Sunday, November 8, 2009

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Hilary Fryd on Hayye Sarah

In the Torah portion I just read, Sarah dies - but the name of the portion is “Sarah’s lives” (Chayay Sarah). This Torah portion gives us clues as to how it is possible to keep someone’s memory alive long after they have gone.

In what ways is Sarah still alive even though she has died?

For one thing, when Isaac meets and marries Rebecca, at the end of the portion, he brings her into Sarah’s tent. That’s where he married her and loves her. The message is that Sarah is remembered and kept alive through Isaac’s love for Rebecca, who reminds him of his mother.

In the midrash, Sarah’s tent is seen as a place where God’s blessings can be experienced. When Sarah dies, those miracles stop, but when Rebecca moves in, the holiness of the tent returns.

The midrash states that all the days in which Sarah lived, the doors of the entrance [to her tent] were open to the wind …. And all the days in which Sarah lived, there was a blessing sent through the dough [with which she baked]…. And all the days in which Sarah lived, there was a light burning from one Shabbat evening to the next Shabbat evening…."

All of those wonderful things returned to the tent with Rebecca.

Now I may not be able to accomplish all that, but in becoming a bat mitzvah, I know that I will be continuing in the traditions of my parents and grandparents, and that too is a blessing.

Two days from now, we will be remembering Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, which occurred on November 9, 1938. Jewish communities in Germany were attacked; many were killed and wounded and many shops and synagogues were destroyed. Many people say that this event marked the beginning of the Holocaust.

Remembering the Holocaust is always important, but especially this week, because of Kristallnacht – and especially for me. My grandparents were survivors of the Lodz ghetto and the camps. Unfortunately, I never had the chance to meet my grandfather before he passed away . But I did get to spend many years with my grandma Fay - and now it’s important for me to remember them and to tell their story. In that way , I can help keep them alive for us, by keeping their memory alive.

For my mitzvah project, I’ll be keeping alive the name of another person, a Holocaust victim named Hannah Ossiaz, who died in Treblinka when she was 11. I’m doing this through an organization called “Remember Us, The Holocaust Bnai Mitzvah Project.”

I looked for information about Hannah on the huge data base of victims housed at Yad Vashem, which now can be found online. There really isn’t much information about her. I know that she was born in Warsaw in 1932 and that her parents’ names were Leon and Jaika. Also, her Hebrew name was Chana. Mine is Chaya, which is very close. Chaya also means “life” and is part of the title of my parsha. We also know that she went to school and did have relatives who survived the war. One of them, named Aaron, submitted her name to Yad Vashem.

We tried to find out more, but very little is known. I can only imagine what she was like. Well, she lived in a large city like me. Maybe she liked to dance and play piano, like I do. Perhaps she liked to ice skate like I do and like my Grandma used to enjoy doing in Lodz. Maybe, like me, she also liked to shop!

In fact, she probably was a lot like me. The only difference is that she will never get beyond age 11, and here I am, 13, and becoming a bat mitzvah. Hanna never had the chance to do this. Maybe she dreamed of becoming bat mitzvah or ,at least, of growing up. Now I will, in some way, be growing up for her – and for myself. I’ve pledged to say kaddish for her on Yom Kippur every year. The first time I am saying it for her is today.

It may not bring her back the way Rebecca was able to bring back the spirit of Sarah to her tent – but, in its own way, maybe saying kaddish for Hanna will bring a blessing.

Now that I am becoming a Bat Mitzvah, I understand more fully how important it is to keep people in our memories so that they may continue to bring blessings to our lives.

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