May We Find Light in Darkness this Passover

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Israel’s Escape from Egypt (illustration from a Bible card published 1907 by the Providence Lithograph Company)

 

Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former U.K. Chief Rabbi, remarked on how the book of Genesis ends on “almost a serene note.” Then, there was a new Pharaoh, who set into motion oppression against the people of Israel. “But the more they were oppressed, the more they increased and the more they spread.” In other words, he said, “The worse things get, the stronger we become.”

So, Rabbi Sacks asks, “What makes this year different from all other years?”

“We have never been more alone because the social distancing and the isolation that we’ve been practicing mean that we are unable to celebrate Pesach the way it should be
celebrated,” he says. “But at the same time, we have never been less alone.”

Most of all, he continues,  “We don’t only recall our suffering. We recall the suffering others.”

HIAS, the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society, asks us to imagine Passover by connecting with today’s refugees throughout the world. The organization created a Haggadah to “hold out hope for the day when every person in search of refuge in every corner of the earth can recall a story of freedom, reflect on a journey to security from violence and persecution, and no longer yearn for a safe place to call home,” the more than 70 million displaced people around the world today.

At the end of World War II, surviving Jews were among refugees. She’repith hapletah – the Saved Remnant, the “few who escaped,” they were known. The Final Solution during the Holocaust was supposed to eradicate the Jewish population of Europe, literally roots and all, and it nearly succeeded. In the spring after World War II, in 1946, a group of these displaced persons met in Munich, Germany, to celebrate one of the most poignant and meaningful Passover Seders in history. In normal times, the theme of the holiday is the escaped from servitude and darkness, and looking with hope and deliverance in better times. Of course, this year, those themes would take on added meaning. The Haggadah used at that Seder reflected that in both traditional and novel ways.

A Survivor's Haggadah Passover Pesach Haggadah Shoah Holocaust

A Survivor’s Haggadah. Front Cover, Dustjacket/.
Saul Touster, Ed. Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Society, 2000

Our book actually begins almost exactly a half century later, in the spring of 1996, when a Brandeis University professor named Saul Touster was going through one of his father’s files, when a most unusual booklet fell out. Beneath a simple letter A enclosed in red and blue circles were the words “Passover Service,” with the year 1946.

   This has been reproduced in a beautiful hardcover volume. Within the covers Dr. Touster found pages with Hebrew type surrounded with borders that contained striking images contrasting the symbols of the Holocaust with others of the Promised Land by a Polish survivor named Yosef Dov Scheinson, interspersed with striking woodcuts depicting the toil of enslavement by a Hungarian artist, Miklos Adler, all supplementing the usual visual representation one would expect to find in a Haggadah.

   The high quality of the A Haggadah is fascinating in its own right, but Dr. Touster’s insightful commentary provides an invaluable context, making this excellent volume much more than a coffee table book that is pretty to look at. Much more, it preserves – through retelling – the precious memory of a history that must be told, when Passover was truly a t’shuvah, a redemption, coming home, a passing from darkness to light.

Hagaddah page enslavement Nazi Germany Hitler Egypt Pharaoh Passover Shoah Holocaust

This is one of the woodcuts by Milkos Adler, which the author of the Haggadah, Yosef Dov Sheinson, selected to supplement his own illustrations and writing.

  As we keep each other in mind and work for one another, may there be a glimmer of light in this time of darkness. “Next year, in Jerusalem,” at home with family.

Leah Liwska and a Beautiful Purim Story from Rochester, New York

Group Picture 1929

 

Alex Zapesochny, Publisher of the Rochester Beacon, shared this beautiful story about “discovering” his great aunt, Leah Liwsky. His search led him to the Korczak orphanage in Warsaw, where Leah was one of the students. She is believed to be the third from the left in the second row in this 1929 photo. As Janusz Korczak never abandoned his children, Leah stayed with Korczak, even in the hell that was the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942. So dedicated was she that she made Janusz Korczak’s list of “valuable employees” at the orphanage, in a document dated March 19, 1942. The Jewish people faced a threat, but thanks to Esther, good prevailed. For Purim this year, we get to meet another strong heroine!

 

Leah Liwska - A Purim Story Rochester Beacon

 

Please read the beautiful article here

Two Holocaust Museums Rethink Their Missions

At a time when there are increasingly fewer Holocaust survivors and witnesses, the last year has seen a surge in anti-Semitism and other forms of racism and bigotry (such as White Nationalismon the rise. Of even greater concern, these forms of bias and hate are moving from the fringes to the mainstream. The Washington Post recently called on Congress to take action. These worrisome trends have had at least two Holocaust museums re-examine how they present their collections. The first involves a young girl, a name world famous but a history often misunderstood. The second commemorates the ghetto uprising in Korczak’s home of Warsaw.

 

The Anne Frank House, Amsterdam

Although attendance at this Amsterdam landmark has increased sharply over the past seven years, the curators have noticed that many of the younger and foreign visitors have a limited knowledge of the Holocaust and Anne Frank. The challenge, according to and article in the New York Times, is how to make this history relevant to today without trivializing it. The museum has expanded both its exhibition space in an building adjoining the old house and its educational outreach efforts, especially to enable these audiences to experience the what happened in the house. The museum also has traveling exhibitions, such as the new “Let Me Be Myself.” Anne Frank has long been a metaphor for hope and the belief in the inherent goodness of people even in the worst of circumstances.

 

Anne Frank Card Stamps with Korczak

 

Lohamei Hagetaot – Ghetto Fighters House Museum, Israel

In another recent New York Times article, the Ghetto Fighters House Museum, which commemorates the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and honors notable people of the city during the Holocaust, including Janusz Korczak. Yad Layeled commemorates the children. According to the article, “…instead of dealing with the Holocaust as a static historical event, and only a Jewish tragedy, the museum is advocating a more dynamic approach with a focus on the moral lessons for all of humanity.”

Ghetto Fighters House 50

Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War Is a Tale of Moral Courage

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Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War is a powerful new film by Ken Burns and Artemis Joukowsky. The film tells of the courageous mission of an American couple in 1939, to assist refugees in escaping Nazi-occupied Europe.  During their two-year mission, Waitstill and Martha Sharp risked their lives so hundreds of Jews would find freedom. It will be shown on PBS on September 20, 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time.
Screenings in New York City are also planned; many other resources and links can be found on this website.
Update, Sunday, September 18: Nicholas Kristof wrote wrote a masterful column, explaining both the background of the Sharps’ true story and why it is relevant today, especially regarding the Syrian refugees – Would You Hide a Jew from the Nazis?

Remembering Dr. Paul Winkler, a Man Who Helped Us All to Remember

This month, we lost another champion of Holocaust studies.  Dr. Paul B. Winkler was in charge of the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education, a position he used to make this critically important subject available to all New Jersey students, teachers, and adults who wanted to learn more.  He was a strong supporter of the Korczak Society of the USA and presented at many conferences and workshops dedicated to the life and work of Janusz Korczak.

winkler

For more information of this wise and gentle scholar, please visit the page in Dr. Winkler’s honor, at the website for the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education.  Baruch dayan ha-emet.

Remembering a Champion of Humanity

The Nobel Committee called Elie Wiesel a “messenger to mankind.” He is one of the people I most admire – and for good reason. On July 2, 2016, Elie Wiesel passed away. His words of wisdom and compassion, told with utmost elegance, will live on in his many writings and speeches.

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Elie Wiesel in 2009. Photo by Beni Markovski, via Wikimedia Commons

I include a few links:

 

“Elie Wiesel gave voice to the voiceless victims of the Holocaust and bore witness in the name of humanity to one of the great crimes against it. His was the voice of memory when others sought to forget, and of defiant hope in the face of despair. He spoke for an entire murdered generation, and did so with dignity, humanity and grace. He was a great survivor, a great Jew, and a great humanitarian. His work was a blessing; so may his memory be.”

-Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

Baruch dayan ha’emet! Thank you, Elie, for being such an important part of my life!