Today, for our Yom HaShoah commemoration, our students were privileged to hear from Mrs. Sophie Infield, mother and grandmother of several Frisch alumni and of current and future students. Mrs. Infield is a child survivor who spent most of the first six years of her life in the freezing forests of Eastern Poland and being hidden with her parents and aunt by a Polish family for twenty-two months in a space which, as she graphically described it, was no larger than the area under one's kitchen table. We also watched a film produced by Rabbi Krug, a film consisting of scenes from the ghettos of Eastern Europe which the Nazis proudly recorded but with a voice-over of an obscenely and hysterically anti-Semitic tirade by member of the Nation of Islam at Kean University right in our back yard not so many years ago.
This morning at Shacharit I asked those students whose grandparents and/or great grandparents are Holocaust Survivors to stand. I must admit that both I and most of the kids were taken completely by surprise when well over half of the students stood up. My friends and I grew up on the Lower East Side with minimal awareness of the Shoah. Our parents were American, not quite of Mayflower vintage, of course, but our families were all safely ensconced in New York long before the Shoah. The realization that so many youngsters sitting there in Shul on a Monday morning were the descendents of survivors prompted me to share with them something that I heard just this Shabbat from my friend and teacher Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter in the name of his father, Rabbi Herschel Schacter, who as a U.S. Army chaplain liberated Buchenwald and went on to become one of the most prominent Orthodox rabbis in the United States for the next more than fifty years.
The Gemara in Sanhedrin (92b) discusses the story of the Prophet Yechezkel and the Valley of Dry Bones (which is the Haftorah of Shabbat Chol Ha-Moed Pesach) and wonders about what happened to those people who had been brought back to life. Rabbi Eliezer says that they rose up, Amru Shira - thanked God for resurrecting them, and then died. Rabbi Eliezer son of Rabbi Yossi HaGalili says no, they actually made Aliyah, married, and had sons and daughters. Whereupon Rabbi Yehuda ben Bisaira stood up and announced, - I am one of their descendents and these Tefilin which were left to me by my grandfather belonged to my ancestor - who rose from the dead that day.
Rabbi Schacter, who was careful to emphasize that no one has the right to be judgmental about the how survivors chose to lead their post-Shoah lives, commented that the three perspectives in the Gemara mirror the choices made by different groups of survivors. Some survivors chose to say thank you, perhaps even Thank God, for their survival and then cut themselves off from Klal Yisrael, withdrawing into themselves and into their non-Jewish surroundings, eschewing identification with or participation in the destiny of the Jewish People. Hundreds of thousands made Aliyah. To our eternal gratitude they fought for and built Medinat Yisrael and gave life to the generations who continue to defend and develop the Jewish State. And finally, there are those (not mutually exclusive from the second group) who also made it their mission to pass down their Tefilin, that is, their Emunah and their devotion to Torah and Mitzvot to their children and grandchildren.
It is told that when the Satmar Rebbe decided to leave Israel and settle in Brooklyn his Chassidim in Israel were distraught because in the absence of the Rebbe there would be no one to whom they could give their kvitlach, their requests for a Bracha. The Rebbe responded that they should go to Shul on a weekday morning and request a blessing from any gentleman they saw who was winding his Tefilin over the numbers tattooed on his arm.
I asked our students who are fortunate enough to still have grandparents who were survivors to call them tonight to thank them for having bequeathed them a religious legacy and in the absence of grandparents, as is often unfortunately the case, to spend some time talking to their parents about their parents struggles during and after the war.
Dr. Kalman Stein, Principal