where the work of the former Peenemunde V-2 missile program continued. The prisoners lived almost exclusively underground, shut off from the world in unstable tunnels where they were deprived of fresh air and sunlight, starved, and the death toll was extraordinarily high. Dora Mittelbau is reported to have had a high mortality rate; of the 60,000 prisoners sent to Mittelbau, approximately one third died.

Underground factory

At the time of full missile production in 1944, Mittelbau-Dora was an independent concentration camp with a prisoner population of at least 12,000. A resistance took place amongst some of the prisoners at the camp who chose to tamper with the V-2 bombs that they were assembling-rendering them ineffective. The consequences of their decision insured death of these inmates who performed this sabotage as the bombs, like the inmates, were numbered. More than 200 prisoners were hanged for this sabotage. Dora’s resistance remained unknown to all but a few who lived through the horrors of the Dora Mittelbau camp, who were made to watch the public hangings of the saboteurs. Those who sacrificed themselves were left hanging and not buried, an attempt by the Nazis to frighten and dissuade other prisoners who were forced daily to walk between the rows of these hanged heroes.

According to Valerie McCaffrey, who wrote and directed the film Dirty Bomb, the idea to honor these unnamed heroes for their decision to sacrifice their lives originated from stories her uncle, who served in the Battle of the Bulge under General George Patton, shared with his family after the war. “The American soldiers nicknamed these V-2 bombs dirty bomb because they failed to go the distance. They were aimed at England, but landed in Belgium, and many misfired altogether. I was so intrigued by the role of the prisoners who sabotaged the building of the missiles that I had to make the film.”

The underground corridors of the factory, Mittelbau-Dora. Photo by Giovanni Carrieri

McCaffrey, an Armenian, explained how her family survived the Armenian genocide. “I thought it was urgent to tell this story about the heroes-the prisoners of the camp. They sacrificed their lives, knowing they would be found out and the outcome it would generate. This is one of the stories that changed the world.”

McCaffrey viewed this piece of history as a reversal story. “Most times, the prisoners are the victims, but in this story, they are the heroes. The scope of this story is that they were responsible for saving lives, and quite possibly ending the war. Interestingly enough, the grandfather of one of the investors of this film was a Nazi.”

The film stars Israeli native, Ido Samuel. “I grew up hearing stories about the Holocaust and meeting survivors who came to our school in Israel to tell their stories. You grow up as a Jewish person in Israel with a sense of commitment to always tell these stories and never forget.

Former concentration camp inmate Pinhas Klein stands
next to the memorial in the grounds of Mittelbau-Dora.

When I heard the story that her uncle told her (McCaffrey) about the Jewish prisoners who sabotaged bombs in World War II and saved thousands of lives, I was surprised I never heard of it before and it wasn’t known what those prisoners did. They sacrificed their own lives to save thousands that they did not know. Why were these prisoners willing to sacrifice their lives to sabotage the bombs?” Samuel believes what the prisoners at Dora Mittelbau did was very simple. “There was a Simon Wiesenthal quote that really stuck with me. ‘For evil to flourish, it only requires good men to do nothing They gave their lives so evil couldn’t succeed.’”

Photo Credit for graphic: Giovanni Carrieri. Visit his site at www.giovannicarrieri.com

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Post  Admin on Sun 16 Jun 2019, 9:59 pm

Of Margaritas and Modesty
Jun 16, 2019  |  by Yitty Koval
Of Margaritas and Modesty
Attending a Catholic college has put my Jewish identity to the test.

I’m a school psychology grad student at John Carroll University, a Catholic college in my hometown Cleveland. After being in Orthodox Jewish schools since I was three years old, it’s been quite an interesting experience. Most of my fellow classmates are, if not Catholic, pretty religious-minded or traditional themselves. Not too common for a college environment.

My program director has an unmasked fascination with Judaism. As a devout Catholic, he takes any opportunity to mention book recommendations about religion and Judeo-Christian values. I mentioned that having a Rabbi and Jewish educator as parents leaves me with plenty of religious books to choose from, but he keeps suggesting books.

The Holocaust is another thing that Christian people seem to be super-interested in. After working with a classmate on a project, she and I started talking about which countries our families were originally from. She has a German-sounding last name, and indeed, she said that her ancestry was fully German. She described touring Germany and Austria a few years ago and the conflicted feelings she felt upon learning that if her grandparents hadn’t left Germany before the Holocaust, they would have likely joined the Nazi party. She told me she shudders to think of what horrific crimes her own grandfathers would have committed had they not emigrated from Germany in time.

I’ve also found myself gently explaining to my classmates why I won’t get pizza with them after class. When I turned 21, they offered to take me to get my first margarita and I had to explain the kosher laws about alcohol. These non-Jewish classmates were more interested than most Jews in the laws of kosher!

The author
My college experience has felt a bit like trying to dance to music that keeps speeding up and slowing down. Just when I think I'm going at the right speed and I understand exactly what's expected of me, the tempo changes and I'm stuck on the dance floor, confused and tripping over myself to adapt. There are times when I feel so strongly that I am making a Kiddush Hashem (reflecting God's name positively) and doing exactly what I'm supposed to be doing. I imagine God right next to me, encouraging me with pride and love. And then there are times when I feel awkward or embarrassed, times I feel I've overstepped a boundary and I almost certainly know that I've let God down.

This mess of emotions isn't new for us as Jews. Over and over again, we find ourselves in foreign cultures, and each of us needs to make choices every day about how much of the culture around us we are willing to let into our lives. Before Passover, my younger sister Hindy learned that one of the greatest tragedies of the Jewish enslavement in Egypt was that the Jews almost lost their identities. There they were, living in Goshen, Egypt for a couple hundred years (interestingly, this is just about how long Jews have been in the USA), and their identities were nearly hijacked by the surrounding society.

But one reason the Jews merited to be taken out of Egypt, despite being far removed from their heritage, is that they didn't change their language, dress, or names. The Chasam Sofer, a leading European Torah scholar from the 1800s, mentioned in his ethical will that the three above-mentioned traits are absolutely critical to maintaining Jewish survival. Keeping our language, dress, and names unique to our Jewish heritage are powerful tools to ensure Jewish survival throughout the years.

When I heard this, I asked myself: How am I doing in this area? And I think I'm doing pretty okay. This concept gives me so much strength when I think about it. I proudly use my Yiddish name Yitty (which has been mispronounced in ways I never thought possible) among a group of people named Cassidy and Allison and John. I wear my modest clothing every day, no matter the weather and no matter what everyone around me is wearing. And I still wince every time I hear a coarse word I would never use, and I hope I don't ever lose that sensitivity to refined speech.

Keeping the basic boundaries of name, speech, and language when in a compromised setting is crucial so I don't slip up and forget who I am. But I continue to look for more areas to build little fences, different moments throughout every day and every interaction that remind me: God has expectations of me. And I can make him proud

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Post  Admin on Thu 13 Jun 2019, 10:07 pm

Adopting 9 Jewish Orphans
Jun 9, 2019  |  by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller
Adopting 9 Jewish Orphans
Hayim Cohen has built a unique family to help Jewish children in need.

Hayim Cohen never set out to change the world. Yet the 34-year-old Houston resident has transformed the lives of nine Jewish orphans, building a unique family of children in need.

As a child growing up in a Yiddish-speaking Satmar Chassidic family in New York, Hayim recalls that one particular Jewish injunction spoke to him in a deep, profound way. In an Aish.com exclusive interview, Hayim recalls that the Jewish instruction “Don’t cause anguish to any widow or orphan” (Exodus 22:21) always felt particularly meaningful to him. He took the injunction to care for the less fortunate personally, and decided to pursue a career in social work.

He moved to Houston to study social work, working in Jewish summer camps and helping children with difficult home lives. He began to gain a reputation as someone who could help children within the Jewish community, and in 2010 he was contacted by social workers from a rural area in Texas. Two Yiddish-speaking ultra-Orthodox Jewish boys were in foster care there, but the local foster home they were placed in had no way of meeting their needs. Could Hayim, located in the large Jewish community of Houston, help?

“I didn’t waste any time,” Hayim recalls. He visited the boys – Avichai and Avshalom, who were nine and ten years old – in their foster home. Their foster parents had insisted the boys remove the kippot they were used to wearing and were serving the children non-kosher food. “I jumped into action,” Hayim says, and applied to become a licensed foster parent with the state of Texas to help them. Within a very short period of time he learned a huge amount and realized the incredible need for foster homes in Texas and elsewhere.

“I never knew the level of need in the foster system,” Hayim explains. He learned that many children have absolutely nobody to support them and are entirely without relatives, friends or resources. “There are thousands of kids in that situation.” In Texas alone there are 29,000 children in the foster care system. In Harris County, which is home to Houston, there are 13,000 children in foster care. Hayim was determined to do what he could to help.

“I often hear people say ‘if I ever had the opportunity to give back, I’d give back,’” Hayim says with a chuckle. “But I tell them you do have the opportunity, it’s right here.” He acknowledges that not everyone can be a foster parent but “that chance to help, it rests with everyone.”

Hayim became licensed and Avichai and Avshalom moved in with him. It was very difficult at first, but slowly the new foster family became used to their new routine. When Hayim felt overwhelmed, he turned to his rabbi, and continued to take classes and training courses within the foster care system. He also joined a support group for Jewish foster and adoptive families. Gradually, Avichai and Avshalom began to adjust to their new lives; one day Avshalom turned to Hayim and told him that if he had to be anywhere other than with his birth family, he wanted to be with Hayim.

Hayim continued to forge bonds with local social workers and worked hard to expand resources for Jewish children within Texas’ foster care system. His Yiddish-speaking Orthodox foster home was a unique resource, and a year and a half after he took in Avichai and Avshalom, Hayim got a phone call about another Yiddish-speaking, religiously observant Jewish child in CPS (Child Protective Services) care.

Yehudah was 11 years old and is “such a special kid” Hayim explains. At first, he was traumatized and didn’t want to play with his new foster family. Hayim, Avichai and Avshalom would play board games in the evening together, while Yehudah peeked out from an open door at them, afraid to join them. Finally, one day, Yehudah came and sat down and started playing the board game with the others. “We didn’t say anything,” Hayim recalls. “We just acted like he’d always been playing.”

Their home classroom

Soon, Hayim enrolled Yehudah – and his foster brothers – in a local Jewish boy scout troop, as well as another group for young boys called the Houston Police Explorers, run by the Houston Police Department. The boys began to blossom. Hayim home-schooled the children. He’d learned that children from difficult backgrounds can often best be helped by public schools, yet he didn’t want to compromise their religious Jewish education either. He also had to work around the complex schedules of therapists and counsellors his foster children required.

Hayim’s solution was to turn a room into his modest house into a classroom, complete with a smartboard on the wall, and transform his home into a fully-functioning home school. Hayim hired tutors to teach the boys both secular and Judaic studies, and he’s proud today that all of his boys are working at their grade level.

A couple of years later, another boy, Shmariyahu Yair, joined the foster family. He was followed by Yissachar Yomtov and Simcha Yitzhak, two brothers whom Hayim calls the “babies” of the family: they were two and four years old when they were placed in the home. In 2017 three brothers joined the family: Nachman Medad, Elimelech Fishel and Pasach Lior.

As the foster family grew, they forged special bonds with one another and Hayim decided he wanted to transform his family, becoming not only a foster father, but a legal father as well. Over the span of several years, Hayim has adopted all nine of his foster children.

It has made for an unusual home. Hayim hopes to find the girl of his dreams to marry, and he acknowledges that his family’s large size presents special challenges. “It’s difficult to date; you can imagine,” Hayim explains, joking that “you can imagine coming to somebody and saying you want to date them – and you also have nine children – I hope you like to cook!” he finishes with a laugh. Still, Hayim has faith that God willing, he’ll meet his bashert soon, and she’ll embrace both him and his warm-hearted family.

In the meantime, the boys want to give back, helping other foster children in similar circumstances they were once in. The boys recently hatched a plan to make a difference in the lives of Houston’s foster children.

With nine growing boys, the family is always looking for inexpensive places to buy clothes. A local store was recently going out of business and slashing all their prices; Hayim and the four oldest boys went shopping. As they browsed, the store owner announced that all the inventory was now 90% off. Avshalom, who’s now 18, turned to his father and asked wouldn’t it be amazing if they could buy all the school uniforms in the store – and donate them to foster kids?

The Cohens have long donated clothes to a Houston-area charity called BEAR (“BE A Resource for CPS kids”) which distributes clothes to foster children. “Kids often come into foster care with only the clothes on their backs,” Hayim explains. His children understood that reality, and each year would donate a few outfits to the charity. This time, Avshalom had a more ambitious plan: to donate hundreds of articles of clothing.

Buying out the store to help other kids in need.

The boys discussed the idea. They each had saved up their allowance for months: would they be willing to part with their savings to help foster kids on a large scale? Avshalom in particular had been saving up his allowance to buy one of his brothers a set of books written by Maimonides. Would he mind Avshalom spending the money on charity instead? The answer was clear: all the brothers decided to help buy out the store.

The store owner was so impressed he lowered the prices even further, and together the boys bought 1,200 school uniforms and 4,000 pairs of socks for $300. On May 20, 2019, they donated the clothes to charity. Hayim becomes teary recalling his sons’ charity and willingness to go without in order to help others.

The Cohens: (back) Shmariyahu Yair, Avichai, Hayim Nissim, Yehuda Baruch and Avshalom;
(front) Pesach Lior, Yissachar Yomtov, Simcha Yitzhak, Elimelech Fishel and Nachman Medad.

Hayim has tried to use the publicity his unusual family has received to educate the community about adoption and foster care, including in the Jewish community. “Our community is nervous when it comes to adoption,” Hayim told reporters, “because they feel like there are no Jewish children in foster care. Jewish children in foster care doesn’t mean we’re an imperfect people. It means there are issues that are out of our control.…. People have been blinded by the old idea that kids in foster care are ‘damaged goods’. These are normal kids who have gone through an abnormal situation. They deserve the same love, respect and dignity that we give to every other person in our daily life.”

Hayim hopes that his example will inspire others to act to help others, and to understand the magnitude of the need in the foster care system. “We can all do something,” he notes. Not everyone can adopt or be a foster parent – but we can all challenge ourselves to move out of our comfort zones to care more, to do more, and to try and make a lasting difference to others.


About the Author

Dr. Yvette Alt MillerMore by this Author >

Yvette Alt Miller earned her B.A. at Harvard University. She completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Jewish Studies at Oxford University, and has a Ph.D. In International Relations from the London School of Economics. She lives with her family in Chicago, and has lectured internationally on Jewish topics. Her book Angels at the table: a Practical Guide to Celebrating Shabbat takes readers through the rituals of Shabbat and more, explaining the full beautiful spectrum of Jewish traditions with warmth and humor. It has been praised as "life-changing", a modern classic, and used in classes and discussion groups around the world.

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If I Forget Thee, O Jerusalem
Jun 1, 2019  |  by Esti Rosen Snukal
If I Forget Thee, O Jerusalem
The magic of Jerusalem can pull your heartstrings.

For those of you who have been blessed to walk or sleep or pray in the holy city of Jerusalem, you know her magic. It isn’t a myth or some children’s fable. Jerusalem’s magic is a truth that lingers on the lips of anyone who has breathed her sweet air. It’s a magic that follows you for years – even decades – whispering, calling, pulling at you.

It may have been just a few moons or what feels like a lifetime since you’ve walked through her narrow alleyways, or haggled over the price of a slim brass candlestick with the local merchant who is leathered from the sun. Maybe it was just last summer or maybe you were only a small child when you last kissed the cool stones of the Western Wall.

But when you find your stillness, when you close your eyes and just hear your breath, you can feel her magic warm your veins. You remember her touch, the way the stones feel under your fingertips: smooth and bumpy, cool and warm.

And you can hear her. Even on the shores of distant islands. Even under the rumbling of computer printers and deadline pressures. Even with overtired, cranky children and daily life. You hear her. The music of the marketplace, bustling and bursting with the frenzy of life and the pulse of her people. The shrill call of the shofar blowing over her ripe green hills. The old beggar woman, toothless and tired, shaking her paper coffee cup on the steps of the Old City leading down to the Kotel, jiggling her few coins, eyes pleading.

You can hear the ambulance sirens that pierce the air, that stop your heart, tight in your chest, even for a few seconds. And the other siren, the one that makes you smile every Friday before sundown, reminding you that the Shabbat Queen is arriving in 10 short minutes. You can hear the patter of children’s feet running on the courtyard stones under the mosaic of dry olive branches. And the sound that tears, and prayer, and belonging, and true Godly devotion make. Because you have seen it first-hand in the faces of your brothers and sisters pressed tight against the Kotel, hearts and souls spilled open.

And when you pray, wherever you find yourself, and say the word Yerushalayim, you can feel your soul being pulled over oceans and country sides, being drawn back through her narrow golden alleys. You hear her. The ancient Hebrew language of our people and the sacred words of our Torah echoing from the clay rooftops and whispering through the leaves of the sweet pomegranate trees.

And you can smell her. You can smell the fresh laffas and pitas – you know, the ones that just came out of the brick oven bubbling and beige, soft and salty. For this bread is the smell of Jerusalem: warm and intoxicating and welcoming. And you can smell the orange blossoms on a hot, sticky August night carried in the thick summer air, sweet and delicate.

Yes, you know. You know the magic of Jerusalem. How it can pull and play with your heartstrings. How it can both fill you and yet leave you empty with longing. How it can devastate you when it’s bleeding and hurting. How its magic can reach you even if you are flipped upside down on the other side of the planet swimming the blue waves of The Great Barrier Reef. Or sitting at your office desk in a Manhattan skyscraper.

Her magic, like your shadow, is always with you, growing stronger and larger from her luminescent light.

Oh, how we have loved and lost and laughed and prayed and dreamed and cried and lived a lifetime and more on her golden cobblestones. Under her arches. On her soft, green, mossy hills. In her sunlit alleyways.

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem…


This article originally appeared in the Jewish Link https://www.aish.com/jw/j/48969196.html?s=ras

Why Jerusalem Matters
Nov 2, 2008  |  by Rabbi Shraga Simmons
Why Jerusalem Matters
For millennium of exile, Jews always turned toward Jerusalem. What memory were they eager to preserve?

Jerusalem has no strategic significance. It has no commercial or industrial importance, and it is not a cultural center.

How has this ancient city, unimportant as it appears, crept to the heart of contention between Israel and the Palestinians over the future of the land of Israel? Why should we care what happens to Jerusalem?

We need to begin by understanding the importance of memory. Memory isn't history or dead memorabilia. By defining the past memory creates the present. Repression of memory creates mental disease. Health comes from memory's recovery. Dictators consolidate power by altering memory. Stalin airbrushed Trotsky and Bukharin out of photographs. Revisionists deny the Holocaust ever happened. Why does it matter?

In Hebrew, the word for man is "zachar." The word for memory is "zecher." Man is memory. People who suffer memory loss through illness or accident don't just misplace their keys. They lose their selves. They become lost and adrift in time, because without memory, the current moment has no context, and no meaning.

When the Jews were first exiled from Jerusalem, King David said, "If I forget you Jerusalem, let my right hand lose its strength. Let my tongue cling to my palate if I fail to recall you, if I fail to elevate Jerusalem above my highest joy." The memory of Jerusalem somehow is linked to our current vigor as a people. But how? What is the memory of Jerusalem, and what does it contribute to who we are?

The memory of Jerusalem somehow is linked to our current vigor as a people.
London comes from a Celtic word which means "a wild and wooded town." Cairo is an anglicized version of the Arab name for Mars, the Roman god of war. Paris is named for the Paris of Greek myth, who was asked by the gods to choose between love, wisdom, and power. He chose love ― the love of Helen of Troy.

The Talmud says Jerusalem was named by God. The name has two parts: Yira, which means "to see," and shalem, which means "peace."

Jerusalem was the place of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac, and Abraham said of Jerusalem, "This is the place where God is seen."

Elsewhere, God is a theory, but in Jerusalem, God is seen, and felt, as a tangible presence. In Jerusalem we reach beyond the frailty and vulnerability of our lives, and we sense and strive for transcendence. Elsewhere we grope for insight. In Jerusalem we anticipate clarity. Paris may be for lovers, but Jerusalem is for visionaries.

In Jerusalem, God is seen, and felt, as a tangible presence.
Jerusalem is a metaphor for a perfected world, and it gives us perspective on our lives. When Aldous Huxley said, "we have each of us our Jerusalem," he meant much more than a temporal city of taxi cabs and traffic jams. He meant a vision of what life might be.

The vision of life's promise is one we surrender at our peril, because it gives us the will to live. In exile for two thousand years Jews said "Next year in Jerusalem," and amidst poverty and oppression they preserved the dream of a world in which love and justice, not power and self-interest, would be the currency men live by.

Part of the name Jerusalem is "vision." The other part of the name is peace, but the peace of Jerusalem is not the absence of strife. Jerusalem has rarely known anything but strife. The peace of Jerusalem is the peace at the center of the spokes of a wheel, where opposing forces may be delicately balanced and reconciled.

The Talmud says that creation began in Jerusalem, and the world radiated outward from this place. Medieval maps show Jerusalem at the epicenter of Asia, Europe, and Africa. The world flows into this spot, and all life's forces resonate here. From this place, the whole world is cast into perspective.

Jerusalem, the center, which gives perspective to the rest of the world. Jerusalem where God is seen. Jerusalem the perfected world. Humanity has long understood that he who controls Jerusalem controls the world's memory. He controls the way God is seen. He controls the way life's forces are cast into perspective. He controls the way we collectively see our future.

Once the Temple Mount was the highest point in the city of Jerusalem, but in the year 135, Roman slaves carried away the dirt of the mountain, and turned it into the valley we now look down on from the Old City. The Romans expelled Jews from Jerusalem and barred them from reentering on pain of death. Jewish life, they proclaimed, has now ended.

The Crusaders rewrote Jerusalem's importance, the center no longer of Jewish national drama, but the site of the passion and death of Jesus. Like the Romans they expelled Jews, and destroyed synagogues.

The Muslims came after, and as those before them rewrote the memory of Jerusalem, expelling Jews and Christian. They systematically built mosques on every Jewish holy site. They airbrushed the past.

In rewriting the history of Jerusalem each of these cultures rewrote our place, the Jewish place, in history. They consigned us, they believed, to the dust bin of history ― a once great people, now abandoned by God; bypassed by time.

In Jerusalem, each culture rewrote the Jewish place in history.
But Jews preserved Jerusalem as a memory. When we built our houses we left a square unplastered, and we broke a glass at weddings in memory of Jerusalem. From all over the world we turned and prayed toward Jerusalem, and because memory was kept alive, the Jewish people lived.

When Jerusalem was liberated, time was conflated. The past became present. What we had longed for became ours. What we had dreamed of became real, and soldiers wept because an adolescent Mediterranean country suddenly recovered a memory lost for 2000 years. The past was instantly present, incredibly, transcendentally, transforming who we knew ourselves to be.

Who are we? We are not despised and impoverished itinerants, surviving on the fickle goodwill of other nations. We are not a nation of farmers recovering swamps, nor of warriors ― though when we need to be we are all these things.

We are a nation of priests and of prophets, a light unto mankind. We taught the world "to beat their swords into plowshares," "to love your neighbor as yourself," equality before justice, and that admiration belongs not to the rich and powerful, but to the good, the wise, and the kind. Hitler said, "The Jews have inflicted two wounds on humanity: Circumcision on the body and conscience on the soul." How right he was and how much more we have to do. How tragic when we fail ourselves.

Already divided by language, by geography, and even by religion, our people is bound only by threads of memory and of hope. These threads are exquisitely fragile. If they sever we will fragment, and the long and bitter exile of our people ― not yet fully ended, is consequence, says the Talmud, of the dissensions which sunder us from one another.

To this threat, Jerusalem provides counterpoint, for Jerusalem embodies our memories and hopes. Jerusalem is a living memory, a vision of God in our lives, an image of a perfected world. Jerusalem gives us the strength to achieve what we as a people must do, to unite ourselves, and to sanctify this world.

This is why Jerusalem matters.

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Post  Admin on Sat 01 Jun 2019, 9:59 am

The Birth of Hope
Bechukotai (Leviticus 26:3-27:34)
May 26, 2019
by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
The Birth of Hope
It is not too much to say that Jews kept hope alive, and hope kept the Jewish people alive.

This week we read the Tochecha, the terrifying curses warning of what would happen to Israel if it betrayed its Divine mission. We read a prophecy of history gone wrong. If Israel loses its way spiritually, say the curses, it will lose physically, economically, and politically also. The nation will experience defeat and disaster. It will forfeit its freedom and its land. The people will go into exile and suffer persecution. Customarily we read this passage in the synagogue sotto voce, in an undertone, so fearful is it. It is hard to imagine any nation undergoing such catastrophe and living to tell the tale. Yet the passage does not end there. In an abrupt change of key, we then hear one of the great consolations in the Bible:

Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away… I will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought forth out of Egypt in the sight of the heathen, that I might be their God: I am the Lord. (Lev. 26:44-45)

This is a turning point in the history of the human spirit. It is the birth of hope: not hope as a dream, a wish, a desire, but as the very shape of history itself, "the arc of the moral universe," as Martin Luther King put it. God is just. He may punish. He may hide His face. But He will not break His word. He will fulfil His promise. He will redeem His children. He will bring them home.

Hope is one of the very greatest Jewish contributions to Western civilisation, so much so that I have called Judaism "the voice of hope in the conversation of humankind."[1] In the ancient world, there were tragic cultures in which people believed that the gods were at best indifferent to our existence, at worst actively malevolent. The best humans can do is avoid their attention or appease their wrath. In the end, though, it is all in vain. We are destined to see our dreams wrecked on the rocks of reality. The great tragedians were Greek. Judaism produced no Sophocles or Aeschylus, no Oedipus or Antigone. Biblical Hebrew did not even contain a word that meant "tragedy" in the Greek sense. Modern Hebrew had to borrow the word: hence, tragedia.

Then there are secular cultures, like that of the contemporary West in which the very existence of the universe, of human life and consciousness, is seen as the result of a series of meaningless accidents intended by no one and with no redeeming purpose. All we know for certain is that we are born, we live, we will die, and it will be as if we had never been. Hope is not unknown in such cultures, but it is what Aristotle defined as "a waking dream," a private wish that things might be otherwise. As seen through the eyes of ancient Greece or contemporary science, there is nothing in the texture of reality or the direction of history to justify belief that the human condition could be other and better than it is.

Judaism is not without an expression of this mood. We find it in the opening chapters of the book of Ecclesiastes. For its author, time is cyclical. What has been, will be. History is a set of eternal recurrences. Nothing ever really changes:

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun. (Eccl. 1:9)

Ecclesiastes, though, is a rare voice within Tanach. For the most part, the Hebrew Bible expresses a quite different view: that there can be change in the affairs of humankind. We are summoned to the long journey at whose end is redemption and the Messianic Age. Judaism is the principled rejection of tragedy in the name of hope.

The sociologist Peter Berger calls hope a "signal of transcendence," a point at which something beyond penetrates into the human situation. There is nothing inevitable or even rational about hope. It cannot be inferred from any facts about the past or present. Those with a tragic sense of life hold that hope is an illusion, a childish fantasy, and that a mature response to our place in the universe is to accept its fundamental meaninglessness and cultivate the stoic virtue of acceptance. Judaism insists otherwise: that the reality that underlies the universe is not deaf to our prayers, blind to our aspirations, indifferent to our existence. We are not wrong to strive to perfect the world, refusing to accept the inevitability of suffering and injustice.

We hear this note at key points in the Torah. It occurs twice at the end of Genesis when first Jacob then Joseph assure the other members of the covenantal family that their stay in Egypt will not be endless. God will honour His promise and bring them back to the Promised Land. We hear it again, magnificently, as Moses tells the people that even after the worst suffering that can befall a nation, Israel will not be lost or rejected:

Then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where He scattered you. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back. (Deut. 30:3-4)

But the key text is here at the end of the curses of Leviticus. This is where God promises that even if Israel sins, it may suffer, but it will never die, and it will never have reason to truly despair. It may experience exile, but eventually it will return. Israel may betray the covenant but God never will. This is one of the most fateful of all biblical assertions. It tells us that no fate is so bleak as to murder hope itself. No defeat is final, no exile endless, no tragedy the story's last word.

Subsequent to Moses, all the prophets delivered this message, each in his own way. Hosea told the people that though they may act like a faithless wife, God remains a loving husband. Amos assured them that God would rebuild even the most devastated ruins. Jeremiah bought a field in Anatot to assure the people that they would return from Babylon. Isaiah became the poet laureate of hope in visions of a world at peace that have never been surpassed.

Of all the prophecies of hope inspired by Leviticus 26, none is as haunting as the vision in which Ezekiel saw the people of the covenant as a valley of dry bones, but heard God promise to bring us "back to the land of Israel.'" (Ezek. 37:11-14)

No text in all of literature is so evocative of the fate of the Jewish people after the Holocaust, before the rebirth in 1948 of the State of Israel. Almost prophetically, Naftali Herz Imber alluded to this text in his words for the song that eventually became Israel's national anthem. He wrote: od lo avda tikvatenu, "our hope is not yet lost." Not by accident is Israel's anthem called HaTikva, "The Hope."

Where does hope come from? Berger sees it as a constitutive part of our humanity:

Human existence is always oriented towards the future. Man exists by constantly extending his being into the future, both in his consciousness and in his activity... An essential dimension of this "futurity" of man is hope. It is through hope that men overcome the difficulties of any given here and now. And it is through hope that men find meaning in the face of extreme suffering.[2]

Only hope empowers us to take risks, engage in long-term projects, marry and have children, and refuse to capitulate in the face of despair:

There seems to be a death-refusing hope at the very core of our humanitas. While empirical reason indicates that this hope is an illusion, there is something in us that, however shamefacedly in an age of triumphant rationality, goes on saying "no!" and even says "no!" to the ever so plausible explanations of empirical reason. In a world where man is surrounded by death on all sides, he continues to be a being who says "no!" to death - and through this "no!" is brought to faith in another world, the reality of which would validate his hope as something other than illusion.[3]

I am less sure than Berger that hope is universal. It emerged as part of the spiritual landscape of Western civilisation through a quite specific set of beliefs: that God exists, that He cares about us, that He has made a covenant with humanity and a further covenant with the people He chose to be a living example of faith. That covenant transforms our understanding of history. God has given His word, and He will never break it, however much we may break our side of the promise. Without these beliefs, we would have no reason to hope at all.

History as conceived in this parsha is not utopian. Faith does not blind us to the apparent randomness of circumstance, the cruelty of fortune, or the seeming injustices of fate. No one reading Leviticus 26 can be an optimist. Yet no one sensitive to its message can abandon hope. Without this, Jews and Judaism would not have survived. Without belief in the covenant and its insistence, "Yet in spite of this," there might have been no Jewish people after the destruction of one or other of the Temples, or the Holocaust itself. It is not too much to say that Jews kept hope alive, and hope kept the Jewish people alive.

Shabbat shalom.


1. Jonathan Sacks, Future Tense: A Vision for Jews and Judaism in the Global Culture (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2011), 231-252.
2. Berger, op. cit., 68-69.
3. Ibid., 72.

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Post  Admin on Wed 29 May 2019, 9:43 am

The “New Germany” and the Kippah
May 27, 2019  |  by Rabbi Benjamin Blech
The “New Germany” and the Kippah
The government’s recommendation not to wear a kippah everywhere is an appalling reminder of a Holocaust strategy that failed.

Because of our traditions, we’ve kept our balance for many, many years. Here in Anatevka, we have traditions for everything: how to sleep, how to eat… how to work… how to wear clothes. For instance, we always keep our heads covered, and always wear a little prayer shawl that shows our constant devotion to God. You may ask, “How did this tradition get started?” I’ll tell you! Tradition – Tevye, Fiddler on the Roof

On 1 September 1941, on the initiative of Reich Minister Joseph Goebbels, the German Interior Ministry issued an order that from 19 September 1941, all the Jews of the Reich and the Protectorate aged six and older were required to wear the Jewish star ("Judenstern"). The order stipulated that the palm-sized badge be sewn on their clothes, on the left side of the chest, at heart level, to be noticeable in a public place.

When Nazi officials implemented the Jewish badge they did so in an intensified systematic manner as a prelude to deporting Jews to ghettos and killing centers in German- occupied-Eastern Europe. Jews needed to be identified as Jews – to ensure that not one of them escapes extermination.

This weekend we learned that the “new Germany” encourages Jews in Germany not to wear their head coverings everywhere in public. It is now dangerous for Jews to be readily identifiable. Germany’s top official responsible for efforts against anti-Semitism, Felix Klein, decided that personal safety is more important than religious freedom. And so, in a remarkable historic irony, the country that gave us the Holocaust and the star of David as a badge of shame, today in the guise of concern for its Jewish residents, gives us guidance about how to cope with the nascent rise of anti-Semitism by suggesting that this time we hide our identities and forsake our traditions!

Michel Friedman who previously served as president of the European Jewish Congress put it bluntly: “When a representative of the federal government officially tells the Jewish community that ‘you are not safe against anti-Jewish hate everywhere in Germany’, then that is a pathetic display for the rule of law and political reality”.

It is hard to believe that in the span of one generation we have gone from the defeat of Nazi-ism and the realization of the ultimate unspeakable horrors of anti-Semitism to a repeat of Jew hatred considered so unstoppable and insoluble that the only viable response is for Jews to hide who they are and ignore their religious beliefs.

Felix Klein’s advice to the Jewish community resonates with an appalling reminder of a Holocaust strategy that failed. As Jews were being rounded up for deportation to concentration camps there were those who sought to conceal their identities. They took the dangerous step of not wearing the required yellow star. They tried to pass as non-Jews. It was not a yarmulke that gave them away. Nazis knew there was a simple way to reveal the truth. “Take down your pants,” the men were told – and the sign of their circumcision gave them away.

We need to prove that our Jewish identity is a source of pride, not of shame; a source of joy, not a burden.
“Take off your hats” will not suffice to secure our safety when the virus of anti-Semitism continues to spread. The very act of giving in to this affront to our religious affiliation is already the greatest proof of our enemies’ victory.

Tevye was right. The reason for wearing a skullcap is tradition. The law is not biblical. Yet it is rooted in a biblical law with profound significance. Today we wear tefillin – the phylacteries on head and hand – only during prayer. We do not consider ourselves worthy enough of wearing them throughout the day as we go about our regular activities. Yet that was the original law. The purpose? Clearly to acknowledge to ourselves and to be identified to the world at large as committed both mind and body to the Almighty above us.

As Jews with the divine mission to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” we were meant to be recognizable. Our dedication to God was always visible. Jews wore tefillin – until we didn’t feel ourselves holy enough except during prayer. But for the rest of the time we need to publicly demonstrate our life commitment to a “higher being” – like the head covering above us. We need to prove that our Jewish identity is a source of pride, not of shame; a source of joy, not a burden.

How tragic that Germany of all places feels it helpful to suggest, unlike the 40s, not to identify ourselves with the yellow star but to conceal our identity with bare heads devoid of any link with our God. To recommend that we renounce Jewish pride in our faith only serves to contribute to the insidious and dangerous assimilation of the Jewish people.

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Post  Admin on Fri 24 May 2019, 2:24 pm

Sabbatical and Sinai
Behar (Leviticus 25:1-26:2)
Jan 16, 2000  |  by Rabbi Shraga Simmons
Sabbatical and Sinai
An argument for the Divine authorship of the Torah.

This week's essay is dedicated in the merit of Devorah bat Mohtaram, may she gain full health and have an easy birth.

Every week, we open our email and read from the Torah portion nice ideas about relationships, spirituality, success and joy. We appreciate the Torah for its relevance, rationality and wisdom. But there's one question we haven't asked: How do we know the Torah is true? Did God really give the Torah to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai?

To help answer our question, let's try looking at the reverse argument: that the Torah was written by a committee. In fact, let's imagine that we're the rabbis assigned to write the Torah. Of course, we're not going to tell anyone that we're writing this or else they won't accept it. Instead, we're going to say God gave this book – and hope people believe us.

Now remember, we're starting from scratch. There's nothing yet written – no Garden of Eden, no Ten Commandments. So what would be a good law to include in our Torah? How about "Thou shalt not steal?" That's very practical – let's include it.

"Thou shalt not murder?" Okay, we'll put that in, too.

Now I'd like to propose the following law:

Every seventh year, the entire Jewish people must cease working the fields. They may not plant, plow or harvest – for an entire year, once every seven years.

Do you think this is a good law to put in the Torah?

Sure! We've all heard of "crop rotation." Letting the land lie fallow helps replenish the nutrients, yielding better crops than if you'd use the soil year after year.

One problem, however. If we're an agrarian society (as the early Israelites were), then we live off what we plant. So if we don't plant for an entire year, we'll have nothing to eat!

But there's a solution: Let's store up one-sixth of the harvest in each of the first six years, and then eat from that in the Sabbatical year. Or alternatively, we could divide the country into seven regions; each year, a different region will let their fields rest and borrow food from all others. Simple enough.

Alternative Option

Now imagine that our committee proposes a far more radical idea: No dividing the land, no storing up grain. Rather, we simply promise to deliver a triple crop in the sixth year.

Absurd! Obviously we can't guarantee that the sixth year will yield a triple crop. If we're pretending to be God, and promise something we can't deliver, we'll be exposed as frauds!

How long do you think this religion will last if we make this promise?

About six years! As soon as the triple crop doesn't come, we're out of business. The religion's a sham.

So our imaginary rabbinical Torah-writing committee shoots down the triple-crop idea as an impossible option.

No Excuse

Now let's see the Sabbatical year as described in the actual Torah (Leviticus 25:3-21):

"For six years you may plant your fields, prune your vineyards, and harvest your crops. But the seventh year is a sabbath for the land. During that year, you may not plant your fields nor prune your vineyards. Do not harvest crops that grow on their own. Do not gather the grapes on your unpruned vines since it is a year of rest for the land...

...And if you ask, what will we eat in the seventh year? We have not planted nor have we harvested crops. I will direct my blessing to you in the sixth year and the land will produce ENOUGH CROPS FOR THREE YEARS."

What is the Torah's proposal? Divide up the land? Store the grain? No! The Torah promises that "The sixth year will produce enough crops for three years."

The Torah could have written, "Keep the Sabbath law in the seventh year. It's going to be a terrible year, everybody's going to be starving. But as a great reward, you'll get a triple crop in the eighth year." That would have been smart, because then, if it didn't happen, the excuse could always be, "Well, some people were cheating in the seventh year. So God punished us and didn't give us the triple crop."

But no. Our author promises a triple crop in the sixth year, before we even observe the law. There is no possible excuse should there fail to be a bumper crop.

Why would the author – who wants people to believe in the divinity of this book – make a ridiculous promise he cannot possibly fulfill and thereby expose himself as a fraud? Why take such a far-out risk when there are so many other options?

Sinai Direct

So who wrote the Torah? Who would make such a promise?

This week's parsha, "Behar," begins as follows:

"God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall observe a Sabbatical year of rest. For six years you may plant your fields, prune your vineyards, and harvest your crops. But the seventh year is a Sabbath for the land."

Why does the Torah, in relating the mitzvah of the Sabbatical year, specify that God is speaking on "Mount Sinai?"

Because the Sabbatical year is one mitzvah which proves that no human being would ever write this law. Only God could be the Author Who gave the Torah on Mount Sinai.

Learn the Book

Soon we will be celebrating the holiday of Shavuot – the anniversary of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.

Jewish tradition tells us that the soul of each and every Jew – past, present and future – stood that day at Mount Sinai. When God's Voice tore through the Heavens, the Torah was engraved on the stone tablets... but was first engraved on the heart of every Jew. The Voice spoke and we heard.

Is the Torah true? This is the time of year to investigate the evidence. Jewish belief needs to be built upon a rational foundation, not a leap of faith. The commentators say that the very reason God instituted the Sabbatical year was in order to give everybody time off to study Torah!

What can we do? Make the commitment to learn. Attend a Torah class in your area. Other ideas:

Attend a Discovery seminar
Subscribe to Torah email lists
Read a good Jewish book
While commuting, listen to audio classes
Try out one-on-one Jewish learning, by phone or in person
In "Shema Yisrael," the Jewish Pledge of Allegiance, we begin with the word Shema – "listen." Carefully and calmly, we listen. To the beauty, depth and relevance of our Torah. Intuitively, deep down we know the truth. And the mitzvah of the Sabbatical year invites us to rediscover it once again.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Shraga Simmons

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Rabbi Shraga SimmonsMore by this Author >

Rabbi Shraga Simmons is the co-founder of Aish.com, and co-author of "48 Ways to Wisdom" (ArtScroll). He is Founder and Director of Aish.com's advanced learning site. He is co-founder of HonestReporting.com, and author of "David & Goliath", the definitive account of anti-Israel media bias. Originally from Buffalo, New York, he holds a degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin, and rabbinic ordination from the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem. He lives with his wife and children in the Modi'in region of Israel

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Post  Admin on Wed 22 May 2019, 12:09 am

Taking Care of Mother
May 18, 2019  |  by Michelle Halle, LCSW
Taking Care of Mother
I couldn’t face the degree of my mother’s debility. She had been my rock and now the roles were reversed.

My 85-year-old mother fell in her apartment and fractured her spine. After her one month stay in a skilled nursing facility, she was discharged and moved in with me, requiring constant care and assistance as she slowly recovered.

Taking care of her reminded me how I felt right after I gave birth to twin girls, becoming a mother for the first time. The morning we were discharged from the hospital, the nurse came into my room and told me that the all the forms were completed. It was time for me to dress the babies, pack up, and be on our way.

I stared at my husband blankly and the look on his face mirrored mine. I looked at the infants and then looked at the nurse again. “Dress them?” I said in shock. “You want me to dress them? Why can’t you dress them?”

She laughed as she turned her back and left the room.

We left the hospital and drove 60 miles to my parent’s house. When we arrived, my parents stood inside the doorway with their arms extended, as if we were all in a relay race, and they were waiting for us to pass the babies to them for the next leg of the race. Instead, we dashed through the house, down the hallway and into the bedroom. We put the girls down to unwrap their bunting as they howled in hunger surrounded by four adults. I had no idea how I was going to take care of them and felt vulnerable and helpless as a newborn baby myself.

My mother, with her characteristic take charge approach, knew exactly what to do.

“This is how we will get through the night. I’ll sleep in the room with you. We’ll each take care of one baby,” my mother suggested. It was a long night and neither one of us got more than a nap here and there, but the babies were properly cared for.

By the second night, my mother implemented a new plan. We hired a night nurse. When she arrived at 11:00 p.m. each night, she was greeted by all three of us, the twins and their mother, wailing in unison!

My mom let me rest during the day and single-handedly took care of the babies. Although I was convinced that we were going to live with my parents for years, we left when the babies were six weeks old. By then, I was back on my own two feet, feeling strong enough and capable of caring for my family.

That was more than 30 years ago. Now that my elderly mother had become the helpless one – her back pain was excruciating and her condition debilitating – I was once again feeling entirely overwhelmed, depleted, and helpless.

My mother needed me to do everything for her, until I was able to arrange appropriate home health care. The hardest thing for me to face was the degree of my mother’s debility. She had been my rock, now the roles were reversed.

Although she has recovered, she is no longer the robust dynamo she once was. Things that used to be effortless now require her focus and concentration. My mother can’t to do her grocery shopping, pay her bills, manage her medications, schedule her doctor appointments, clean her house, or keep track of the days of the week. She doesn’t remember conversations that we had just moments ago, but she does know who I am, who my children are and who my grandchildren are. She also remembers, with great pleasure and satisfaction, the time she spent taking care of my newborn twins.

I tell myself that I can do this, and I reboot. I know exactly what I need to do. I had an excellent role model - a master teacher. Still, the overwhelming feeling persists, and it hovers and lingers even after I have made the arrangements that I need to make. I wonder why.

Despite having done so much for my mother, why do I feel that my efforts are inadequate?

As I sit there puzzled, a familiar expression suddenly pops into my mind flashing like neon lights on a huge billboard, and its wisdom finally brings me clarity and helps me understand why there is no peace. The familiar Yiddish expression hit home.

One mother can take care of ten children, but ten children cannot take care of one mother.

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Post  Admin on Mon 20 May 2019, 10:13 am

Kate Smith and the Game of Thrones' Latte
May 18, 2019  |  by Rabbi Benjamin Blech
Kate Smith and the Game of Thrones' Latte
A Starbucks latte in medieval England is merely ludicrous. Destroying lives and legacies without taking into account historic context is a far more serious distortion.

Tens of millions of faithful followers of Game of Thrones noticed the glaring error. In the fourth episode of the show’s last season, a celebratory feast in Winterfell included a very 21st-century Starbucks coffee cup sitting in front of Emilia Clarke’s Mother of Dragons Daenerys Targaryen among all the metal goblets of wine. Imagine – a latte time- machined back into the medieval era!

The gaffe has become a meme for anachronisms – a blatant example of history falsified by the intrusion of the contemporary into the past.

Producers of the show, mortified by this obvious inattention to historic detail, tried their very best to mitigate their sloppiness. “The latte that appeared in the episode was a mistake,” a spokesman for HBO said, admitting an error had obviously been made: “Daenerys had actually ordered an herbal tea.” Shamefaced producers have rectified their mistake and the infamous coffee cup has now been photo-cropped into inglorious oblivion.

For me, this entire incident has a far more serious implication. It reminds me of a grievous misuse of anachronism which has become part of contemporary soul-searching that can bring unfair and unfortunate consequences in its wake.

Take the recent besmirching and defaming of the memory of Kate Smith, who has gone from patriotic symbol to pariah overnight. The woman who helped make God Bless America a semi-national anthem – a classic ode to American greatness by Irving Berlin, a grateful Jewish immigrant – she had a TV, radio and recording career that spanned decades.

When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt introduced Kate Smith to King George VI of England, he said, “This is Kate Smith. Miss Smith is America.’’ She was a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. During WWII she traveled nearly 520,000 miles to entertain troops; she sold a record $600 million in war bonds in a series of round-the-clock radio appeals.

And now this American icon is being maligned as a racist.

Her crime? When she was 24 years old, five years into her career and during the depression, she was hired to sing on radio. She was told to record a song that society at that time unquestioningly accepted as culturally acceptable but today views as grossly offensive. "That's Why Darkies Were Born", written by Ray Henderson and Lew Brown, presented a searing, satirical view of racism. It became a top 20 hit, used also in the Marx Brothers movie “Duck Soup”, and subsequently recorded by Paul Robeson, the famous Afro-American fiery civil rights spokesman and leader. Now, almost a century later, we’re told Kate Smith can’t be forgiven for her transgression – a “crime” only viewed as racist in American culture close to a century later.

Now, almost a century later, we’re told Kate Smith can’t be forgiven for her transgression – a “crime” only viewed as racist in American culture close to a century later.
After the terrorist attack of 9/11 the New York Yankees made Kate Smith’s rendition of God Bless America a staple for the seventh-inning stretch. A few weeks ago someone brought Smith’s violation of contemporary racist standards to their attention. With hardly a moment for reflection, for context, for perspective with regard to a loathsome accusation that Smith was in fact a racist, with neither trial by judge or jury, Smith was proclaimed guilty as charged. She can no longer be heard at Yankee Stadium.

Kate Smith signing autographs for American sailors, 1938.

Here is an interesting follow-up question: how is it that the New York Yankees took eight years after Jackie Robinson broke into the major leagues in 1947 and broke the color barrier for them to finally sign Elston Howard – after 12 teams by then had already signed black players?

Should the Yankees now be boycotted?

Truth be told, America for the longest time was guilty of racism. It took more than a century for a society condoning slavery to move towards fulfillment of its stated ethos that “all men are created equal.” Indeed, even today we have not fully realized that ideal.

Along the way many have stumbled. We can find fault with giants in every field of American history guilty in some way of behavior no longer considered tolerable, of actions by contemporary standards both inexcusable and unforgivable. But we need sufficient tolerance to forgive failings of the past whose sinfulness requires the accrued wisdom of years and sometimes even generations.

Anachronisms like a Starbucks latte in medieval England may just be ludicrous. Destroying lives, reputations and legacies without taking into account the historic background is a far more serious distortion.

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Post  Admin on Fri 17 May 2019, 9:09 pm

Rashida Tlaib’s Four Lies about Palestinians and the Holocaust
May 14, 2019  |  by Rabbi Shraga Simmons
Rashida Tlaib’s Four Lies about Palestinians and the Holocaust
Palestinians are complicit in perpetrating Jewish suffering.

"There’s always kind of a calming feeling I tell folks when I think of the Holocaust… and the fact that it was my ancestors – Palestinians – who lost their land and some lost their lives, their livelihood... all of it was in the name of trying to create a safe haven for Jews, post-Holocaust… and I love the fact that my ancestors provided that in many ways.”

– Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib of Michigan

A Twitter war broke out this week when Rep. Rashida Tlaib – a vocal supporter of the anti-Semitic BDS movement – said that the Holocaust gives her a "calming feeling" because Palestinians provided a "safe haven" for Jews.

While some interpreted her words as “celebrating” the Holocaust, closer inspection reveals that Tlaib’s true crime is a perversion of a different kind: the attempt to “credit” Palestinians with noble sacrifice to save Jews from persecution.

Historically and factually, Tlaib’s statement is wrong on many levels. Let’s unpack her words to expose four blatant lies.

(1) Safe Haven? No – Constant Terror.
The suggestion that Palestinians deserve credit for creating a Jewish “safe haven” is ludicrous, given the decades – before, during, and after the Holocaust – of unrelenting Palestinian violence and terror and the murder of thousands of Israelis including Holocaust survivors.

Palestinians devoted great resources to making the land as uninhabitable for the Jews as possible, repeatedly trying to destroy the Jewish state through military attacks, economic and cultural boycotts, and diplomatic isolation.

No, Rep. Tlaib, it is not true that Palestinians were the noble saviors of Jewish refugees. Rather, they actively opposed the "safe haven." Israel has prevailed and prospered, not because of Palestinian actions, but in spite of them.

(2) Safe Haven? No – Preventing Immigration.
Tlaib’s claims are further belied by the historical record which shows massive Palestinian pressure to prevent immigration of Jews fleeing the Nazi inferno.

In 1939, in response to violent Palestinian opposition, the British occupational government enacted harsh measures to restrict Jewish settlement in the Holy Land. This “White Paper” – issued in the wake of Kristallnacht – limited immigration to some 10,000 Jews annually, at the very time that millions of Jews were being targeted for genocide and desperate to find refuge.

[The British government eventually "conceded" to a still-paltry quota of 15,000 Jews for a few years, after which no further Jewish immigration would be permitted without Palestinian consent. Ironically, Palestinians rejected the White Paper on the grounds it was not harsh enough.]

Take no pride, Rep. Tlaib. The Palestinians were by no means welcoming of Jews as you suggest. Had Palestinians not opposed Zionism at every turn, European Jewry would have had a place to flee and millions of lives might have been saved. For Palestinians, this is a bloody badge of shame.

(3) Loss of Life and Livelihood? No – Health and Economic Boon.
Rep. Tlaib claims that in the process of creating a Jewish state, Palestinians suffered the loss of life and livelihood.

In actuality, the Palestinian population grew rapidly in proportion to the higher standard of living created by the Jews who brought improved agriculture, education, and health care to the region.

British historian Martin Gilbert estimates that tens of thousands of Arabs immigrated to Palestine in the 1920s and ‘30s, attracted by the economic opportunities that Jews – fueled by Western capital and technology – made possible.

At the time, Muslim leaders like Sherif Hussein understood how this Jewish return to their homeland would revive the region to the Arab’s benefit. “The resources of the country are still virgin soil and will be developed by the Jewish immigrants,” he declared.

Rep. Tlaib, history proves that by all metrics, the regeneration of the land, the population growth, and the standard of living soared only after Jews returned in massive numbers. The infant mortality rate among Palestinian Arabs was cut in half, and life expectancy was doubled. Palestinians became the most educated Arab population in the Middle East, with a literacy rate of 91%; seven Palestinian universities exist where previously there were none. These are the facts.

Tel Aviv was founded on a sand dune in 1909, and today is a global tech and cultural capital.

(4) Holocaust Rescue? No – Collaboration with Nazis.
How ironic that Rep. Tlaib characterizes the Palestinians as heroic creators of a safe haven for Jews, given the fact that Palestinian leaders during the 1940s were avowed and active partners in that very same Holocaust.

The undisputed leader of Palestinians during the Holocaust, Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, closely collaborated with the Nazi genocidal machine:

Husseini enjoyed a close relationship with Hitler, upon whom he conferred the Islamicized name, Abu Ali. Husseini organized 42,000 Muslim troops to form Nazi SS divisions that decimated Yugoslavian and Bosnian Jewry. Husseini’s Palestinian youth group, the "Nazi Scouts," was modeled after the barbaric Hitler Youth.

Husseini spent the war years in Berlin where, at the behest of Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, he delivered a daily pro-Nazi radio broadcast to the Muslim world. The broadcasts, which would always end by calling to slaughter the Jews, were enthusiastically received. On a wartime visit to the Middle East, Adolf Eichmann swelled with pride at how "Nazi flags fly in Palestine and they adorn their houses with Swastikas and portraits of Hitler." 

Husseini objected to any plans to expel European Jewry to Palestine, arguing that a better "solution" would be to kill all the Jews. As SS officer Dieter Wisliceny testified at the Nuremberg trials, "The Mufti was one of the initiators of the systematic extermination of European Jewry, and… constantly incited [Eichmann] to accelerate the extermination measures."

Husseini issued fatwas calling for the destruction of the United States and Great Britain, and exhorted Arabs living in the U.S. not to support the Allied war effort. In a 1943 radio speech from Rome, Husseini declared: "If those Allies win this war... the world will become hell, God forbid."

Husseini plotted to construct his own Nazi-style death camp in the West Bank. As he wrote in his memoirs: “Our fundamental condition for cooperating with Germany was a free hand to eradicate every last Jew from Palestine and the Arab world. I asked Hitler for an explicit undertaking to allow us to solve the Jewish problem… The answer I got was: ‘The Jews are yours.’”

After the war, Husseini was elected President of the National Palestinian Council, setting an example for future villains like Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas – whose doctoral thesis is a tome of Holocaust denial referring to the "fantastic lie that six million Jews were killed,” and the claim that Hitler did not kill any Jews until David Ben-Gurion provoked him into doing so.

Does there remain even a shred of credibility to Tlaib’s words?

Berlin, 1941: Palestinian founding father Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini confers with Adolf Hitler.

No More Silence
Tlaib’s comments are especially harmful amidst the current swell of anti-Semitism in the U.S. – synagogue shootings; attacks in the streets; and elected officials claiming that Jews buy Congress and have dual loyalty. Just this week, a Muslim religious leader who compared Israel to the Nazis delivered the invocation in Congress.

Perhaps most disingenuous of all, Tlaib wraps everything into a package of “Palestinian victimhood“ – the classic technique of asserting that Palestinians are innocent martyrs who paid the price for European anti-Semitism. In truth, Palestinians are the perpetrators of their own suffering – not the victims of it.

Yet Tlaib remains defiant, knowing that trumpeting these patently false statements is a way to confer a modicum of legitimacy and shift the public discourse. In the face of widespread criticism, Tlaib declared: “All of you who are trying to silence me will fail miserably.”

No, Rep. Tlaib. We will not remain silent. We will expose your words as gross distortions of history. We will hold Palestinians accountable when they are perpetrators of their own suffering – not the victims of it. And whether in the media, on Twitter, or the halls of Congress, we will call out anti-Semitism whenever we see it.

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Post  Admin on Tue 14 May 2019, 6:18 pm

Unearthed Holocaust Mass Grave in Belarus Won’t Stop Building of Luxury Condos
May 11, 2019  |  by Slovie Jungreis-Wolff
Unearthed Holocaust Mass Grave in Belarus Won’t Stop Building of Luxury Condos
The blood of 1,214 souls cries out. Do we not hear their voices?

Looking out her window, Tatyana Lakhay discovered the horrors of the Holocaust unearthed before her very eyes.

Living in Brest, Belarus, one day Tatyana was glancing out of her window watching the construction site of a new luxury apartment complex being developed. Instead of the usual construction workers, she saw masked and gloved soldiers pulling human skeletons from the dirt. The bones of 1,214 human beings to be exact. There were bullet holes in skulls.

These are the remains of Jews who were slaughtered by the Nazis and thrown into a mass grave. Tatyana remembers thinking “My God! What is going on?” as the bones kept coming out of the earth.

A local architect, Irina Lavrovsky, petitioned that the construction site be turned into a memorial park for the Jews who were murdered by the Nazis. Her request has been denied. After all, luxury apartments are needed. Lavrovsky recalls being a young girl in the 1950s and seeing human remains being removed from another nearby construction site. “There was a terrible smell in the whole neighborhood. It was so awful it was impossible to hide.”

Leather shoes unearthed from the mass grave.

According to the New York Times, “Most of the remains on the site were probably of Jews who had initially managed to hide or flee but were then captured after the Nazi’s destroyed Brest’s Jewish ghetto in October, 1942.” Jews had made up about half Brest’s population of 60,000 in 1941. They are thought to have been killed mostly in a secluded forest. Taken by rail for an early test of logistics for Hitler’s “Final Solution”, the Jews were shot and murdered in cold blood. The stench of death filled the air. Nobody cared.

I am reminded of the question that God calls out to Cain after he kills his brother, Abel.

“Where is Abel your brother?”

Cain replies. “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

God does not allow Cain to hide from his hideous deed.

“What have you done? Do you hear the voices? These are the drops of your brother’s spilled blood! They cry out to me from the ground.”

Do we not ask the same question? Do we not cry out and weep for the blood of our brothers and sisters that have seeped into that cursed earth? Do we not hear their voices?

The Times speaks of “remains on the site”. I don’t see remains; I see the faces of children, the agony of parents, and the raw fear in the eyes of men and women, young and old. I hear their cries. They still fill the atmosphere rising to the skies above us. They will not be silent. 1,214 souls.

The Torah describes the “drops of blood of your brother” in plural because when you kill a person you it is not just that soul whose life you have stolen. You have murdered their children and children’s children. There is no end to the carnage.

Now we face hatred and venomous anti-Semitism once again. Who would believe that in front of our holy ark in shul bullets would fly? Jews attacked for one reason only: because you have been born a Jew. We are not speaking about the ghettos of Europe 75 years ago. We are looking at the life of a Jew today in the United States of America. Our sons and daughters on college campuses confront twisted minds who threaten and shout them down. Choosing those who have proudly put mezuzahs up upon their doorways, these are the apartments picked to plaster fake eviction notices.

Painted swastikas do not raise eyebrows anymore. Standing against Israel is considered ‘cool’. But we know the truth; it is dangerous anti-Semitism rearing its ugly head. The wrapping looks different but the contents are the same. It is not just Jews who must beware. All mankind with a conscience beating within must take notice.

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain’s words echo to us all today.

The Secret of Jewish Survival
I think of Brest, of the massacre there. I think of the carnage and hatred here. I think of the hatred for our people all across the world. What now?

We are in the days of counting the Omer until we reach the holiday of Shavuot when we received our holy Torah. These are also days of mourning when the students of Rabbi Akiva did not engage respectfully with one another despite their vast knowledge. Tragically, 24,000 died.

It is only through unity and love of one another that we find the strength to confront our challenges as a nation. As the Jewish nation stood at Sinai, they are described as camping together as one singular individual, like “one man with one heart”. This is the direction we must embrace.

Let’s realize that it is only through togetherness that we stand tall. In every generation there are those who have despised us, shot at us, and attempted to crush both our bodies and spirits.

They will never succeed.

The Jewish people lives on. But individually each of us needs to choose to live Jewish.

The city of Brest was once called Brisk. It was a noble bastion of learning and studying Torah. Nazis entered Brisk on June 22, 1941. No Jew was spared. In two weeks all Jews were required to wear yellow signs on their back and chest. Jews were forced to move to the ghetto. The beautiful Great Choral Synagogue at the main entrance to the ghetto was turned into a warehouse of goods confiscated from the Jews. After the war, the synagogue’s six-sided stone was enclosed to hide its original form and the building was turned into a cinema. The Hebraic writing is preserved in a room on the ground floor which has been converted into a toilet. The Jewish cemetery has been turned into a sports stadium. The high quality Jewish headstones have been recycled into roads and pavements. Modern day Brest was built out of Jewish tombstones. There is blood in the soil.

The consolation from all this tragedy?

This past week I placed my hands on my children's heads and blessed them as they were returning to Jerusalem. My son and his wife, married just a year, are bonded on their mission to build a home filled with Torah. My son is learning in Brisk Yeshiva, keeping the wisdom of our great sages alive.

The bricks and buildings may not have survived, but the passionate words of Torah ring loud and clear. This is the secret to Jewish survival.

With love in our hearts, we stay connected to our roots and take the Torah of our parents with us, no matter where life takes us. We live courageously as Jews.

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Post  Admin on Sun 12 May 2019, 9:32 pm

Just Breathe: Why Celebrate Mother’s Day Even if You Don’t Really Love Your Mother
May 12, 2019  |  by Rabbi Tzvi Sytner
So much of what we have comes from our mothers.

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About the Author
Rabbi Tzvi SytnerMore by this Author >
Rabbi Tzvi Sytner grew up in Los Angeles, CA. He is a Rabbi, motivational speaker and therapist. He currently works at the Village Shul & Aish HaTorah Learning Center in Toronto. He has delivered inspiring lectures worldwide, including South Africa, Australia, U.S., and Canada. He has a popular video blog on Aish.com titled, “Just Breathe”viewed by over 8,500 per month. He received Smicha at the Jerusalem Center for Community Leader under Rabbi Yitzchak Berkowitz, a B.A. in Liberal Studies, a Masters Degree in Education, and a Master's degree in Marriage and Family Therapy.

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Post  Admin on Sun 12 May 2019, 8:28 pm

Blessings to those over the Pond to the Mothers and those who Nurture


5 Ways Judaism Honors Mothers
May 12, 2019  |  by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller
5 Ways Judaism Honors Mothers
Mothers are honored all year round in Jewish tradition.

Mothers are central to Jewish life, and Jewish tradition is full of concrete ways we honor mothers. Here are five ways Judaism honors mothers – on Mother’s Day, and every day of the year.

Heroic Jewish Mothers
Throughout the Torah and Jewish literature, mothers stand out as key figures who enabled Judaism and the Jewish people to survive.

Each Passover, we remember the Jewish midwives in ancient Egypt who, on pain of death, defied Pharaoh’s order to kill all Jewish baby boys and throw them into the Nile. We recall the matriarchs – Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah – who molded and created the Jewish people. Hauntingly, the Torah describes that our matriarch Rachel is charged with pleading on behalf of the Jewish people in the World to Come: “A voice is heard on high, wailing, bitter weeping, Rachel weeps for her children” (Jeremiah 31:14); it is her merit that we returned from exile, intact and whole and continued Jewish life.

The Torah recounts that time and again, it was Jewish women, often mothers, who stood up for what was right. In our darkest days of slavery in Egypt, Jewish men began to despair: what was the point of getting married and building Jewish families, when their children would only suffer in slavery as they did? It was Jewish wives and mothers who came to the rescue: day after day, after hours of backbreaking work, these women found the energy to dress beautifully and carve out time with their husbands, making space for family life and ensuring the survival of future generations of the Jewish people. Later, when some Jews built a golden calf to worship in the desert, again it was the Jewish women who resisted, maintaining their belief in God alone.

King Solomon described all of Jewish tradition as emanating from our mothers: “Do not forsake the Torah of your mother” (Proverbs 1:8). Throughout history, it’s Jewish mothers who’ve instilled Jewish knowledge and a love of being Jewish in their children, and our tradition recognizes this profound truth.

A Woman of Valor
Each Friday night, Jews around the world recite a beautiful poem at the Shabbat table, Eishet Chayil (“A Woman of Valor”). Written by King Solomon, this is the ultimate tribute to the Jewish people and our relationship with God.

Eishet Chayil describes an ideal woman and her relationships with her friends and family, neighbors, husband and children. Jewish tradition teaches that it is also allegorical: this idealized mother is none other than the people of Israel. King Solomon wrote the poem as a paean to his own mother Batsheva, and it’s infused with love and admiration. In describing the ideal woman and mother, we are painting a picture of the qualities we most want in ourselves.

In my own family, my husband started a unique family tradition at our Shabbat table. Before we sing Eishet Chayil, he first asks each of our kids to name three things Mom did for them that week. It’s a fun exercise and sets a tone of gratitude and appreciation that lasts far beyond Friday dinner. It also helps them realize that the woman of valor we sing about shares many qualities with real life mothers: she is charitable, she’s hardworking, she takes care of her family. “Her children rise up and call her blessed with happiness; also her husband, and he praises her” we sing. (Proverbs 31:28) It’s a beautiful moment that underscores Judaism’s reverence of moms.

Respecting Mothers
The Ten Commandments tell us to treat parents with respect. The Torah repeats this timeless injunction with two different word choices. In Exodus, we’re instructed “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12). In Leviticus God commands “You shall fear your mother and your father” (Leviticus 19:3). Traditionally, Jewish thought has interpreted this to mean that there are certain key obligations we have to “honor” our parents and others to “fear” them.

“Fearing” our parents means not being rude to them. This might sound like common sense, but it’s a refreshing change from some behaviors that modern parents are dealing with. Jewish tradition stipulates concrete steps: children aren’t to call parents by their first names. If parents have an accustomed seat that everyone knows is theirs, we’re not allowed to sit in it. We’re not to do anything that might embarrass our parents.

The commandment to “honor” our parents has its own specific advice. We are to help our parents: bringing them food and drinks, standing in respect when we encounter them, and helping them in material ways. We are to talk about them in ways that enhance their dignity and avoid dwelling on their shortcomings when we talk to our friends and others.

For moms these days, these ancient instructions are particularly refreshing. One 2005 poll found that nearly 70% of Americans felt that people were ruder than a generation ago – and kids were ranked the least courteous and respectful of all. A 2002 study found that only 9% of Americans felt the children they saw acted “respectfully” towards adults. For parents caught in the crosscurrents of raising courteous kids in a discourteous age, Judaism’s tried-and-true rules for respecting parents can be a big help. It might seem restrictive at first to be told we can’t roll our eyes and complain about our parents when we’re fed up, but trying to live up to the Jewish ideal of honoring our parents can help us grow and become more sensitive – and can help send a powerful message to our children about compassion and respect.

Honoring Parents Continues After Death
In Judaism, our obligation to honor our mothers and fathers never ends. The injunctions to speak respectfully about our parents, to honor them and burnish their memories continues even after our parents are no longer in this world. It’s customary to refer to parents who are no longer living with the Jewish phrase “of blessed memory”, and to perform acts of Jewish learning and charitable actions in their memories.

Mothers as Partners with God
In Jewish thought, motherhood isn’t only raising a child; it’s being partners with the Divine. The Talmud teaches that “there are three partners in (creating) a man: the Holy One, blessed be He, his father and his mother” (Niddah 31a). (The Talmud specifies that this includes adoptive parents too, not only biological parents.) The moment of giving birth is compared to the creation of the world: both are awesome miracles and times of intense holiness.

When we name our children, the Talmud explains that mothers (and fathers too) receive a measure of prophecy in order to choose the right name for their particular child (Brachot 57b). It’s a different way of looking at parenthood: not only raising children, but doing so in a way that brings sanctity and spirituality into the world.

This Mother’s Day, amid the flowers and gifts and celebrations, try carving out time to incorporate some of these traditional Jewish mindsets and ways to honor our mothers, as well. Doing so can enhance the ways we look at our moms and approach motherhood – and can make the time we spend with our mothers extra special and meaningful.

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Post  Admin on Wed 08 May 2019, 10:16 am

The Tragic Story of Dan Givon: A Yom Hazikaron Remembrance
May 6, 2019  |  by Adam Ross
The Tragic Story of Dan Givon: A Yom Hazikaron Remembrance
A week after receiving his wings in the Israeli air force, Dan fought in The Six Day War. He was killed defending Jerusalem.

For years on my way home in Jerusalem I would pass Givat HaMatos (Airplane Hill) and wonder what was the story behind this place and how it got its name. I finally succumbed to intrigue and began to unravel the life of an idealistic Israeli pilot whose plane was shot down, crashing into the mountain ridge I rode past every day. His name was Dan Givon and he died defending the city I am proud to call home.

Lt. Dan Givon
Dan was born on April 26 1946, two years before the State of Israel was declared. His parents, Ben-Uri and Miriam, were among a group of youth movement members who had moved from Romania and Yugoslavia, founding members of a new kibbutz. Shaar Ha Amakim, meaning Gate of the Valleys. Located in the north of the country, with the beautiful backdrop of the Carmel Mountains, today it is a home to a wide range of successful Israeli farming and enterprise, and a major producer of sunflower seeds.

Brother to Shula and Ilan Givon, Dan is remembered with affection by friends from the kibbutz, now in their 70s. “He was a handsome young man,” says Baruch Birnbaum. “He was blessed with many talents.”

Dan seemed to breeze through school and stood out for his music and artistic capabilities. Together with other children on the kibbutz, he formed a musical group who would perform songs in Hebrew. Dan was the songwriter and among his favorite themes was the beauty of the land of Israel.

At 16, Dan left the kibbutz to finish the final year of high school in Tel Aviv, attaining high grades across the board. At the end of his last year of studies, with his military service approaching, he had long made up his mind to take the entrance test for the air force. As the Israeli saying goes, “The best go to be pilots.”

Dan Givon fought in The Six Day War a week after receiving his wings.
Yisrael Rom, a friend, recalls, “He worked incredibly hard. Many on the kibbutz were surprised when he completed the course.” Not everybody did; it was tough mentally and physically, and pilots often flew alone, requiring a vast knowledge of aviation and the mastery of the mechanics of the wide range of planes that comprised Israel’s air force. Dan was 21 when he graduated the course at the end of May 1967, on the eve of the Six Day War. As he was receiving his wings, massive Egyptian and Syrian forces were mounting on Israel’s borders while calls for her destruction rang through the airways in Cairo and Damascus.

Israeli pilots flying Fouga Magista planes.
Israel acted decisively with a pre-emptive strike on the Egyptian forces, destroying over 500 aircraft as they sat parked on the runway. That day, Dan received his first mission, in his Fouga CM.170 Magister plane, providing air support for the IDF ground forces who had become enmeshed in fighting as they attempted to strike the 100,000 Egyptian troops and 3000 tanks, APCs and artillery pieces on the Sinai border. On the second day of the war he was called to defend Jerusalem after Jordan entered the war, sending a barrage of artillery fire towards Jewish neighborhoods on the city’s south eastern belt.

The Jordanians had dug deep into a large hill across a shallow valley from Kibbutz Ramat Rachel. The site was of high strategic value, giving a view of over half of Jerusalem. Also home to a 6th century monastery, in 1956 it gained the notorious name, The Hill of the Four, after Jordanian snipers gunned down four Israeli archaeologists touring the site. A network of tunnels, barracks and trenches had been dug into the side of the ridge of the hill allowing Jordanian forces to pose a constant threat to Jewish neighborhoods.

A strategic site overlooking Jerusalem

As part of a four-plane platoon, Danny, the youngest of the pilots, flew low over the hillside attempting to find the right angle to take out the artillery positions. Trying to dodge anti-aircraft fire, he took a direct hit, plummeting out of the sky and crashing down on the adjacent ridge. The place became known as Givat HaMatos, Airplane Hill.

“I remember the attack,” writes Moshe Limey, who was nine years old in 1967. “The planes reached southwest of the monastery above the green mountain. There I saw four planes fly past shooting at the mountain hideout. I will never forget, the fourth plane was hit and did not emerge with the others.” He added, “I will always remember how it curled toward the ground and the strong black smoke that rose into the sky after it hit the ground.”

Remain of Jordanian base dug into the hillside

In the spirit of the IDF not to leave a man behind, efforts were made immediately to rescue Dan’s body from his aircraft. However in the ensuing attempts to rescue him, three soldiers tripped mines planted by Jordanians, suffering serious leg injuries. After the war, two of these men would name their sons Dan in his memory.

The terrible news soon reached Dan’s parents and his friends in Shaar HaAmakim where friends to this day remember the sadness that engulfed the kibbutz.

Baruch Birnbaum, says, “I can still recall when they posted the news of his death on the billboard in the dining room. The whole kibbutz was in heavy mourning.” He continued, “It was just the day after another son of kibbutz members had been killed while on patrol near the Gaza Strip.”

During Dan’s funeral at the kibbutz cemetery his father recited some of his poems.

For these friends and family, the idealism of this young pilot still lives on. “I still remember the songs Danny wrote like it was yesterday,” Birnbaum says, “They pay testament to a young man who had such sensitivity and love for the colors, landscapes, sounds, sounds and people he grew up with.”

The Jerusalem municipality erected a monument on Givat HaMatos on the spot where Dan fell. It flanks the Hebron Road, a major artery that leads to the Old City that was also liberated in the Six Day War. A local elementary school has taken responsibility to preserve the site, visiting every year to clear away the weeds, cut back the grass and keep the memory of this story alive. Directly opposite, stands the Mar Elias Monastery and the remains of the Jordanian batteries that can still be seen visibly by passing cars.

Monument on Givat HaMatos

I have often taken visitors to climb this hill, to take in its incredible panoramic view of history and beauty, old and new. To one side are the foothills and town of Bethlehem, where King David once walked as a shepherd, to another is the Tomb of Rachel, the Matriarch of the Jewish People buried by Jacob almost 4,000 years ago. As you turn, an unbelievable vista of Jerusalem opens up, with over half of the city visible, and just meters away is Givat HaMatos where one of Israel’s most idealistic young pilots fell protecting the land that he loved.

On Yom HaZikaron, let us remember Lt. Danny Givon and all of the soldiers and members of the security forces who have fallen in their defense of Israel. May their memories be for a blessing.

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Post  Admin on Wed 08 May 2019, 10:07 am

Rocking My Crown: Highs and Lows of Covering My Hair
May 4, 2019  |  by Eve Levy
I walk around in this world with a constant awareness of who I am as a married Jewish woman – off limits to other intimate relationships.

The morning after my wedding, I woke up in the hotel suite in Jerusalem and was getting ready to go down for the gourmet honeymoon breakfast with my husband of a few hours. Before heading out the door, I paused, realizing I had forgotten something. I ran back to my suitcase to choose a scarf from my bag, one that matched perfectly with my outfit. I looked into the mirror, and without any skill or experience (read: I had no clue what I was doing!), I tied up and covered my long brown hair for the first time in my life. And when I walked out of the hotel room door that morning, it was the very first time the world would not see my hair.

Since that day 18 years ago, only my husband and children have seen me with my hair uncovered. Looking back now, I smile at my innocence. I was barely 20 years old. So idealistic. So pure. I was so excited for this new look and the status that came along with it. The status of being an Orthodox Jewish married woman. I couldn’t wait for all the accessorizing, and to use my creativity and artistic flare to do this mitzvah. So many choices, so many colors... This is going to be great fun! I thought. I was living in Israel at the time, and this was the norm in my circles. You get married – you cover your hair. So when in Rome...and I just jumped in.

Fast forward 18 years. I am still covering my hair. The excitement has waxed and waned over the years; I’ve gone through many stages and phases in my connection to this observance. I won’t lie and say it has always been a breeze. There have been tears. I’ve had to search and find meaning for myself within this observance after the initial excitement wore off. I’ve had to make this something that I am proud to keep doing. Every. Single. Day. Even when I don’t feel like it, or when it feels too hot to put something on my head.

I choose to keep doing this, not out of rote but out of choice. And I still choose to uphold this tradition just like my great grandmothers did in Europe until they were taken to the gas chambers in Auschwitz. Just like my husband’s grandmothers and great grandmothers did in North Africa. And just like I imagine the Jewish matriarchs did in Israel thousands of years ago. I choose to carry on the tradition.

Eve Levy. Yes she is wearing a wig.

Jewish observances should make your heart sing. This goes for any mitzvah. They are meant to be used as ways for connecting us with our Creator. A mitzvah is precious, like a diamond. Neither one should feel heavy or burdensome. A mitzvah should ideally feel uplifting. If it doesn’t, that could be a sign that something needs readjusting. You may need to change how you are doing the mitzvah. Relearn the meaning behind the particular mitzvah, find some fresh inspiration, get advice from a mentor, figure out how to make it work for you in a way that makes you happy. God wants us to serve Him with joy. He wants our hearts to sing.

So why do Jewish women cover their hair?

If you would ask this question to five different women, you might get five different answers. One woman might answer that she is keeping her hair exclusively for her husband. One woman might answer she does it because her mother did it. One woman might say that for her it is connected to the laws of modesty. For some, it is logical; for others, it’s emotional.

I’d like to share with you some ideas that resonated with me.

The Talmud teaches that God braided Eve’s hair before her wedding to Adam. It highlights the power of hair. Hair is a big part of our beauty as women. Hair may seem so insignificant, not a vital part of our bodies. But interestingly enough, it grows opposite the most important part of oneself – the brain. Even our body hair grows opposite places of power – under our arms, which are the vehicles of action in the world, and on our reproductive parts, which are the place of utmost creation and creativity. 

In our society, a ring on a finger indicates marriage. Every society has different norms.  Historically, women wore hair coverings, Jews and non-Jews. Gloves and bonnets were a symbol of society. Status. Respect. Dignity. The queen of England always wears a hat or crown on her head when in public till this day.

Where there is more spiritual voltage, you need more spiritual protection.
There are deep Kabbalistic teachings that talk about the powerful aura that emanates from the head of a person. The Talmud tells us how an angel teaches the entire Torah to a baby in utero. This light in the womb shines from above the head, and it stays lit for the entire life of the person.

When a woman gets married, her aura changes. This special aura now becomes more open and vulnerable to negative external forces. Covering her head acts as a protection to herself. A marriage and an intimate relationship have so much potential. There is so much voltage, so to speak. Where there is more spiritual voltage, you need more spiritual protection.

Some may not even realize that I always have my head covered. To some, I might look very natural sporting a wig or a headband fall. People may not know it, but I always know that I am covering my hair. As comfortable as wigs can be these days, you still feel like you’re covering your head. And that’s important. I walk around in this world with a constant awareness of who I am as a Jewish married woman – off limits to other intimate relationships. A certain barrier separates me from other men. I personally feel a particular containment and centering when my head is covered.

As I get dressed each morning, with my unique style and flare, I take a moment to pause in front of the mirror. I look myself over and I ask myself: am I representing my true self? Do I look dignified? Do I represent the daughter of the King? With this final touch before I start my day as a busy working mom, I cover my hair.

Now, I am ready. I do feel like a princess, being crowned with royalty. Ready to represent myself to the world. Ready to sanctify God’s name as best as I can.

This is my choice. This is my tradition. I am honored to uphold this and rock my crown.

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Post  Admin on Mon 06 May 2019, 5:07 pm

Smuggled Out of Kovno Ghetto in a Sack
Apr 29, 2019  |  by Adam Ross
Smuggled Out of Kovno Ghetto in a Sack
Erik Brik was a young boy when he survived the Holocaust. He moved to Israel with his family where he reached great prominence.

Erik Brik was born in Kovno, Lithuania in 1936, the only son of Zvi Brik an attorney and his wife Leah, a school teacher. The second biggest city in the country and once its capital, Kovno was famous for its textiles, breweries and furniture production and was brimming Jewish artisans and businesses. Home to dozens of synagogues and Jewish schools with many active Zionist youth movements, Kovno’s Jewish population of 31,000 made up a quarter of the town. The famed Slobodka yeshiva - one of the most renowned seats of Torah learning in Europe – was located close by.

On 25 June 1941, the thriving and vibrant Jewish life in Kovno came to an abrupt halt when the Nazis conquered the city, unleashing a wave of brutal attacks by Lithuanians who murdered hundreds of the Jews in broad daylight on the streets of the city. Within weeks, the Nazis consolidated their grip on the town, forcing the Jews into a ghetto, and in a series of gruesome aktions, led large groups to nearby the forests, shooting them in military forts abandoned by the Soviets.

Forced labor in the Kovno Ghetto

The killings spread fear throughout the community, with the date October 28 1941 still etched in the memory of the few survivors of the town. On that day 9,200 men, women and children were led to the notorious ninth fort, lined up and shot, their bodies buried in shallow pits. The remaining 20,000 Jews in the ghetto lived in constant fear.

No memories of happiness
Five years old when the Nazis entered the city, Erik Brik testified over 60 years later, “I don’t remember that I ever played in the ghetto, I was always afraid.” He added, “I was always within four closed walls, I could not go out. I have no memories of happiness. I can remember only the fear and worry of the daily deprivation.”

Several bitter moments have been etched into his childhood memories. “One day I dropped a pot of soup,” he said. “It was a tragedy because you have no food.” The food was in such short supply, “A rotten potato which has been smuggled in from outside turns the day into a festival.”

Jews forced to leave the Kovno Ghetto

The Nazis brutally exploited the Jews for slave labor, marching 4,500 Jews, already weak from hunger, six kilometers a day to build a military airport for the German air force. Those who worked there lived with the hope that being useful to the Nazis would keep them alive, while each day they would come home terrified to find their families had been deported or taken away in another brutal aktion.

Erik’s father, fearing for his son’s safety, dressed him as an older boy taking him along to work with the other men of the ghetto. On March 27 1944, the Nazis stepped up their murderous plans for the Jewish people, dragging 1,800 children and babies out of the ghetto, shooting them in cold blood. Somehow Erik survived the aktion. “Death is a phenomenon that I saw from up close all around me,” he said.

Hiding underground
As the remaining Jews of Kovno realized their end was near, they began to dig underground bunkers under the buildings of the ghetto, hoping they could hide or owing to some twist of fate, survive until they were liberated. Some who had good contacts outside of the ghetto tried to find ways of escaping but Zvi Brik, a respected leader in the city both before and during the war, refused to abandon his community. Joining others in one of the bunkers, he used his pre-war connections with local gentiles to smuggle his wife and their son out of the ghetto, so Erik’s incredible story of survival continued.

‘They put me in a sack and told me not to make a sound’
One of the ghetto’s factories produced uniforms for the German army; it was another way the Jews of the city used their skills as artisans to remain useful to the Nazis for as long as possible. In a carefully worked out plan, Zvi bribed the wagon driver and guards collecting a batch of uniforms from the ghetto and organized his family’s escape, placing Erik into one of the sacks, with the guard allowing his mother to walk alongside the wagon.

“They put me in a bag and told me not to make a sound,” Erik said remembering the tense journey. “If it was cold or hot or whatever, I was not to make a sound.” The wagon contained valuable goods for the Nazi war effort, and the sack containing 8-year-old Erik was placed on top so that he’d be able to breathe.

A few kilometers outside the ghetto, the wagon stopped and all of the sacks were unloaded into a barn. They had arrived at the farm of a friend of Jaroslavas Rakevičius, a friend of Erik’s father before the war.

Jaroslavas Rakevičius was awarded as a Righteous among the Nations by Yad Vashem
Erik had spent his childhood in the ghetto and had never spent time in the countryside. “When they opened the sack,” he recalled, “I opened my eyes and saw a cow. I had never seen one before.”

Erik and his mother stayed at the farm, just outside Kovno for three days before Rakevičius and his sons, who had also helped 20 other Jewish families to escape, sensing the Nazis were looking for Jews in hiding, took them to their own farm in the village of Keidžiai, around 100 kilometers away from Kovno. He remained hidden there with his mother, moving between two bunkers built under the family’s home and yard, hoping the war would end soon.

“Our biggest fear was being given away and someone informing on us,” Erik said. “If anyone would tell the authorities then not only we would be killed, but also the family that was looking after us.”

You must keep learning
Despite living with this fear, Erik’s mother refused to give up on her only son’s education. Drawing from her experience teaching before the war, she insisted they use their time in hiding to continue his education, tutoring him daily. “She taught me math and history, and I remember many long conversations about the world,” he said, recalling how his mother engaged him about life beyond the confines of the war.

As Erik and his mother stayed in hiding, Zvi Brik, along with the remnant Jews of Kovno, were hiding in the ghetto in their underground bunkers. As the Soviets advanced and the fortunes of the war turned, the Nazis began destroying the ghetto, setting fire to its buildings and smoking the Jews out of hiding. Sadly most of the bunkers were discovered, with the Jews inside suffocating from the smoke. Zvi’s bunker was not found and remarkably he too survived the war.

Reuniting and moving to Israel
After six months in hiding, the Brik family finally reunited, and two years later in 1947, moved to pre-state Israel to start a new life. Erik recalls the family’s journey: “We travelled from Lithuania to Poland, from Poland to Romania, from Romania to Hungary, from Hungary to Russian-controlled Austria, and from Russian-controlled Austria to British-controlled Austria.” He continued, “When we crossed the border we were suddenly met by a division of Brigade soldiers bearing the symbol of our flag.”

These were members of the Jewish brigade serving in the British army; from there they joined a boat of refugees sailing to Palestine. “These are things that will never be forgotten. The view of Haifa from the ship when we first arrived is something I will always remember."

Aharon Barak greets his rescuer’s son
Ceslovas Rakevičius in Israel, 1976
Eleven years old, when the ship docked Erik’s parents gave him the Hebrew name Aharon and changed their family name from Brik, to Barak, meaning ‘lightening.’ Their survival had been like flashes in the dark - one of a very few number of Kovno families who managed to reunite and begin new lives after the war.

Following in his father’s footsteps
In Israel, Aharon continued his education, the efforts of his mother in hiding had helped him retain his thirst for knowledge, despite the fear and anxiety he lived with on a daily basis. After serving in the IDF, he completed a bachelor's degree in International Relations at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University before choosing to follow in his father’s footsteps to qualify as an attorney.

Aharon Barak at Yad Vashem

After gaining great renown, in 1974, Aharon Barak was appointed the Dean of the Hebrew University Faculty of Law and one year later, the young boy smuggled out of Kovno Ghetto in a sack served as Attorney General of the State of Israel from 1975 to 1978. Barak served as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Israel (1978–95), and became President of Israel’s Supreme Court from 1995 to 2006. Such was the potential of one Jewish boy who survived the Holocaust.

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Post  Admin on Thu 02 May 2019, 9:01 pm

The Holocaust Survivor and the SS Guard
Aug 19, 2017  |  by Judy GruenThe Holocaust Survivor and the SS Guard
Judy Meisel is one of the last people alive who can help finger a former SS guard who tormented her at the Stuttof concentration camp.

Judy Meisel, an 88-year-old Holocaust survivor, is one of the last people alive who can help finger a former SS guard, still never indicted for his crimes, who tormented her during her internment in the Stuttof concentration camp, near what is now the city of Gdansk. Two German law enforcement agents recently traveled to Minneapolis to interview Mesiel to see if she could categorically identify him through photos taken more than 70 years ago. For four hours, Meisel described the cruelties of the camp guards, the horrors she witnessed and the conditions in which she survived.

Born in a small Lithuanian shtetl called Josvane in 1929, Meisel’s life, already strained by poverty, turned into a nightmare when the Nazis jackbooted into town in 1941 and kicked the family out of their home. Meisel’s father had already died from a heart attack, but she, her mother, brother and sister were taken to the Kovno ghetto, where they languished for three years. Two months before the Soviets liberated the ghetto, Meisel's brother was sent to Dachau. The women were sent to Stuttof.

Commandant’s house at Stutthof

On November 21,1944, Judy and her mother, Mina Becker, were holding hands as they walked toward the gas chambers, awaiting their certain deaths. A drunken guard suddenly shouted at Judy at the entryway, startling her, and her mother shouted, “Run, Judith, run!”

Stutthof gas chamber

Half-starved, Judith escaped and returned to her sister Rachel in the barracks. The sisters miraculously survived, despite typhus and starvation, managing to escape from a death march, crawling across the frozen Vistula River to evade the Nazis, and finally taking shelter in a Catholic convent. The nuns treated them well but expected them to convert to Catholicism.

“I thought we were the only Jews still alive,” Meisel recalled of her time in the convent, “but I told my sister, ‘We cannot do this. We will not become Catholic and run away with the nuns.’ I wanted to be Jewish more than anything else to show Hitler that he didn't kill all of us." The sisters maintained their pretense of being Catholic while working at a German Wehrmacht station, and they were eventually liberated physically and emotionally in Denmark, where Judith arrived at age 16 weighing only 47 pounds, almost deathly ill from typhus.

Judy and her sister Rachel in Denmark

During Meisel’s recent interview with the German investigators, she was shown a picture of the guard and asked, “Do you recognize this man?” Her son, Minneapolis attorney Michael R. Cohen, was with his mother during this interview and saw her face turn white.

“Meydele! That is Meydele!” she exclaimed, using the Yiddish word for little girl. “My mother called him that name because of his girlish features. He was the one who watched us get undressed every morning.”

Cohen was shocked when his mother continued to look at the photo and then say to her interviewers, “Look at how young he was. Let me ask you a question: What would you do if you were me?”

Judy and her brother Abe who survived Dachau reuniting in Toronto 1950

“My mother’s capacity for forgiveness and fairness took over, even in the face of her worst nightmares,” Cohen wrote in an essay that appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer. If an indictment is issued, German law will allow Meisel to participate as a co-plaintiff against him. As Cohen wrote about this case, “For my mother and our family, this is not a matter of revenge or of seeking the imprisonment of a 91-year-old man. We welcome the opportunity to tell her story and the important lessons it imparts about the need to never remain silent in the face of bigotry, prejudice, hatred, and intolerance.”

As a survivor, Judy Meisel raised her family with a strong Jewish identity and a passion for fighting on behalf of any people facing oppression. In the early 1960’s, when she saw news reports of a black family whose home was violently attacked for having moved into a white neighborhood, Meisel drove to their area with home-baked cookies and rang the doorbell.

Judy’s mother, Mina, (circa 1938) who was murdered in Stutthof gas chamber

“Mrs. Baker, I am a Holocaust survivor,” she said. “What can I do for you?”

Meisel helped organize the Philadelphia contingent that traveled to the March on Washington to hear Martin Luther King, Jr. deliver his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on Aug. 28, 1963. She also had dinner with him and Raymond Pace Alexander , the first black judge appointed to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. Dr. King explained the laws of kashruth to the host on Judy’s behalf.

While living in Santa Barbara, California for more than 40 years, Meisel regularly invited non-Jews to her home for Shabbat so they could understand what Jews do and how they practice their faith. “We need to learn to live with the goyim. That word means ‘nations’ and is not derogatory,” she said.

After the war, she said that she never questioned why God had done this to her and to others. “I asked instead, ‘What can I do for you?’ He wants we should be a mensch and should appreciate each other. We know after we finish reading the Hagaddah that we were strangers in Egypt. I go with that motto.”

Despite her unimaginably painful memories, Meisel has also spoken hundreds of times to audiences of college and high school students, as well as synagogues and churches about the Holocaust. But she did not focus exclusively or even primarily on the horrors of those days.

Recent photo of Judy with grandson Ben and great granddaughter Mira

“They need to hear what happened to me, but I also talk about the importance about being Jewish, about the Talmud, how it gives us resiliency. The most important day in my life is Shabbas. It has kept the Jews, and I don't think I would be alive if not for Shabbas. We should be so proud of who we are as Jews. The most important thing is to know who we are.”

Meisel returned to Lithuania as well as Stutthof and Denmark. These visits formed the basis of a riveting documentary titled “Tak for Alt,” “Thanks for Everything,” a reference to what the Danish people did for both Judy and her sister Rachel, nursing them back to health, absorbing them into their own families. During their time in Denmark, the sisters received the joyous news that their brother had also survived and was living in Toronto. At one point in the film, Meisel is seen holding her first grandson, Aaron, weeping with happiness.

“When I held him I thought of all the children who did not survive, and of the 146 members from my extended family who perished. We had all promised one another that if we survived we would tell the story.”

When told, as she often is, that she must have extraordinary resilience, she dismisses it. “I’m a normal person, flesh and blood. We all decide what we are able to do. I’m only one person, but one person can do a lot.”

To read more about Judith Meisel’s story and the status of the investigation, please go to judymeisel.com.


The Holocaust's Foremost Unsung Hero
Nov 2, 2014  |  by Emily Amrousi
The Holocaust's Foremost Unsung Hero
Moshe Kraus saved tens of thousands of Jews. Why has no one heard of him?
In 1986, a 78-year-old man named Moshe Kraus died in Jerusalem. You probably don't recognize the name. He was never commemorated in any way. He is not mentioned in any Holocaust encyclopedias. But Moshe Kraus is responsible for the largest rescue operation during the Holocaust. German industrialist Oskar Schindler, with his resourcefulness and courage, managed to save 1,200 Jews; Kraus saved tens of thousands.

Moshe Kraus
Photo credit: Beit Haedut Museum
Historians are divided on the exact number, but the most conservative estimate talks about at least 40,000 people, and some estimates are even as high as 100,000 Jews who escaped the Nazis in Hungary thanks to this daring man.

The year is 1944. The Nazis are stepping up the pace and sending more and more Jews to their deaths in efforts to quickly complete the extermination of Hungary's Jewry. A spacious glass factory located at 29 Vadasz Street in Budapest is granted extraterritorial status under the auspices of Switzerland. Some 3,000 Jews barricade themselves inside this building, dubbed the Glass House, for three months.

More and more homes in Budapest are turned into Swiss "safe houses," barring entry to Germans and the local complicit Hungarian authorities, and housing thousands of Jews. The Swiss embassy grants 40,000 Jews certificates making them foreign Swiss nationals. Tens of thousands of additional documents are forged while the Swiss turn a blind eye. Young, brave Jews disguised as Nazi officers roam the streets handing out these documents to Jews, and all of this is orchestrated by Kraus.

Among the Glass House survivors are many prominent Jews, including Moshe Shkedi, the father of former commander of the Israeli Air Force Maj. Gen. Eliezer Shkedi. "My father lived because of the Glass House," Shkedi says. "His parents and all his brothers were murdered. The important message is that not only Christians saved Jews during the Holocaust. Jews also managed to save thousands."

The story of the Glass House is one of the most fascinating historical events of that era. Much like the man behind the operation, this event has somehow evaded public attention and never received the recognition it deserved. The Beit HaEdut museum in Nir Galim has recently built a replica of the Glass House, in efforts to right this historical wrong. The forgotten story is now beginning to shed its anonymity thanks to the initiative of Ariel Bariach, the head of the museum.

A Mathematical Trick
For Hungary's Jews, the Holocaust started long after Europe's skies became saturated with smoke from crematoriums. Some 20,000 Jews who fled the Nazis in occupied countries sought refuge in Budapest, which was considered safe. But in March 1944, after the German invasion of Hungary, the Nazis began sending Jews from outlying Hungarian towns to extermination camps in Poland. Within the span of eight weeks, about half a million Jews from the Hungarian periphery were sent to their deaths, at a pace of about 12,000 per day. Entire communities were wiped out, one after another.

1.75 million people had been killed at Auschwitz and the camp was preparing for the arrival of 800,000 Hungarian Jews, slated to be killed.
In April 1944, two Slovakian Jewish prisoners managed to escape from Auschwitz. Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler met with the head of the Slovak Jewish Council, Oscar Krasniansky, and gave him a detailed account of what was happening at the death camp. Krasniansky translated their account and compiled a 32-page report (the Auschwitz Protocols) providing, for the first time, accurate and detailed information on the methods and dimensions of the Nazi extermination efforts. Vrba and Wetzler said that at that point 1.75 million people had been killed at Auschwitz, and that the camp was preparing for the arrival of 800,000 Hungarian Jews, slated to be killed.

By the end of May that year, Moshe (Miklush) Kraus had gotten his hands on the Vrba and Wetzler's report. Kraus was one of the heads of the Zionist movement in Hungary and he directed the Palestine Office in Budapest. He added his own report to the Auschwitz Protocols detailing the transport and extermination of the Jews in the outlying Hungarian towns. The report named every individual from every city and district. He then did everything in his power to disseminate the two reports.

These documents made their way to the regent of the Kingdom of Hungary, Miklos Horthy, and to all the important political figures in Hungary. An international news agency picked up the story and distributed it, and the reports created quite a stir in Switzerland. Swiss public opinion applied enormous pressure on Horthy. The pope, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Swedish King Gustaf the fifth all sent letters of protest to Budapest. Roosevelt's letter to Horthy included a military threat. As a result, Horthy put a stop to the deportation of Jews.

Between July and October of that year, before Horthy was deposed and the Arrow Cross Party rose to power, Kraus gave his all to try to include as many Jews as possible in the mathematical trick he had devised with the help of the Swiss. How did so many thousands of Jews manage to evade the Nazis' awareness? At the core, it was a feat of bureaucratic sleight of hand on a massive scale.

At the time, a British-issued immigration certificate, simply referred to as a "certificate," granting entry to Palestine, was viewed as a protective shield. Anyone in possession of such a certificate was considered a British citizen protected by the Swiss legation in Hungary, because Switzerland represented Britain's diplomatic interests in Hungary at the time. At the end of 1943, the Hungarian government recognized the rights of 1,500 holders of such certificates.

Kraus, together with other Palestine Office workers, approached Swiss diplomat Carl Lutz, who was stationed in Budapest as vice-consul and headed the office that represented British interests. Lutz was sympathetic to the Jews, having served in the Swiss consulate in Jaffa. He and Kraus had the idea to turn the 1,500 individual certificates into family certificates, including the families of 1,500 Jews in these protective documents – 7,800 people in all.

A month and a half after the Nazi occupation, when ghettos were at their peak in the outlying towns, Kraus and Lutz, with the help of anti-Nazi Hungarian foreign office workers, thought up yet another manipulation: They turned the 7,800 certificates back into individual documents, applying them to families as well, allowing them to save about 40,000 people, all of whom now possessed immigration documents issued by Switzerland. The International Red Cross, Britain and Switzerland recognized the 40,000 documents. The Nazis officially recognized only 7,800, but Kraus continued his efforts to get Nazi recognition for the full 40,000.

"The wait (for a reply) was long, and we didn't know the reason," Kraus wrote in an article, "until we found out something very strange: Someone had informed the German legation that the 7,800 documents applied to individuals, not families. That someone was one of us – Dr. Kastner."

The collective passport included tens of thousands of names.
Lutz gave the certificate holders protective passports or "Schutz-Passes" – which identified the bearers as Swedish subjects awaiting repatriation and thus prevented their deportation. The documents issued by the Swiss consulate in Budapest stated that the Swiss embassy's department of foreign interests confirms that so and so appears in a collective Swiss passport, and should be treated as having a valid passport. The collective passport included tens of thousands of names. In order to disguise the fraud, Lutz numbered the individuals in question between 1 and 7,800 – the number that had already been approved by the local authorities.

Five hundred Glass House employees who handled these documents were made into Swiss embassy employees, enjoying all the consular benefits: they were exempt from wearing the yellow star, and some of them were allowed to use the embassy vehicles and the consular telephone as part of their "consular" work. Kraus himself traveled in a car bearing the Swiss flag, driven by a Swiss driver.

The Swiss consulate in Budapest was too small to take on such an enormous operation. Arthur Weiss, the Jewish owner of the Glass House, gave Kraus the keys to his enormous factory, and Lutz issued Swiss diplomatic immunity to the building. A Swiss flag was hung at the entrance. "I chose the Glass House because I feared that there would be a lot more trouble and I knew that this building could hold a lot of Jews in a time of need," Kraus wrote years later.

Stepping Up the Rescue Efforts
In October 1944, Horthy is deposed and the Pro-Nazi Arrow Cross Party takes power. A ghetto is established in Budapest and all the city's Jews between the ages of 16 and 40, excluding foreign nationals, are told to report to work camps. Hungary's national radio station announces three times a day that individuals holding Swiss documents are exempt from reporting for duty and can move freely during all hours of the day (Jews were forbidden from exiting their houses for more than two hours each day).

Thousands of Hungarian Jews clamor to the Glass House in search of Swiss papers, including Jews already slated to cross the border into Germany. A photo taken by an unknown photographer during that time depicts masses of people crowding the building's doors holding out their arms.

Beyond the 40,000 certificates, now tens of thousands are issued forged documents.
Lutz and Kraus step up their rescue efforts. Beyond the 40,000 certificates, now tens of thousands are issued forged documents, printed both inside the Glass House and elsewhere on paper stolen from the same printing house that printed the valid documents for the Swiss. The documents provide a sense of security, but in some cases they are recognized as forgeries by the authorities and their holders are sent to the extermination camps.

When Eichmann and the S.S. seek to bring all the Jews in the Budapest ghetto to prepare them for transportation to extermination camps, Kraus approaches Lutz and asks him to grant additional houses extraterritorial status. Lutz purchases 76 houses in Budapest and gives them Swiss immunity. Thousands of Jews possessing Swiss documents are given refuge in these safe houses. These houses are seen as Swiss territory in every respect, and their inhabitants are protected from being deported or taken to work camps. The Red Cross provides them with food and basic supplies.

Lutz's daring plan is adopted by other diplomats hailing from neutral countries. Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg turns 28 houses in Budapest into Swedish territory, housing 4,500 Jews. The Spanish, Portuguese and Vatican legations arrive at a similar agreement with the Hungarian authorities: Spain is allowed to hand out 1,500 certificates, Portugal 700 and the Vatican 3,000. Signs are posted on the safe houses declaring that they are under the protection of the legation and that foreigners are not allowed to enter. All the houses protected by foreign legations are dubbed an "international ghetto".

Kraus purchases another factory, a textile mill, and rents the football association headquarters that shares a wall with the Glass House in order to house the thousands of Jews he aims to save. Some 3,000 people crowd into the Glass House alone, sleeping side by side, head to toes, not daring leave the building for any reason. They sleep in every available space, in cellars, hallways, on tables, in attics. On Shabbat they all hold a collective Kiddush.

Youngsters belonging to the Zionist youth movement become Kraus' assistants. Pinhas Rosenbaum, a young Hungarian Jew at the Glass House, gets his hands on an Arrow Cross uniform and goes out in disguise every day to hand out dozens of Schutz-Passes to Jews. Tova Singer, a 12-year-old girl, takes a forged document stating that she is Christian, and helps transport orphan children from the ghetto to Red Cross orphanages.

Pinchas Rosenbaum
Meir Friedman, a Glass House survivor recalls how the document disseminators became bolder and bolder as time went by. "Dr. Shendor Unger, one of the Zionist bureaucrats, took a consulate vehicle and drove alongside the death march from Budapest to Vienna. Those who were able to say their names were provided with documents on the spot, in the car. They filled out a form and handed it to them. In 90 percent of the cases, the Hungarians had no choice but to honor these papers. Another car that followed the march took those people back to Budapest."

In November 1944, the systematic extermination of Jews left outside the safe houses begins. Death marches to the Austrian border take 2,000 Jews to their deaths each day, in the blistering cold. Kraus and Lutz debate whether or not to continue issuing Schutz-Passes, because if they were to issue more papers than they were allotted the trick would likely be discovered, jeopardizing the entire operation. In the end they decide to keep going.

Clerks and youth movement members work entire nights signing certificates. Kraus' people and members of the Swedish and Swiss legations go out into the streets, handing out life-saving papers with the ink still wet. They go to the death marches and hand out Schutz-Passes. The Hungarians are forced to release another group of people every time.

Holocaust researcher Dr. Ayala Nadivi explains that "it made no difference who received [the documents]. Young, old, men, women, they gave them to whomever they could."

According to Kraus' own account, up to 60 or 70 thousand people were in the safe houses.
According to Kraus' own account, up to 60 or 70 thousand people were in the safe houses. "It emerged that only 32,000 Jews were in the ghetto, while there were some 150,000 Jews in Budapest at the time," Kraus wrote after the war. "That is when the authorities decided to start looking for the missing Jews."

The attacks against the remaining Jews become worse. The Nazis start taking Jews to the banks of the Danube River, stripping them of their clothes and shooting them to death. Their bodies are then thrown into the river.

"We Slept on the Tables"
The Arrow Cross try to enter the Glass House and the other safe houses several times, under the pretext that they are looking for forged documents, but they retreat after Lutz steps in, asserting the buildings' diplomatic immunity.

Meir Friedman was 18 years old when he entered the Glass House. In the spring of 1944 he and his family fled from northern Hungary and headed to Budapest. "Lutz was a true righteous gentile. After all, he would have had to be blind not to see through the maneuver that Kraus and the Zionist youth movement had undertaken. Lutz pretended not to know," Friedman recalls.

"It was a miracle from above that 3,000 people were able to fit inside that building. The conditions were not good, but it was Holocaust deluxe compared to what the people on the outside were going through. I lived in a niche between the office and the top floor, together with several other people. Everyone tried to keep themselves occupied, so they wouldn't go completely crazy," he says.

There was a cellar for Orthodox Jews. They studied Torah in there without stopping.
"There was a cellar for Orthodox Jews. They studied Torah in there without stopping. There was an attic for the Hapoel Hamizrachi party. There was a cellar for Hashomer Hatzair with counselors for children and lectures for adults. There was no shortage of lecturers, professors and doctors among us. I remember someone handing out fliers about choir rehearsals."

Friedman helped affix photos to printed certificates. "The documents didn't provide absolute protection, but most of the Nazis honored them. There were instances, however, when they tore the paper into pieces and took the Jew."

Didn't the Nazis notice that tens of thousands of Jews became Swiss nationals right under their nose?

"Maybe they did notice, but they couldn't change extraterritorial laws. They wanted to show the world that they respected international law."

"On December 31 members of the Arrow Cross entered the Glass House compound in order to take us to the Danube. I will never forget it, because of the bitter cold. We were outside for two hours, until the Swiss embassy intervened and they were forced to let us go back in. Apparently the ruling rabble wanted to be seen as a legitimate government so they respected the Swiss."

Friedman's wife, Vera (Zipora) arrived in Budapest from Vienna at the age of 5, shortly after Kristallnacht. Her father was taken to a work camp and she and her mother hid with relatives in the city. When she was 11, the Arrow Cross rose to power.

"One day, Pinhas Rosenbaum came to us dressed as a Nazi officer. We were startled. We didn't know who he was. After the guard left the building, he immediately started speaking Yiddish so that we wouldn't be scared. He took my mother and me to the Glass House," she recounts.

"The front of the building was impressive and unusual. It was made entirely of glass. Inside were offices, a yard and warehouses. People slept on huge tables, and beneath them. Twenty people on the table and another ten below. There were families in every corner. We lived on the ground floor."

"On Shabbat we would hold a collective Kiddush and everyone sang. During Hanukkah we lit candles. We weren't sad together, but each one of us was sad by himself. Everyone had one suitcase that served as a closet as well as a partition from the person sleeping on the other side."

"The youngsters who were out dressed as Nazis also made sure there was food, and we got food from the Red Cross. Peas, mushrooms, cans. The sanitary conditions were rough – there were only four or five bathrooms for 3,000 people. People stood in line for the bathroom for hours. We bathed once a week. Men bathed in the yard in subzero temperatures, and the women used one pail filled with ice water in a corner. Once a week it was obscured with a curtain."

"Every day in the afternoon we had a Bnei Akiva meeting. We sang and talked about Eretz Israel. We heard that all the Jews in Europe had been murdered. All my relatives in Poland and Vienna. My mother's eight siblings. We never knew if we would survive. Every day was a surprise. We asked ourselves questions. We knew that we had a job – to keep the fire burning and go to Israel to build a Jewish life."

Meir Friedman met his wife after the war, at a Bnei Akiva chapter in Hungary. Together they moved to Israel as part of the youth movement, and later married and had three children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

In February 1945, with the liberation of Budapest, it became clear that more than 100,000 Jews in the city had survived. Several days before the liberation, the owner of the Glass House, Arthur Weiss, was caught and murdered by the Nazis. His wife and son survived, and moved to the U.S. after the war.

Carl Lutz was one of the first to be awarded the title "righteous gentile" by Yad Vashem. In 1965, Israel issued a medal in his honor, and a street in Haifa was named after him.

Moshe Kraus moved to Israel and ran an institution for young boys. He married a Holocaust survivor from Budapest. The two had no children.

At the lavish ceremony, no one mentioned Kraus. Only Lutz praised him again and again.
The Swiss government honored Kraus for saving 30,000 Hungarian Jews. But when Dr. Nadivi began her doctoral research on the Palestine Office in Budapest, she could find no information about Kraus in the Yad Vashem archives.

"It's sad. He was an enormous rescuer. There was no one like him. There was no other rescue operation during the Holocaust that saved so many Jews thanks to the initiative of one person. Thousands followed in the path that he paved – members of youth movements, who also saved others," Nadivi says.

At the end of the war, when the Jewish Agency told Lutz that he would be inducted into the Jewish National Fund's "Golden Book" of honor and that a ceremony would be held to honor him, he thanked them, but informed them that it was Kraus who should receive the honor, because without him, the operation would have never succeeded. As the ceremony neared, Lutz wrote the JNF again asking them to recognize Kraus' contribution. But then, at the lavish ceremony, no one mentioned Kraus. Only Lutz praised him again and again.

Courtesy IsraelHayom.com/ JNS.org

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Audrey Hepburn, Teenage Spy
Apr 27, 2019  |  by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller
Audrey Hepburn, Teenage Spy
A new book sheds light on the Hollywood star’s heroic wartime activities.

Film icon Audrey Hepburn long hinted that she was active in the Dutch Resistance against the Nazis as a girl living in Nazi-occupied Holland. Now a biography of the star by Robert Matzen, called Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II has uncovered previously unknown ways that Hepburn, and her mother, aided the Allies.

Audrey Hepburn was only ten years old when World War II broke out. At the beginning of the war, she seemed like an unlikely heroine: she was born into an upper class Dutch family and some of her relatives were sympathetic to the Nazis. Six years later, her life was unrecognizable, marked by poverty and trauma and loss - and by secret work for the heroic Dutch resistance.

Hepburn was born in Belgium in 1929. Her mother Ella van Heemstra was a baroness, and her father was an Austrian-British banker. Both parents had fascist sympathies; they had met privately with Hitler in 1935, and Hepburn’s mother once wrote for a Nazi newsletter, saying, “Well may Adolf Hitler be proud of the rebirth of this great country and of the rejuvenation of the German spirit.”

Hepburn’s father walked out on the family in 1935. She and her mother moved to England for a few years, where Audrey Hepburn attended a private boarding school near Dover, but with war on the horizon the two returned home to Holland in 1939, settling in the eastern city of Arnhem. Hepburn’s mother took a job selling furniture, and for a while the Netherlands was peaceful and safe from the Nazi war machine at its borders.

That peace was shattered in May 1940, when Germany invaded the Netherlands. Soon, German troops were installed in every town and village, street signs were changed from Dutch to German, and the Nazi swastika replaced Dutch flags flying over town halls. Hepburn’s school curriculum was drastically altered: “In the schools,” Audrey Hepburn later recounted, “the children learned their lessons in arithmetic with problems like this: ‘If 1,000 English bombers attack Berlin and 900 are shot down, how many will return to England?’”

Soon, Hepburn witnessed unimaginable tragedies. She later recalled seeing a group of Jews being forced onto a train in 1941. “I remember, very sharply, one little boy standing with his parents on the platform, very pale, very blond, wearing a coat that was much too big for him, and he stepped on the train. I was a child observing a child… Then I realized what would have happened to him.”

Audrey Hepburn and her mother Ella, Baroness van Heemstra Hepburn-Ruston
In 1942, the Nazis’ orgy of killing finally hit Hepburn’s family directly. Her uncle Otto van Limburg Stirum was arrested with four other men accused of anti-Nazi activities. They were driven to a forest, forced to dig their own graves, then tied to a stake and shot to death. This finally shook Hepburn’s mother’s faith in Nazism and she became a vocal opponent of Nazism and its cruelties.

Mother and daughter moved to the small town of Velp, where Hepburn’s grandfather lived, and explored ways to help the secret Dutch resistance in their fight against the Nazis.

Hepburn was only a teenager but she found ways to materially aid the resistance. She’d studied ballet for years and hoped to become a professional dancer. Now she used her dancing talents to help the resistance.

Audrey with her mother, Ella, in London in the late 1940s

In 1944, when she was 15, Hepburn began volunteering with Dr. Hendrik Visser’t Hooft, a Christian theologian who was a committed anti-fascist. Throughout World War II, Dr. Hooft organized contact and deliveries between the Dutch resistance and the Dutch Government in exile in London. With Hepburn’s aid, he organized secret dance recitals where Hepburn would perform, raising money for the resistance. They called these top-secret performances “zwarte avonden”, or “black evenings” because of their top-secret nature and the fact that they had to blacken out the windows so nobody would guess what was going on inside.

“Guards were posted outside to let us know when Germans approached,” Hepburn later described. “The best audiences I ever had made not a single sound at the end of my performance.”

Hepburn also aided Dr. Hooft with his courier work, delivering the underground anti-Nazi newspaper the Oranjekrant throughout the area on her bicycle. Because paper was hard to get hold of in wartime Holland, the Oranjekrant was tiny, only a few inches square. “I stuffed them in my woolen socks in my wooden shoes, got on my bike and delivered them,” Hepburn later explained. A fluent English speaker, she also delivered messages from the resistance to Allied pilots who’d been shot down.

For a time, Hepburn’s family sheltered a British pilot who’d been shot down over Holland. Hepburn’s son Luca Dotti is recorded in the book explaining that this was his mother’s favorite story to tell about World War II. “My mother told me it was thrilling for her - it was risky, he was a stranger in uniform, a savior, and therefore a knight and hero. Then I learned about the German law that if you were caught hiding an enemy, the whole family would be taken away.”

By the end of the war, Hepburn and her mother were reduced to living in a cellar to avoid aerial bombings. They had very little heat, water, or food. At times Hepburn would go several days at a time without eating; by the end of the war, when she was 16, she weighed just 88 lbs.

When her town was liberated by Allied troops in 1945, Hepburn and her family rushed outside, only to find themselves surrounded by armed soldiers pointing guns at them. Hepburn spoke to the soldiers in English and the troops started cheering. “Not only have we liberated a town, we have liberated an English girl!” one of the soldiers cried.

After the war, Hepburn continued to dance and also modeled. She acted in her first movie in 1948, and later danced in a musical in London’s West End. She moved to New York in 1951 to star in the musical Gigi on Broadway.

Audrey Hepburn with Otto Frank and his second wife.

Years later, after she was established as a major star, Hepburn was asked to play Anne Frank in a movie. Anne Frank’s father Otto Frank personally asked Hepburn to play his daughter, but Hepburn felt there was no way that she could. Both girls were born the same year and grew up not far from each other in Holland. Hepburn had read Anne Frank’s diary and felt an overwhelming kinship with the murdered Jewish girl. “That child had written a complete account of what I had experienced and felt” during the war, Hepburn told her son.

“I was so destroyed by it (reading Anne’s diary) again, that I said I couldn’t deal with” playing Anne Frank in a movie, a sorrowful Hepburn explained as she turned down the role. “It’s a little bit as if this had happened to my sister,” Hepburn explained. “In a way she was my soul sister.”

Despite her fame as an actress, Hepburn was most proud of her resistance activities during World War II. “The war was very, very important to her,” Hepburn’s son Luca Dotti says in the book. “It made her who she was.”

About the Author
Dr. Yvette Alt MillerMore by this Author >

Yvette Alt Miller earned her B.A. at Harvard University. She completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Jewish Studies at Oxford University, and has a Ph.D. In International Relations from the London School of Economics. She lives with her family in Chicago, and has lectured internationally on Jewish topics. Her book Angels at the table: a Practical Guide to Celebrating Shabbat takes readers through the rituals of Shabbat and more, explaining the full beautiful spectrum of Jewish traditions with warmth and humor. It has been praised as "life-changing", a modern classic, and used in classes and discussion groups around the world.

Doing Jewish and Responding to Terror
Apr 30, 2019  |  by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller
Doing Jewish and Responding to Terror
Jews around the world are pledging to do more Jewish acts after the shooting in California.
When a vile, racist anti-Semite burst into the Chabad of Poway synagogue near San Diego on the last day of Passover, he brazenly murdered a longtime congregant, Lori Gilbert Kaye. Sixty years old, Lori was known for her warm smile and her kindness; whenever her fellow congregants needed anything, Lori was the first to volunteer, often bringing meals to people who were ill.
Lori had made a special effort to attend services that day in order to recite the Yizkor prayer for her mother, and she was one of the first Jews the gunman encountered when he entered the lobby of the synagogue. The gunman ranted about Jews “ruining the world” then murdered Lori in cold blood in front of her 22 year old daughter Hannah.
Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein was nearby, washing his hands before reading the Haftorah, when he heard the shot and spun around. The gunman turned and met Rabbi Goldstein’s eyes: the rabbi later recalled how chilled he was to see the coldness in them. The gunman raised his automatic rifle to shoot Rabbi Goldstein who instinctively raised his hands to protect his face. The gunman shot Rabbi Goldstein twice, once in each hand, tearing off one index finger and severely damaging the other.
In that moment, Rabbi Goldstein started to go towards Lori Kaye who laid on the ground, but realized that a group of children was standing in a nearby doorway, staring horror-struck at the carnage. One of those children was Rabbi Goldstein’s four year old granddaughter, watching her zeide get shot. Bleeding profusely, Rabbi Goldstein changed direction, herding the weeping children away from the lobby, yelling to run for safety and flee the synagogue.
Lori Gilbert Kaye with her daughter and husband
It was only because the gunman’s weapon jammed at that moment and he fled that more people weren’t injured or murdered. Eight year old Noya Dayan was injured when shrapnel tore open her leg; her 34 year old uncle Almog Peretz was also injured in his leg by shrapnel. As the terrified congregants gathered outside in front of the synagogue, police and emergency personnel arrived and urged Rabbi Goldstein to enter an ambulance and be rushed to the hospital. Before he acquiesced, there was one task Rabbi Goldstein knew he had to complete: grabbing a chair, Rabbi Goldstein climbed on and told his traumatized congregants, “We are strong, we are united, they can’t break us. Am Yisroel Chai - the People of Israel Live.” Only then did he allow himself to be taken to the hospital, where he faced four and a half hours of surgery on his hands.
Coming out of surgery, Am Yisroel Chai was first message Rabbi Goldstein sent to the world. Speaking wearing his hospital gown, he recorded a video urging Jews around the world to believe in that timeless message, and to change their lives to bring more light into the world. One prime way we can all react to the shooting is to pledge to celebrate Shabbat this week, lighting Shabbat candles and going to synagogue to stand with our fellow Jews.
“Today should have been my funeral,” Rabbi Goldstein wrote in The New York Times two days after the shooting. The day was the funeral of his good friend and congregant Lori Kaye, and it easily could have been his as well. “I do not know why God spared my life in Poway synagogue,” Rabbi Goldstein wrote; “All I can do is make this borrowed time matter.”
For Rabbi Goldstein, that means being even more proud of being Jewish: of proudly walking down the street wearing his kippah, proclaiming his belief in God to the world. As the Jewish world reels in horror after the shooting in California, he wants us to know that we all can do more to bring light into the world to counter the hatred and darkness, wherever we are.
Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein
Rabbi Goldstein is urging Jews around the world to start making plans, now, to soar to new heights. “To light candles before Shabbat. To put up mezuzahs on their doorposts. To do acts of kindness. And to show up in synagogue - especially this coming Shabbat.”
We Jews have much to pray for. We should pray for the complete healing of all the injured, including Rabbi Goldstein, Yisroel ben Chana Priva; Noya bat Eden; and Almog ben Ruti. We also must make sure Lori’s sacrifice means something to us.
In the memory of Lori Kaye, Leah bat Reuven, a kindly generous woman, let’s each choose an act of loving kindness to perform in her memory. Whether it’s inviting a person to share a meal with us or reaching out to visit a lonely or ill neighbor, it’s time to pledge a change in her memory. Let’s counter the hatred that killed her with light. Let’s all stand together and resolve to live more proudly as Jews. Let’s resolve to come together this coming Shabbat and celebrate with our fellow Jews. This week, let’s make Rabbi Goldstein’s words a reality: Am Yisroel Chai. The people of Israel continue to live vital, rich, fulfilling and full Jewish lives.
About the Author
Dr. Yvette Alt MillerMore by this Author >
Yvette Alt Miller earned her B.A. at Harvard University. She completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Jewish Studies at Oxford University, and has a Ph.D. In International Relations from the London School of Economics. She lives with her family in Chicago, and has lectured internationally on Jewish topics. Her book Angels at the table: a Practical Guide to Celebrating Shabbat takes readers through the rituals of Shabbat and more, explaining the full beautiful spectrum of Jewish traditions with warmth and humor. It has been praised as "life-changing", a modern classic, and used in classes and discussion groups around the world.

Jews Shouldn't have to Pay with their Lives to Gather in Prayer
Apr 29, 2019
by Rabbi Marvin Hier and Rabbi Abraham Cooper
Jews Shouldn't have to Pay with their Lives to Gather in Prayer
We need our leaders to work together to stop the hate — all hate — from the far right to the far left.

Ten years ago, we asked a hotel clerk in Frankfurt, Germany how to walk to the local synagogue. “Easy,” she said, smiling, “go to the second light, make a right and walk until you reach the armored half-track.” European Jews, to try to protect themselves from Palestinians in the 1970s and today from returning Islamic State fighters, have long accepted that the only way to pray in peace is to prepare for war. Synagogue goers in Paris, Rome, Copenhagen, and in Istanbul, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem have paid with their lives for praying to God in a minyan.

Here at home, Jewish institutions large and small have had perimeter security for decades. Still, we all wanted to believe major attacks wouldn’t happen here. Now they have happened here … again and again. Six months to the day of the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh, when a white supremacist neo-Nazi mass-murdered 11 Jews, another Jewish woman, Laurie Gilbert Kaye, is dead, struck down – here in California – as she tried to shield her rabbi, who was injured along with two others, including an 8-year-old girl. They were allegedly gunned down by a 19-year-old white supremacist, who in word and deed copied the shooters in Pittsburgh and in a New Zealand mosque attack.

Something precious and uniquely American is being stripped away from us before our very eyes. Until recently, Americans of all faiths felt secure leaving our homes to go our churches, synagogues or mosques to pray, socialize with our faith communities and return home in peace.

No more. Terrorists, foreign and increasingly domestic, specifically seek to murder and maim the faithful. They are killing more than people; these terrorists are steadily destroying a key pillar of American society.

Is turning our houses of worship into armed camps the best we can offer our children?

We can and should increase training and deploy technological tripwires to “harden” houses of worship. But that cannot stop the hate.

We should also demand that all social media platforms remove “live streaming” capabilities that broadcast these onslaughts in real time. We should demand that Twitter, YouTube, Google, Facebook and others stop providing the anti-Semites and racists a platform. But that would also not stop the hate.

Instead of showing some moral leadership and bipartisan resolve, our politicians have chosen to weaponize anti-Semitism and racism. The recent “hearing” on white supremacist hate crimes in the House Judiciary Committee was a farce with both Democrats and Republicans more interested in pandering to their bases than forging a unified action plan to counter the kind of attacks that took place in Pittsburgh and San Diego. They are shirking their responsibilities to fight the hate.

We American Jews live with the fact that we are the No. 1 target of religious-based hatred.
The media have too often failed in their responsibilities. Hate is hate. But frankly, media outlets don’t always present a level playing field. They don’t seem to trust that Americans are mature enough to know that all Muslims aren’t responsible if an Islamist commits a hate attack, just as all of Christendom is not culpable when a “white nationalist” invokes Scripture to justify murder.

We American Jews live with the fact that we are the No. 1 target of religious-based hatred. In 2019, we are more worried than ever, not only because of the unprecedented level of deadly violent attacks but because anti-Semitism is now accepted in the mainstream of society. We are incensed and worried that America’s anti-Semite in chief, Louis Farrakhan, is rarely called out for decades of violent hatred of Jews and Judaism.

We watch in horror as freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) has injected anti-Semitism into the mainstream of American political culture. Her hatred is excused or winked at by the top leadership of her party.

Here’s what we need from our Democratic and Republican leaders: Spare us the morning-after news releases and work together to stop the hate – all hate – from the far right to the far left.

If we truly want to defeat hate and take back our nation’s venerated freedoms, we all have to earn it by being strong and by acknowledging our differences while working together to rebuild the playing field that once housed the American dream.

The Kaliver Rebbe, Rabbi of the Holocaust, Dies at Aged 96
Apr 29, 2019  |  by Adam Ross
The Kaliver Rebbe, Rabbi of the Holocaust, Dies at Aged 96
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Taub, who carried the scars and memory of the Holocaust, has died in Jerusalem aged 96.
This week a towering Jewish figure left this world. His name was Rabbi Menachem Mendel Taub, the master ‘Admor’ of the Hasidic dynasty of Kaliv, known to many as the Kaliver Rebbe.
With a noticeable lack of beard that set him apart from other senior Hasidic leaders, the Kaliver Rebbe’s appearance was not by a choice; he was a victim of chemical burning experiments carried out on his skin by the notorious Joseph Mengele at Auschwitz.
Born in 1923 in Transylvania, now Hungary, the Rebbe was the seventh generation of a family of Hasidic leaders dating back to Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac of Kaliv, one of the most eminent mystics of the 1800s. In the summer of 1944, aged 21 just having been engaged to be married, he was deported to Auschwitz three days before the holiday of Shavuot along with his family, including six brothers and sisters; he lost them all.
Living with the scars of Mengele
Pulled aside to be one of Mengele’s human guinea pigs, his experience at the hands of the so-called ‘medical team’ at the concentration camp where 1.1 million Jews were murdered, not only prevented him from growing a beard, he was also left unable to father children. Despite the suffering he endured, he refused to let go of the dream of continuing his family’s legacy and saw it his fate to survive. After being transferred late 1944 from Auschwitz to the Warsaw Ghetto and then on to the Breslau concentration camp, he was marched to Bergen-Belsen where he was liberated in April 1945.
Let me live, and I will say Shema Yisrael with the living.
Throughout his life, the Kaliver Rebbe told and retold the story of how his fate to survive the war was sealed. In one of the darkest moments, just days ahead of his liberation, he cut a bargain with God pledging to dedicate his life to passing on the flame of Jewish continuity if his life was saved.
“The Nazis were literally throwing Jews into fires,” he recalled. “I heard Shema Yisrael being sung by a young boy and I turned to God and said, ‘Let me live, and I will say Shema Yisrael with the living.’”
For the next 75 years he would keep to his promise, opening schools, teaching and bringing a community almost entirely destroyed back to life. Wherever he would go, he would tell of his ‘agreement with the Almighty’ and often be brought to tears as he led other Jewish children in the same tune he heard that day. The Shema became his anthem, his revenge, his message to the world.
Rebuilding after the war
After liberation, the Kaliver Rebbe learned the tragic fate of his family, but also that his fiancé, Chana Sara Shapiro, the daughter of an another prominent Hasidic family, had also remarkably survived the war. The couple married and in 1947 moved first to the United States, Cleveland Ohio before immigrating to Israel in 1962 to rebuild the Kaliver Hasidic dynasty which had been largely destroyed by the Nazis.
Growing to be a prominent leader among Orthodox Jews in Israel, the Kaliver Rebbe was renowned for beginning his public appearances regularly visiting children, gathering them together to sing Shema Yisrael with them.
Never forget
Often invoking the memory of the six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust, especially the 1.5 million who were children, he even became known as the Shoah Rebbe, making huge efforts to ensure the memory of the Holocaust be perpetuated.
In addition to a 13-volume edition explaining the deeper meaning of the Jewish holidays, he wrote an ‘Encyclopedia of the Holocaust’ bringing attention to what he described as the ‘spiritual heroism’ of the Jews who gave their lives to observe mitzvot during the Holocaust.
“There were rabbis and yeshiva students who clung to the religious commandments until the end,” he told a New York Times reporter in 2000. “Did they not defend the soul of the Jewish people? Are they not as important to Israel today as F-16s and A-bombs?”
Love for the Jewish People
The Kaliver Rebbe’s appeal and voice far extended the remit of his own Hasidic followers, often reaching out to the wider Jewish community in a spirit of unity. His voice was one of peace between brothers, harmony within the Jewish community, rebuking those who would inflame arguments between the religious and secular in Israel with inflammatory language.
A leader who also built bridges between the Ashkenazi and Sephardic communities he was known to be a great friend of the late senior Sephardi scion Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, with admiration shared between the two leaders a known testament to their friendship. When the Rabbi Yosef died in 2013, the Kaliver Rebbe considered it a great honor to help write a sefer Torah in his friend’s merit.
The Kaliver Rebbe with Rav Ovadia Yosef, zt”l
Active well into his 90s fighting for the issues that were dear to him, in 2015, at the age of 93, he gave a rare interview before Passover on Israeli national television, bringing attention to the issue of poor families ahead of the holiday. “The children are crying, and I am crying with them,” he told the reporter. “They have nothing to eat,” adding in tears: “In the name of the six million and one a half million children who perished, how can we let them go hungry? They are crying, I am crying with them.”
A rabbi and a statesman
The Kaliver Rebbe took his responsibility to protect the Jewish People to the highest political offices, reaching out to successive US Presidents urging them to show friendship to Israel. In 2015, from a ceremony in Budapest marking the 70th anniversary since the destruction of Hungarian Jewry, he recorded a video message to then president Barack Obama urging him to be a strong friend of Israel, telling him, “The Almighty ordained that you be president so please do everything you can do to help,” adding: “The whole world should see you are a friend of the Land of Israel.”
Earlier this year, despite being unwell and weak, he congratulated President Donald Trump on moving the embassy to Jerusalem. “I heard about your visit to Jerusalem, and I want to tell you, the Almighty is with you. You should have great success.”
Praised by Israeli leaders
In addition to the tens of thousands of Jews who lined the streets of Jerusalem to pay their respects to the Kaliver Rebbe this week, his passing also brought together Israel’s political leaders, led by President Reuven Rivlin.
At the funeral of the Kaliver Rebbe
“The Rebbe gave voice to the spiritual heroism of Jews during the Holocaust and did all he could to honor the memory of its victims,” he said. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu added, “The timing of the Kaliver Rebbe’s death near Holocaust Remembrance Day strengthens our eternal commitment — to remember and not to forget.”

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