Wednesday, November 14, 2018

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Emily Sherman on Toldot



My Torah portion describes the birth of twins Esau and Jacob. As they get older, it becomes clear they have opposite talents…Esau is the hunter and the athlete.  Jacob is the student and the scholar.

The Torah portion goes on to highlight each brother’s strengths and weaknesses, how their respective qualities help and hinder each of them in their lives, in their personal relationships, and in their adventures. 

The question that pops out here and the question I’ve discussed with the Rabbi is whether the Torah is favoring the student or the athlete.

At first, it would seem like the Torah favors Jacob the student. Esau, not the brightest, was really hungry one day and sells his “birthright” – that is, his rights as the first born – to Jacob for a bowl of red lentil soup. For those of you who know me well, I get hungry and I’m a beast when I’m famished so I’m sort of a fan of Esau’s….He was really hungry! And besides how important are birthrights anyway…in my house, it’s really just an excuse for Josh to get the first choice of steak, stay up later than me, and sit in the front seat.

But when I think about how my life relates to this Torah portion, I first tried to think about which twin I related to best.  And the answer is easy---it’s both.  I love sports, especially tennis. And I love school, especially math.  But more importantly, what I love most about learning and athletics is the challenge and competition of each, where I really have to push myself, dig deep and sometimes take a loss or frustration and push through it.

When I hear my parents talk about my great grandmothers for whom I am named, I can’t help but think I get my competitive edge—almost a survival skill—from all of my great grandmothers.  Every single one of them. 

You may remember hearing my brother tell the story at his Bar Mitzvah about my great grandma Frieda, whose Hebrew name is Tzipora, which is my middle name.  She escaped from a Nazi concentration camp and lived under a floorboard for an entire year to avoid capture.  

My other namesake, my great grandmother Edith lost her husband when my grandfather Mickey was in 8th grade and she worked full time, multiple jobs, supporting 3 kids and making sure they got an education.  My other great grandmother Betty “Ma” Baron was also widowed early and glued my family of 6 great aunts and uncles, and my dad’s 13 first cousins together. And my other Great grandmother Lee is here today at 95 years old and is full of life and such an inspiration to me. 

 These are strong, resilient women who never took no for an answer and fought hard on every stage they found themselves on.  That, everyone, is my inspiration in not just sports and school, but in my life.

For my mitzvah project, I wanted to share my love of sports with kids who may not be lucky to have as many opportunities I’ve had to play sports. For years I’ve been involved with Grassroots, a Norwalk charity that brings the sport of tennis to inner city kids who don’t have as much access to tennis, as well as tutoring. I volunteered and raised money this year with their annual doubles tournament, which was a big success.  The goal of this organization is to ensure each of their kids is on a path towards success on the court, in the classroom and in life.  That’s certainly the type of place that both Esau and Jacob would have enjoyed.

So as we reflect on Esau & Jacob in this Torah portion, here are my takeaways:  First, that I can appreciate and learn from them both, be inspired by their best qualities to become a successful student-athlete and second, not to let my brother make any bad deals with me—in fantasy football or in life--like Jacob got one over on Esau — even for a tempting bowl of lentil soup!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Ben Evans Recalls Kristallnacht on its 80th Anniversary Nov. 9, 2018

TBE Congregant Ben Evans helped us to commemorate the 80th Anniversary of Kristallnacht on Friday night by sharing his own recollections of that fateful night, as a ten year old living in Germany. We were honored by the presence of his family, including a number of grandchildren who had never heard this story told in such detail before. Ben was fortunate to escape Germany after Kristallnacht and make it to the US, thanks to an accident of birth - his father and grandfather had been born in Russia, not Germany or Poland, and US quotas on Soviet Jews were less strict at the time (since so few got out). He was, in a real sense, “grandfathered in.” The Q and A is cut off on the archived livestream that I took this from, but you get Ben’s full story in this audio excerpt.


Thursday, November 8, 2018

Shabbat-O-Gram for November 9

Shabbat-O-Gram

 
TBE Hebrew School and Day School 7th graders celebrated last Sunday at our mock bris and baby naming.  See more photos here.  And mazal tov to Jami and Scott Fener on the birth of a real baby boy this week! 

Shabbat Shalom 

Mazal Tov to Emily Sherman and her family, as she becomes Bat Mitzvah this Shabbat morning. Join us on Shabbat morning also for the visit of an interfaith group from the Afula region brought to our community by the UJF: guests are 
Amani Masalha Zoabi, born in Daburiah, an Arab traditional village next to mount Tabor and now a resident of the  Israeli-Arab village of Tamra in the Gilboa Regional Council.
Amir Cahaner, a geographer specializing in the demographics of the Ultra-Orthodox;
Ayala Carmi, a therapist and Healthy & Balanced Life consultant, and
Ravid Pitaro, a physician and the head of this coexistence group.
 
On Friday evening, TBE congregant Ben Evans will be speaking of his personal experiences of Kristallnacht.
 
For those who have seen me this week and are wondering about the facial hair, no, I'm not trying to stir my inner Sean Connery (sorry, shaken, not stirred). I'm in the midst of shloshim, the 30-day intermediate period of mourning that both includes and follows shiva. If you are interested in learning more, I highly recommend this super informative article from MyJewishLearning, "Shloshim: The Bridge to a New Normal." While there is nothing pleasant about grieving, the process I'm going through does give me a chance to "teach 'em how to say goodbye," as I did last week when the Hebrew School paid a shiva call. During these 30 days, I will continue to grow the beard. Then, after visiting the facial hair capital of the world, Brooklyn, I'll shave it off (probably).
 
We still are trying to assimilate both the positives and negatives of the past few weeks. On the plus side, I want to share Kyle Nadel's bar mitzvah speech from two weeks ago. 

And then there is the continued shock of the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue (as well as last night's shooting in California). TBE transplant and new Pittsburgh resident Natasha Berman wrote to update me about how the community was coping. She wrote:

Our Friday night service had standing room only and on Saturday morning Beth Shalom (where we eventually joined) opened its doors and held a joint service with all three of the congregations who are normally housed in Tree of Life. I don't know if I've ever seen so many people in one space saying Kaddish - actually I know that I have never seen it. I do not have words to express how much love was with us on Shabbat, how heartwarming it was to know that there were non-Jewish individuals there to support us, and our Jewish community. I did not ever think I would see a fully packed synagogue with everyone from reform to orthodox all listening to women reading the Torah, but that is what I saw this Shabbat. So while we will likely continue to have tears and sadness it is my hope that the Pittsburgh community will be even stronger. 
 
Our services last weekend were also quite moving, with about 400 here on Friday night and 75 on Shabbat morning. Click here to see the text and audio of my sermon last Friday, "A Tale of Two Shivas." I made reference to a searing poem by TBE young adult Matthew Katz - You can read "It's not easy being a Jew" here. And you can view our archived video of the entire service here.
 
Kristallnacht and Other "Break the Glass" Moments
 
After yesterday's firing of Jeff Sessions, Senator Blumenthal tweeted:
 
This is a break the glass moment. Replacing the Attorney General with a non-Senate-confirmed political staffer is highly irregular & unacceptable. Protecting the Special Counsel investigation is more urgent than ever.
 
A "break the glass moment" evokes the pulling of a fire alarm, and for Jews it also conjures up the final act of a wedding ceremony. Neither act - pulling an alarm or getting married - should be undertaken rashly. Once broken, that glass is shattered forever. Once the act is done, it cannot be undone. It is a step that must be taken with the utmost of gravity.
 
Eighty years ago, on November 9, 1938, the world faced a similar break-the-glass moment, but the only ones breaking glass were the Nazis. Kristallnacht means literally, the Night of Broken Glass. Historian Alan E. Steinweis wrote:
 
The Kristallnacht was a monumental development in Nazi anti-Jewish policy for several reasons. It was the single instance of large-scale public and organized physical violence against Jews in Germany before the Second World War. It unfolded in the open, in hundreds of German communities, even those with very few Jewish residents, and took place partly in broad daylight. It inaugurated the definitive phase of so-called Aryanisation: the coerced expropriation of German-Jewish property... [It was] the culmination of a brutal trajectory.
 
Despite this massive pogrom, the world stood by and the German people acquiesced. (See this site for more background). Paris, London and Washington DC condemned the riots, but took little action. Most ordinary Germans backed the pogrom or were indifferent, but at that time there was some genuine shock at the sheer brutality, along with some public condemnations (to the extent that such things were possible in Hitler's Germany). But by that point, the people were powerless to mount significant resistance.
 
Three decades ago, on the fiftieth anniversary of the event, The New York Times surveyed historians on the significance of Kristallnacht in relation to the Holocaust as a whole. The article noted that, while many Americans voiced shock at the terrible events of November 9, not long afterward, when Senator Robert F. Wagner of New York proposed to stretch immigration quotas so that about 10,000 Jewish children could escape Nazi violence and come to the United States, the effort was defeated in a Congressional committee.
 
Ultimately, all that happened in response to this deadly pogrom was that America recalled its ambassador, and even that only after hesitating for four days. That was the strongest international gesture, despite all the front-page headlines. As evil as the Nazis designs were - and as deadly as they would turn out to be - this was the first major act of physical violence directed toward the Jewish population, and the worldwide alarm was not sounded.
 
The only ones who broke glass during that break-the-glass moment were the Nazis themselves.
 
Last week's Pittsburgh Pogrom was a break-the-glass moment. These days, you don't need a lynch mob to murder a bunch of people. When you have an automatic weapon, you can have an instant riot all by yourself. But make no mistake about it, it was a hate-inspired pogrom.
 
The majority of voting Americans intuited that and registered a resounding repudiation of hate on Election Day. But very few broke glass. The Pittsburgh Pogrom was a true act of American Carnage, it was our Kristallnacht, yet still so many shrugged off the continued incitement at the highest reaches of our government.
 
A just-released survey shows that 72 percent of US Jewish voters think President Trump's comments and policies "were either "very" or "somewhat" responsible for inspiring the attack by emboldening anti-Semites." Yet David Suissa of the L.A Jewish Journal claimed, "We can appreciate the president's support for Israel AND ALSO speak out against his incendiary and divisive rhetoric. One doesn't preclude the other."
 
This is not the place to argue the merits of recent American moves regarding Israel. Yes, even I can see the positives of some of them. I also think the hate speech of someone like Louis Farrakhan needs to be called out; this is a bipartisan emergency - though these days primarily fueled these days by White Supremacists and their enablers. A break-the-glass moment does not call for a measured response. There are times for equivocation; this is not one of them. There are two sides to almost everything, until the moment comes when you either break the glass - or you don't. Under the Huppah, you can't be half hitched. When synagogues are burning, you can't pull the alarm halfway.
 
Just before the High Holidays, I advised rabbis that "to ignore the proverbial elephant in the room would amount to spiritual malpractice." When hatred is being stoked, freedom of the press is being subverted and the rule of law undermined, it would be moral malpractice - and outright cowardice - for spiritual leaders, thought leaders and political leaders not to break glass. This is the moment for Republican and Democratic lawmakers to take a stand together. The election is over - Americans can come together on this for the common good.
 
This is also the moment for all Jews to come together. We learned a hard lesson about glass breaking exactly eight decades ago. This is an epochal, five alarm moment. We pray that our civilization will bend, but not break. The damage of a shattered synagogue lies before us. It's time to break the glass.
 
---------
 
I now want to share, in its entirety, an essay was written by Claire Greenwald, mother of Art Greenwald and mother in law of Sue Greenwald, of our congregation, shortly after arriving in the US after fleeing Nazi Germany. Incidentally, one silver lining of Kristallnacht was that it gave German Jewry proof that it was time to escape. Claire was one of the fortunate ones who escaped just before Kristallnacht and was granted asylum here, despite America's strict refugee quotas (the '30s were the most anti-Semitic decade in American history). She was a teenager at the time she wrote this. Her detailed description is both brilliantly written (in English, a language she had just learned) and chilling, in light of current events. See, for example, the parts about press freedom, humiliation of those who are different and the cult of the leader and you might as well be reading today's paper. The essay is somewhat lengthy, but I implore you to take a few moments to read it all. I am honored to be able to share it with you and thank Art and Sue - and Claire - for allowing me to do that.  
 
 
"The Present-Day Tragedy"
By
Klara Salpeter
 
 
Shakespeare wrote tragedies many years ago. There were none to compete with him on this particular subject. Today there are multitudes of people who, like me, could write a true saga of the present era.
 
To be a Jew is very difficult when one is born in the wrong country. More to the point, it proved my tragedy. The tragedy written by many with their own blood.
 
My birthplace was "Am Schonen Rheine" in Germany. Much has already been said about this most beautiful land. The endless parks, museums, trees and water all combined to make a thing of beauty.
 
My three sisters and I were raised within all this; plus, the gaiety and geniality of the people. My people owned a prosperous business. We were comfortable and enjoyed the best of everything. We were all ever so happy.
 
I had many friends both Jewish and Gentile and we got along very well. I went to a public school with them. After school I would go to their homes and I was welcomed there, by them and their parents. My teachers were very nice to me, they would often help me with my studies.
 
Oh, what a pleasant life I was leading. Every beat of my heart told me this. It seemed the world was in and not a thought of the future worried me. Then one day, in the not so distant future, we all were to receive a rude awakening.
 
To me, it seemed as though a youthful tree, in full bloom, had been cut in its infancy. The year was 1933 and I shall never forget it. Beauty no more faced my eyes. In its place I could see nothing but hatred and discipline everywhere. My heart ached fort the past. My body trembled and shook with fright. I was young (10 years old) and could not imaging that life so sweet; life that was so full of joy, happiness, love and laughter would change. This life that bore nothing but security and safety came to an end.
 
The "Shone Rhine" was no more a place of beauty to me. The beautiful water flowed no more, the parks were ugly, the museums cold- oh, I wanted so much to get away from it. The questions were how and when.
 
Streets called after Jewish men were changed. Others were put in their places. Directions, if I had to give to anyone, were difficult. Every city in Germany had at least one street called "Adolf Hitler Strasse." Statues of Jewish men were broken up. Homes of Jewish writers and other statesmen were ruined. All writings of the Jews, paintings ad fine arts were burned. No Jewish songs were allowed to be sung anymore. Thus, no new ones were ever written. Mendelsohn's beautiful wedding march was no more. Other national Nazi songs were born. Entirely new ideas of art were developed.
 
Jewish lawyers lost their licenses to practice. Jewish doctors were not allowed to have any patients.
 
In the parks Jews had to sit in restricted places. Benches had written on them "Jews do not sit down." Theaters and swimming places did not welcome Jews. Certain restaurants and barber shops were also closed to Jews.
 
Stores which were owned by Jewish people were marked as- "Do not buy from Jewish merchants. Naturally, some people would stop going to these stores. Others, who did not stop, had pictures taken of them as they came out. The pictures of these people were inserted in the papers, above their pictures it was stated that "These are the Jewish friends."
 
Some Jewish owners would leave their stores. They would take their family and go to other countries, where they were not known. It was the only thing they could do. Conditions for them became so unbearable, their business was worth nothing to them.
 
One Gentile storekeeper came up to our house and begged us not to trade with him anymore. He said the Nazis were watching and did not like the idea of our trading with him. For fear of harm to him and his family he hoped we would do as he asked. He was very sorry he had to tell us this because he had been an old friend of ours. This was one case, God knows how many went through the same experience.
 
My father also had to give us his place of business. The pressure of propaganda and business conditions in general forced this about. To make a living, my parents had to peddle from door to door. My father would travel by bicycle and my mother would walk. Some people would buy, others would keep my parents until policemen came. When a policeman arrived, he would fine my parents for peddling. Sometimes their stock would be taken from them. Older customers wished that my parents would to come to their houses. They said they would come, instead, to our home. This they wanted to do to protect us and them. My parents had many unpleasant experiences. It was very hard for them to make a living for us.
 
My poor, poor parents. They were always so kind. Why must they have to go through so many hardships? I could not understand why. They harmed no one. They did not steal, they were not murderers, they were not criminals of any sort. The reasons, it seems, was simply because they (and others like them) were Jews in the wrong country. Tragedy- every word of it. Hard to believe, but it was all true.
 
I was afraid to walk in the streets. Everything was so unreal. Nazi flags flying in the breeze. Little boys were so unkind. They would call after us "Dirty Jew" and other insulting names. We could do nothing but walk on. Gentile friends, whom I knew very well, were forced to pass me by. They were not allowed to speak to me. We Jews were put on a very low level.
 
Once, while I was walking, a group of older boys tied me and a few other Jewish girls up.
We told them we were not Jews and they let us go. They would have beaten us if we told them the truth. No one dared to give us protection. Everyone was forced to be against us.
 
Now, many young men wore brown shirts. An organization was formed for them. It was called "Hitlerjugend." Their ages were from eighteen to twenty. The young girls belonged to a group called "Bund Deutscher Madels." Their ages were the same as the young men. Theyu would wear black skirts, white shirts and brown jackets with brown shoes. The older people belonged to the S.A. and the S.S. The S.A. group wore brown suits and the S.S. group wore black suits. Only Ayrans were permitted membership into these organizations.
 
Their duties were to spread propaganda. The would mark up Jewish homes and temples. On the bells they would put signs saying, "Do not ring the Jewish bell." They would all have separate meetings. I did not know what took place at these meetings. They would go on trips, but naturally always with their Nazi flag. How proud they were when they first started to march with their new flag and sing their new songs! People had to stop and bow when they and their flags were marching by. Everyone had to wait until they passed.
 
Newspapers were censored. There was no place for free writing. All thoughts and ideas were formed for the people by the Nazi regime. The papers would write of the good the Nazi party was going to bring. It stated no one was going to starve. All were going to have jobs. Germany, in spite of the obstacles, was going to be great and supreme above all. Herr Hitler, the Fuehrer, was the "God" and he would do all this within four years. The papers wrote how the "Jew was the enemy." He must be driven out and until then, no one must rest. Every day, it was the same thing- all propaganda. Very little news from the outside world was permitted. The "Austrian Anshluss" was not known by the people of Germany until it was all over.
 
The radio was also censored. Party leaders would broadcast every few minutes about Hitler and the good he was doing. Hitler was always glorified. It was useless listening to the radio. The programs were so dull. Always- Hitler, Hitler and more Hitler. I thought it would drive us all mad.
 
The people in Germany, besides all this, had other problems. The food problem was one. Every family was allowed a certain amount of butter each week. No one was able to receive more than his set amount. There were no lemons and onions. Grafefruits, oranges, pineapples were very seldom seen. Bread was not very tasty. The flour that was put into the bread was not of the best quality. The bread had a darker color than it had before. The Nazi people said it was alright to eat, for no one was getting sick from it.
 
The clothing situation was another problem. Clothes were not as lasting. The real quality was not there.
 
All this time I was going to a private school. I had no other school to go to, otherwise I would not have gone there. To explain: The joy, happiness and friendship that I received from my fellow students and teachers were missing. I could no longer associate with them. I and other Jewish friends of mine were separated from the Gentiles. We had to study harder than ever to pass our subjects. Jewish children had to eat by themselves. Other children in the school often made fun of us. We could do nothing but accept their jokes and shouts at us. School life was becoming more and more unbearable. My school friends could no longer come to my house. Sometimes they would come when they knew no one saw them. Their parents would throw stones at our windows if they found out. Many times, our windows were broken because of this.
 
I was happy when my class day was over. I felt safe only in the presence of my parents in our home but even here we talked in a low voice. We feared some spy might be watching us. Peace was only gotten at sleep, that is, if I fell asleep. Often, I did not sleep. When morning came, school also came again. I faced the torments of my classmates. It was as though I were going to some jail. I was so frightened I did not know what each new day or night would bring. The anxiety was making me a shy and lonesome person out of me.
 
This went on until the Jewish people made a school only for Jewish children. Here we had Jewish teachers. It was a good school and I was taught by kind teachers once again. My friends and I ate together. We talked with one another and we all felt safe. We were safe till we went outside of school. Then we were afraid once more. Every day brought the same reaction.
 
A few years passed, I graduated from school and thought I might be able to get a job, perhaps in some store or office. I was wrong, no one was employing Jewish help. Oh, I looked everywhere. I had to have a job. My sisters and parents needed money to carry on. But I could not get it. What was I to do?
 
My inability to get work made me realize that I had no future in Germany- the country where I was born and had grown up. Since I was no longer able to continue with my education and the fact I received no work, I made up my mind I must leave Germany.
 
I wondered how to leave Germany.... I had it!
 
I had relatives in America. I learned the United States was a free country- a grand land! A place that had no brown shirts, no fences between races. Surely this was the place of my future.
 
I must tell my parents about it. They cried about what I asked them, "Mother and Father may I go to America to my Aunt and Uncle?" These words I was sorry I said. I was sorry, for I knew they hurt my parents. "My child, for your future and safety you must go; we wish we all might be able to go. America is to be your home." That is what my father answered. What he said changed my life- a life that was to be one from chains to cheers.
 
Before I left Germany, I had an occasion to see Hitler. He was present at a Fair our city was giving. All anyone was able to see of him was a qui k glance. It was a huge parade. Nazi flags flying all about and people shouting, "Heil Hitler." The people seemed very happy to see him. As for me, I felt he was a great man. This thought flashed though my mind only a second. For in its place I had a passionate feeling of hate. This man was ruining my life. He was the one who was forcing me to leave my parents, my home and everything that I knew and loved. Could I have had a chance to kill him- I think I would have done so.
 
Today I know how futile that would be in attempting to solve the world's problem.
 
Time was passing. My relatives in America made out the necessary papers for my admission to the States. Every day brought me closer to the day I was to leave home. I visited all my relatives in Germany, for I knew not if I would even see them again. Needless to say, every departure was difficult and painful.
 
This was nothing compared to my departure from my house. A young and innocent girl, I hd to leave my parents when I needed them most. I had to go to a distant land to relatives I did not know, except by picture. I did not know how they would receive me. I did not know what was expected of me. When again, would I see my sweet sisters and poor parents? My parents tried to make the parting an easy one. My sisters were so kind and considerate that I felt very sad. A party was made form me and it was dreadful. I could not sleep that night because the next day was my sailing.
 
I left my house crying. I was unable to talk. I do not remember bidding my sisters good bye or going to the station where I kissed my wonderful Mother farewell. She kept saying, "Be careful, my child." I only remember her face fading into the distance.
 
My father traveled with me to the harbor. He stayed with me for several hours. We talked about the hope, in a prayer, that someday soon we would meet. The whistle whined a parting for visitors. We talked a little more, but nothing important. I turned from my Father, I was speechless. He was gone.
 
It was two a.m. The boat was moving. I should have gone to my room and then to sleep. I did not, however, U just stood on deck crying.
 
Lights from Germany were getting dimmer and dimmer. I was by myself, no one to guide me. It was not true, I thought. Wasn't' this all a dream?
 
The following morning, I arose for breakfast and tried to eat, but to no avail. I again went out on the deck. I could not enjoy the entertainment which was given on the boat. The second day the sea became very rough. This made me seasick. Thus, the trip was unpleasant. The next days I became more accustomed to the sea and the people. One elderly woman sympathized with me. She acted so motherly. I was grateful that I met this woman because it was she who comforted me during the rest of the trip.
 
As the boat was nearing New York, it started to get foggy. The boat was forced to stay overnight in one place. By this time, I received a telegram from my dear relatives, who were waiting anxiously at the pier, to take me to their home. The boar left the next day, for the pier.
 
On the way toward the harbor, and out of the fog, the Statue of Liberty was sighted. It was beautiful. People on the boat told me that from now on I was safe. They told me that this statue meant freedom, happiness and fairness to all. I found out later that people were able to walk all through the statue, even to the finger tips. The finger on the Statue of Liberty pointed to heaven- I felt as though I was in heaven of a different form.
 
Coming into the dock, I saw people moving about. So many people, such hurry- everyone going in different places. Shouts made from the people coupled with the tug boar shrieks and other New York noises welcomed me to the United States. Tall buildings, towering higher than any I had ever seen before made up the background. In spite of all the people and marvelous sights, I began to be lonely. Perhaps it was because I saw people going some place and I was all alone.
 
Passengers were leaving the boat. Passengers were having their trunks examined. And still no one paid attention to me, at least I thought so. My thoughts were wrong for, suddenly it seemed my name was called. I went up to the next deck and there I was examined. After the examination my uncle was called.
 
I wondered if he would look like the pictures I had of him. I had anxious moments. Would he gather me in his arms, would I cry, or would I be shy? Little more was there to guess about, for here he was.
 
All I was able to do was say a quiet "Hello" and then I cried on his shoulder. I was so overjoyed and thankful to see someone who cared a little about my future, that I could not talk. I was all choked up. What a sensation I had!
 
After other formalities, I was placed in my Uncle's car. My Uncle led me to his car where my Aunt and two of my cousins were. Here I was- a foreigner, or better still a German Refugee, being with people of whom I had only heard about. Questions were asked of me faster than I was able to answer. Questions about my parents, my sisters and Germany. I thought these questions would never end. I guess they had a right in asking me all those things. But, I was not able to think. So many things were not clear in my mind.
 
Everything was moving so fast. The car stopped. And now I was "home." A little gathering was made in my honor. Everyone was so nice to me. I had something to eat and then my Aunt slipped me into my room. Signs were here, greeting me to my "home"- so the signs stated, and they were true. I felt so much at home. I talked a short time with my Aunt and then she left me. I was glad she took me to my room, for I began to feel the effect of a busy day.
 
It was during vacation months that I had arrived. My Uncle entered me in the evening classes for a High School. I was afraid to go into any public buildings, at first. My Uncle assured me it was alright and so I went. This amazed me, a Jew going into buildings that were not Jewish, talking to the teachers who were not Jewish; this was certainly strange. I learned English here and other subjects which aided me in becoming better settled in this land.
 
The students and teachers were very kind to me. The students talked and walked with me. Teachers were patient and very helpful. I walked to and from school and no one harmed me. There were no people wearing brown shirts, no Nazi flags hanging in any windows, no signs posted anywhere mentioning Jews; it all seems too much to believe.
 
To the average American this may seem nothing. To people all over the world who have had tragedy befall them, as I, it means much. It means more than I could even write in words.
 
When I completed my course at the evening school, there remained two weeks of vacation left. I traveled much with my relatives in their car. I visited parks, more of New York and other places of interest. I went to the movies, saw a few games at athletic stadiums. To me, it seemed I had come out of jail into the open. What interested me most was the missing of Jewish signs posted and the high level any person, of any origin, is held. No one is a criminal, unless he really is guilty of some crime.  
 
I shall never forget the feeling of strangeness I had when I first traveled among other peoples. My relatives thought me shy, when I was really afraid. I just count not get used to being free. I had been chained too many years to the Nazi regime. The made one terrible ruin out of my young life.
 
During the rebirth of my life I received weekly letters from my parents. From these letters I learned they were well, more than that they wrote not. My people dared not write of their discomforts.
 
I received these letters for many weeks, then suddenly they stopped. I was frantic. What happened? Were my parents well? I wondered until I knew not what to think. I prayed to God.
 
Then one day mail came from Poland. It was my mother's writing. Thank God. What she wrote was pitiful. It amounted to the following: Two a.m. on October 29, 1938 three policemen came to our home. They demanded that my people let them in. My parents were forced to do as they asked. Then they told my mother and father to "dress their children and come with us to the police station." My mother begged them. It did no good.
 
At the police station they found other Jewish people with their children. Every minute brought other Jews to the station. My mother believed there must have been at least three hundred Jews all together. They were all kept in a jail until six o'clock at night when they were searched for money and other valuable possessions.
 
After the examination, everyone was placed on a train. All they were given was a loaf of stale bread. The train brought them to the boundary line at Poland. From here they all walked four hours until they came to a town. Imagine the situation: Men and women and children walking in cold, hard weather; walking without other clothes that what they had on. All walked they knew not where, they just pushed on. Is it any wonder that many had gone insane? On the way one of my sisters became very sick. When they arrived in town, they had to place her in a hospital, where she remained for six weeks. A very kind woman, who felt sorry for them, allowed my parents and the two other sisters to sleep in her house. They ate in a camp with all the other people. However, when my sister was able to leave the hospital, all were forced to live t the camp. Conditions at the camp, you must understand, are bad. No one is permitted to leave the camp. All must remain in one place. No work to do- just sit and think. Many, among them, have become very sick.
            
My parents at the present time are still there. Germany does not want them. Poland cannot take care of them. Palestine has its own troubles. They are truly people without a country.
 
At this writing, I am enrolled in a High School of this glorious country, I hope someday, in some way, I will be able to show my appreciation for everything that is being done for me. I want to be a real American citizen. I want to teach other Americans how wonderful a country we have here. I know, because I have seen tragedy and I now see "the land of the free.
 
This is God's land, may He always grace it with kindness, goodness and happiness. May there never be a censorship of any race or progress. America, from what I have seen, will live and prosper. Thank God for America, "the home of the brave and true."
 
I have written my tragedy that has happened to me. It has torn me from my family. Left them starving- no country to go to. All their belongings gone, all their life's work and happiness shattered. They are left with ruined lives to fulfill.
 
Shakespeare wrote his tragedies many years ago. Today I (and others in the same condition) have written mine.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Kyle Nadel on Vayera


Shabbat Shalom,

An important theme of today’s Torah portion, Vayera, is about being tested in life. In this portion, most of these tests center on Abraham to see how loyal he was to God and Judaism.  According to the ancient rabbis, Abraham had to pass ten tests during his lifetime.

Perhaps his greatest test was the last one, where God tested Abraham by instructing him to sacrifice his own young son, Isaac. In the story, Abraham took his son to Mt Moriah to sacrifice him. Just as Abraham was about to kill Isaac, an angel told him, “‘Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” And so, Isaac was spared.  Abraham was being tested by God to see if he would obey him.

I’ve had to deal with several tests too in my life, some more difficult than others.

When I was about five or six, my mother got sick.  Eventually she had to be hospitalized for long periods of time.  My siblings and I visited her at least twice a week while she was hospitalized. To keep her spirit up, we brought my mother “Get well soon” balloons, flowers, and cake. Our visits probably helped her live longer.

It’s interesting to note that the mitzvah of visiting the sick comes from this portion. On the third day after Abraham’s circumcision he was still suffering and in a lot of pain. God offers kindness by visiting Abraham, and sets an example for the rest of us.

While we did everything we could to keep our mother alive, and although it was not ultimately enough, she is here today in spirit. So we were successful in completing the mitzvah which, according to the Torah portion, was satisfied when we at least assisted in aiding her throughout her illness, and we know that we often put a smile on her face.

When my mother passed away, I was tested again by having to continue life when things were so difficult.

Of course, I was helped by my father, assisted by other adults, such as babysitters and my grandparents, but it was a very difficult time to go through, especially as the oldest child, and I had to stay strong. This sad, challenging experience taught me not to take my life for granted, and so I try to make every day count.

There have been other tests in my life experience as well.  Moving to the US was a big test.  When my mom became ill, we needed to be pulled out of school in Japan, and we moved to this area to get her the best medical care.

When we moved back to the New York area, my parents didn’t want me to forget my Japanese, so they sent me to a Japanese school in Greenwich, Ct.  There, I was the only completely American student, excluding my siblings. I looked and felt very different from my peers. I was challenged when I had trouble making many friends because I was the “new kid”.  

Also, being the only American student, I spoke and understood less of the Japanese language than the other children, and, at the very beginning, I did not do too well in Kanji tests, which are the Japanese characters.  Eventually though, I passed more of these “tests,” as I started to study more.  Slowly, I overcame the test of socialization by becoming friendly with a few peers in the classes.

I have been physically tested as well. Some of you may already know that I have broken, at separate times, my arm and my leg from one sport: skiing.  My parents decided I was just “unlucky” both times, so I was forced, against my will, to keep trying. Again, here, I was tested to persevere at something at which I had already failed twice in my mind.  Although I am physically healed by now, I am still a bit scared to go on trails with many trees.   Sometimes, I am forced to face this challenge, and my fears are subsiding.   Just for the record – I still enjoy skiing a lot. 

A separate test for me family-wise was getting to know my new mother, Jill, who has adopted all of us.  I became used to not having more than one parent for period of time, and so when my father said that he was getting remarried, I had to, yet again, get used to a new, significant change in my life with someone I didn’t know as well.  With any relationship, it takes some time to get to know the other person. Jill’s love, warmth, kindness, and support, not to mention her efforts in helping me in school and for this bar-mitzvah, make me feel that I truly have a mother again.   I am very blessed.

For the past year, my patience has also been tested in preparation for this very day. I have probably spent more than 150 hours to arrive here– so that’s 30 minutes a day for about nine months, times four weeks per month, which equals 126 hours, but there are more than 28 days per month, except for February, plus extra time over the past month, and then there’s the 7 extra minutes to do these calculations.

I have thought many times, “Ugh, this is too much work.” Or, “I want to give up,” but I knew those were not practical answers, so I kept on going, despite how demanding it was and how much effort it took.  By the time I hit October, I felt well-prepared.

As challenging as my tests have been, other kids face far greater challenges.  For my Mitzvah project, I want to help less fortunate kids have access to technology.  You can read about my project, “One Laptop per Child,” in my Bar Mitzvah booklet.