“Shaken, Not Stirred”

Aliyah In The Age Of Covid-19

Israel must be the only country in the world that is today welcoming new immigrants

By David E. Kaplan

In a country where its friendly citizens typically love to kiss and warmly embrace, “social distancing” is now the name of the game. Schools, universities, kindergartens, movie theaters, restaurants, pubs, gyms, parks, libraries, museums and beaches are now off limits. “All social interactions,” says the Ministry of Health should be conducted on the phone or by other digital means. Pessimistically paraphrasing the  iconic line from the 1970 romantic movie ‘Love Story’, Israel’s Prime Minister appeals:

Love is keeping your distance

As the novel Coronavirus pandemic continues to proliferate, each day brings with it new challenges and restrictions for Israeli society. Where one day the restriction is not to meet anywhere where there are NOT more than ten people present, the next day it is not to meet at all – unless it’s a dire emergency.

Where one day an instruction is an appeal, the next it is a pre-emptory order.

“This is not a game. It’s a matter of life and death,” asserted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his update on Tuesday.

And yet, there is something quite unique about Israel. Despite  the dwindling few still entering the country going straight into a mandatory 14-day quarantine, new immigrants (olim) are still arriving at Ben Gurion Airport with Israel absorbing them like returning family.

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One ‘FLU’ Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Like something out of the movies, travelers wearing masks chat in the arrivals terminal after Israel said it will require anyone arriving from overseas to self-quarantine for 14 days as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus at Ben Gurion International airport near Tel Aviv, Israel. (photo credit: REUTERS/RONEN ZEVULUN)

In the first half of March 2020, 163 immigrants arrived in the country, according to the Jewish Agency’s statistics.

One of them is Craig Evans from Sasolburg in South Africa who came with his wife Meghan and their 9-year-old-son. An older 14-year-old daughter, Jade, was already in Israel, enrolled at the Mosenson School in Hod Hasharon. The first Craig and Meghan heard that they would have to go directly from Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport into quarantine was when they were standing in the departure queue at the A1 gate at Oliver Tambo International Airport. “There we were, about to board our El Al flight and we received a phone call from the Israel Centre in Joburg informing us and that there would probably be no-one in Israel to officially welcome and process us through immigration. We must make our way alone as best we could and then head straight to our apartment and wait for someone to contact us!”

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The Evens Family. New immigrants to Israel, Meghen and Craig Evens and their children Kai and Jade from Sasolburg, South Africa.

Like the intrepid MI6 agent of “Shaken, but not stirred’ fame,  Craig told Lay Of The Land “Yes, obviously we were concerned but there was no turning back. Our minds and our destination were determined. We were going to Israel, and contrary to the warning, we received 5-star treatment. They literally welcomed us from the moment we got off the plane in Israel. We were met by the representative from Telfed and the Jewish Agency who stood there holding aloft a sign with our names on and who then guided us through the process of receiving all our necessary documentation – most importantly for Kupat Holim (health care provider). We were out of the airport in 30 minutes;  and then the rep organized a huge transport vehicle for all our masses of baggage and in less than one hour, we were  in our apartment in Netanya.”

So how did it feel for this on-line marketing man and dance teacher wife to be alone in quarantine in a new country?

“Who’s alone? We have an incredible circle of friends  all over the country as well as new friends. Within 40 minutes of arrival, there was a knock on the door from the local South African community to welcome us and bring food.  We have been inundated with people contacting us, even if only over the phone or through the narrow gap of the front door.” Seeing “a silver lining” in the situation, “if it was not for the quarantine, we would never have met so many new people. This would never happen anywhere else in the world.”

Immigration to Israel is a complex process and during a global health crisis even more so. “We are advising people to postpone their immigration, but it’s not so easy,” explains the South African immigrant organisation, Telfed’s CEO, Dorron Kline. “People have sold their homes and cars and even so, people want to come and are determined to brave these challenging times. Whatever they decide, Telfed will be there for them,” asserts Dorron. “Telfed was born in challenging times when it was established in 1948 during Israel’s War of Independence and we are at war now against an unseen enemy and we are all ready to meet this challenge.”

Such determination is evident with a young man immigrating next month  from South Africa who will be going straight into the IDF. “Not only is he still determined to enlist during these trying times,” says Dorron,  “but he wants to come earlier to Israel to enable him to complete his 14-day quarantine period before his call-up date.” Only the day before, “we had a 19-year-old, young woman from Australia who just made Aliyah, so yes, despite the situation, people are still coming.”

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Fear Of Coronavirus. Usually crowded with tourists, the empty square outside the Jaffa Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem on March 16, 2020. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Even with the enormous pressures on Telfed’s staff who are alternating between working from home and the head office in Ra’anana, “we are calling all immigrants who arrived in the last six months from South Africa and Australia  to  find out how they are coping and if their need any assistance. We have also created a special Coronavirus platform on our  Telfed website where people can on-line ask for any assistance and others in the community can volunteer to help them. We are connecting those in need with those who can help.”

An example of how successfully the project works, Dorron sites “a new South African immigrant who was in quarantine and who ran out of her medicine. She posted this on the Telfed website  and in a few minutes, someone responded and offered to go the pharmacy and bring her the medicine.”

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Welcome To Israel. An empty arrival hall at Ben-Gurion International Airport on March 11, 2020. Photo by Flash90.

Yael Katsman, Vice President of Public Relations and Communication at Nefesh B’Nefesh – which supports Aliyah from North America and the UK –  told The Jerusalem Post earlier in the week that in spite of the coronavirus crisis and despite the restrictive conditions, “Aliyah is continuing. We have a group of 24 olim arriving Thursday who are going to be remotely processed, which is a first.” The composition of the group are of diverse backgrounds and ages – families, retires and singles and that only a few of the elderly had decided to postpone. And as to the immediate future, Katsman says that in the period leading up to Passover in April, “We are expecting about 60 to 70 olim. At the moment, a very positive indicator is that people who had planned to come are still coming regardless of this new reality.”

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Happy To Be Home. American David Bassous, who made aliyah from Highland Park, N.J. Credit: Courtesy.

One recent arrival is David Bassous who made aliyah over a week ago from Highland Park, N.J. “I didn’t realize how hard quarantine would be,” he admits. “The hardest part being unable to go outside or see the kids and grandchildren.”

However, he  figured that Israel “is one of the safest places to be right now because of its proactive policy—one of the strictest in the world.” Nevertheless  “I was still shocked when I landed and witnessed Ben-Gurion Airport deserted.”

Still, says Bassous, he’s “so happy to be home after a 2,500-year exile.”

There are a lot of Jews around the world  – Coronavirus or not – who share his enthusiasm. They can live for a while being two meters apart from the next person, but not being apart from their ancestral homeland.

 

 

At this time of difficulty and danger, here is a  Healing Prayer from Jerusalem

 

 

 

*Feature Picture: New Immigrants to Israel Jump Right In to Coronavirus Quarantine – Chief Rabbi of Israel David Lau, World Chairman of KKL-JNF Daniel Atar, and Co-Founder of Nefesh B’Nefesh Tony Gelbart with Olim moving to Israel’s periphery (photo credit: SHAHAR AZRAN COURTESY OF NEFESH B’NEFESH)

When All’s Said And Sung

Away from Coronavirus, a young Ethiopian singing Israel’s 2020 Eurovision entry in four languages is just what the doctor ordered

By David E. Kaplan

 WOW! It was Purim this week but it did not feel like it.

One of Israel’s most widely celebrated festivals that is traditionally embraced by religious Jews in Jerusalem and secular Tel Avivians alike was a damper. Instead of parents joining their kids in donning colourful costumes, they donned anxious expressions as public areas were eerily quiet. From my highrise balcony in Kfar Saba, I would normally have a grand view of the Purim Parade down the main street and the piazza. Not this year – for March 2020 has been hijacked by something I had never heard of until two months ago –  CORONAVIRUS!

Too frequently writing on the other more familiar virus of global antisemitism, this one caught me off guard together with the rest of the world.

Only hours after Italy announced that its entire population was under lockdown, Israel followed with its most extreme measure to date of requiring ALL people entering the country to go into immediate 14-day isolation.

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No Kidding. A popular toy shop just before the Jewish holiday of Purim, ‘The Red Pirate’ in central Israel, was fumigated following its owner having recently returned from Italy.(Photo: Yariv Katz)

Turn on the TV news networks, open the newspapers, it’s all about Coronavirus – facts, figures, measures and counter-measures. The customary news of Israel’s failure to form a government and the USA’s Democratic Party’s primary elections were sidelined to the proverbial smaller print. Coronavirus  has captured the world’s attention and in so doing, dislodged our set perspectives on news. Suddenly we did not fear Iran over any nefarious activities seeking our destruction but  shared common concern that “54 Iranians had died from the virus in the past 24 hours recording the highest toll in a single day since the start of the outbreak in the country.” Borders were blurred as we showed concern for people effected from Wuhan in China to San Francisco in the USA and the worst – in between in Italy.

We were forced to recognise how fragile our world is and how vulnerable we are as individuals!

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Purim Under Pressure. Refusing to let the virus ‘infect’ their Purim partying, celebrations in Bnei Brak, Israel, Tuesday, March 10, 2020.. (AP/Oded Balilty)

With the constant infusion of distressing news of cancellations of conferences and sporting events, airlines grounded, hotels closing, people quarantined, economies paralyzed, and forecasts of a global recession but too early in the day for a medicinal scotch, I turned off the news and tuned into Israel’s latest entry into the 2020 Eurovision Song Contest.

While the 2020 Eurovision in Holland may end up another Coronavirus casualty, Israel’s singer and song are a sheer delight. Watch and listen – it is a well-deserved הפסקה (“hafsaka”) or “break” as we say in Israel from the daily dose of news.

“My Love”

Last month, when we were thinking less about Coronavirus, Eden Alene,  a 19-year-old Ethiopian Israeli won the country’s “The Next Star” and became this year’s representative to the 2020 Eurovision Song Contest in Rotterdam.

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Language Of Love. Israel’s song entry to the 2020 Eurovision is in four languages, English, Arabic, Hebrew and Amharic.

On stage she hugged her mother – that emotional embrace watched in living rooms across the nation, spoke volumes – it had clearly been a long road for this mother and daughter pair.

Alene’s win has been significant for Israel and its Ethiopian community, as she will be the first Israeli of Ethiopian descent to represent the Jewish state at Eurovision.

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Mother And Daughter. Eden and her mother Zehava, after winning ‘HaKochav Haba’ (‘Rising Star’) making her Israel’s representative to the 2020 Eurovision (Courtesy HaKochav Haba)

The song ‘Feker Libi’  – co-written by Israel’s 2018 winning entry ‘Toy,’ Doron Medalie and Idan Raichel, a top-selling singer-songwriter – is described as “a colourful pop gem that fuses together African dance beats with an infectious middle eastern sound.” The lyrics of the song are made up of four languages – Hebrew, Arabic, English and Amharic – and the name of the song, means “My Love” in Amharic. The song connects with Eden’s roots, having both parents originally hail from Ethiopia.

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The Face Of Israel. Israel’s Eden Alena to represent her country at 2020 Eurovision in Rotterdam, Holland.

Interestingly,  the roots of the cowriter of the song, Doron Medalie is also African.

If Medalie’s lyrics were “daring” in his song “Toy”, sung by Netta Barzilai, that won for Israel the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest, it’s because he comes from a lineage of daring. His late grandfather, Dr. Jack Medalie, left his private practice in Johannesburg, South Africa, to volunteer – serving as a doctor in Israel’s War of Independence. What’s more, before leaving in early 1948, he quickly rushed to marry his sweetheart and came on his honeymoon to a country at war, all ready to provide ‘a healing hand’.

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United We Stand. The country is YOUnited behind Eden.

“Love” and “healing” are what we need right now – so take a “hafsaka” (break) from Coronavirus and listen:

 

 

 

Holding On To Jewish Pride

By Justin Amler

Last night I watched a movie about a journey.

It was a journey about a man and even the actor that played a man.

Maybe it was a journey about me, or you, or all of us.

It was a journey that resonated in my soul, tugging at my heart and moving me on so many emotional levels.

Because it was a journey about a certain time – yet it was also a journey about all time.

It was a journey about the Jewish people and what it means to have a home – a home that you are forced to defend with everything that you have, because without that home, you truly are alone.

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Birth Of A Nation. Poster for the 1966 Hollywood movie ‘Cast A Giant Shadow’ on the birth of the State of Israel. It starred Kirk Douglas, Frank Sinatra, John Wayne, Yul Brynner, Topol and Senta Berger.

The movie I watched was an old Kirk Douglas movie called Cast a Giant Shadow.

It was about an American army officer, Mickey Marcus, who was born Jewish yet never really cared much about it. He always saw himself as American first and the Jewish part was just something he was incidentally born into – yet never really formed a part of his essence. But he suddenly found himself thrust into the very centre of Jewish life as pre-state Israel Jewish agents asked for his help in early 1948 just as the new country was preparing to declare independence. All of this was happening while being threatened by the entire Arab world. And even though many were saying it was a lost cause, there was a hope and a stubbornness in its people that refused to accept that.

For Israel was a country that truly stood alone. While an arms embargo was in force against it, the British were continuing to arm the Arab legions around her as well as providing training and actual British officers.

It was a country that was without weapons, without an air force, without an army and without international friends who would support it.

It was a country surrounded by fanatical enemies who were dreaming of unleashing a campaign of terror that would fill the streets and the alleys and the beaches with the blood of the Jewish people.

It was a country made up of many of those who had survived absolute hell on earth in Europe, only to be fighting for their lives once again.

Yet it was not a hopeless country. In fact it was a country in which hope was its biggest asset.

Hope and belief that the People of Israel were back in the only place on earth that could truly be called their home.

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Breaking The Siege Of Jerusalem. An action seen with Kirk Douglas as US army Col. David “Micky” Marcus (seated back) who during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War became Israel’s first modern general. Hebrew: Aluf

At the time, the British, who had betrayed the Jewish people by reversing their promise to create a Jewish homeland, were trying desperately to stop Jews from entering the country in the hope of appeasing the Arabs. They turned away ships full of Holocaust survivors returning them to the lands on which the blood of the families still soaked the soil. And those they did make it to the Promised Land, were being herded off to internment camps on Cyprus, rather than being allowed to remain there.

But the will of the Jewish people is strong – stronger than the mightiest armies on earth, and the Jews continued to make their way to Eretz Yisrael – enduring harsh conditions on leaky boats just to get home.

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Mighty Mickey. US Col. Mickey Marcus in 1948, the first modern Israeli general (Aluf)

In a scene that was particularly moving, a group of survivors, Jews who had lost everything and everyone in the world, managed to get ashore only to be confronted by a British army patrol. The British officer ordered the survivors to step forward so that they could be detained. But from over the hills, Jews who were already living there, including Micky Marcus who had come to see what was happening, flocked towards them, mingling with the new immigrants, making it impossible for the army officer to distinguish who had just arrived. So the British officer once again ordered the new arrivals to step forward, ordering his men to fire a warning shot over their heads.

And yet, the people didn’t flinch and didn’t take a single step forward. A battle of wills ensued with the army officer warning them that the next shots would be aimed at them. His soldiers lined up their weapons, aimed at the ragtag group of people. And yet, they continued to stand defiantly, refusing to move. The officer warned them again that on the count of ten, his men would open fire. But still the people continued to stand, bracing themselves for what would come, knowing that they would and could no longer bow to anyone in their own land. The countdown continued, closer and closer – and yet there was no movement. Perhaps in that moment, Micky came to understand just how strong the will of the Jewish people – his people – was.

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Kirk Douglas and Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion in 1953 when filming The Juggler, the first Hollywood feature to be filmed in the newly established state of Israel. Douglas later recalled that while there, he saw “extreme poverty and food being rationed” but found it “wonderful, finally, to be in the majority.”

Eventually the count reached ten and the army officer realised that these were indeed a stubborn people who could no longer be bullied anymore. So he ordered his men to lower their rifles and the people cheered. “I suppose they’re going to dance now,” he quipped, as the people rushed past him to join their fellow Jews in Eretz Yisrael.

Jews are a stubborn people. A people who refuse to die and refuse to bow and refuse to give up on being Jews. It’s our strength and our belief and our hope that has sustained us through thousands of years of persecution and oppression and even genocide.

Because there exists a spark in all of us – a Jewish spirit if you like – that continues to defy what the world tells us and refuses to give up our identity. A spark that that will continue to fight for our rights and our dignity despite so many wanting to take that away.

Micky Marcus, who always saw himself as American first, realised that no matter where he was or where he lived, he was and always would be a Jew – and that was a part of him that couldn’t be ignored, even if he tried. It called to him, igniting that spark and making it burn inside him with such fierce pride that it was a flame that could never be extinguished. It was that spark that made him ignore his comfortable life in America to throw himself into helping the newly formed Jewish state – his people – to survive.

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Kirk Douglas at the Western Wall in 1977. (Douglas Collection)

In a way, Kirk Douglas was the same. He was born to poor immigrant Jewish parents, and fought hard to fit into American society, ignoring his Jewish side. And yet throughout his life, he was drawn to Jewish projects and Jewish stories – including making this movie about the birth of the Jewish state. The spark within him never died. It was always simmering. And later in life, when he rediscovered his Jewish roots, that spark – that small flame that was always inside him – ignited and his Jewish soul took flight. He became a fiercely proud Jew who stood up for his people and stood up for his Jewish country of Israel. So much so that when he died, he left behind a Jewish legacy that all Jews can be proud of.

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Kirk Douglas prays at Jerusalem’s Western Wall in 2000. Douglas celebrated a second Bar-Mitzvah ceremony in 1999, aged 83 and a 3rd one at 100.

The Jewish spark lives in all of us. It calls us, sometimes in quiet voices in the night, sometimes in loud booming trumpets in the middle of the day. Sometimes we hear it early in life and sometimes much later. And tragically there exists those among us, who don’t simply ignore it, but do everything in their power to put it out.

Yet, it is a flame that cannot be put out, because it continues to burn in all of us, igniting a pride that we feel deeply, a pride that causes our hearts to swell, our chests to rise, and allows us to walk a little taller among the nations of the world. We need to hold onto that pride and to guard it jealously, because it is our strength – an unflinching belief in who we are as a people, and a stubbornness to never let it go.

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Justin - bio.jpgJustin Amler is a noted South African-born, Australia-based writer and commentator on international issues affecting Israel and the Jewish world.

Devastating Diary

Personal reflections on my journey to Poland

By Stephanie Hodes

A few weekends ago, I participated in Inspired TLV’s journey to Poland. Visiting the sites of some of our darkest moments in Jewish history has been something I have wanted to do for a long time, but never quite found the right moment to do it. Most likely because making that decision is hard enough. How do you convince yourself to spend a weekend in a place that you know will be so emotionally trying? And if planning a weekend abroad, why not book a ticket to somewhere exciting like Florence or Paris and go indulge in all that these beautiful cities have to offer?

I am going to start off by saying, that this trip was a lot harder than I could have possibly imagined, and I came back feeling utterly devastated, heartbroken – and to some extent, traumatised.

The book of Hasidim talks about how physical places absorb the energy of events that occur in them. If something positive happened, a place will always feel joyous, but if something terrible happened, it will be doomed with energies that reek of pain, suffering or sadness. On moments during the trip, when I could not stand to look anymore, I would close my eyes hoping that my mind would show me something more positive and give me the boost of strength I so badly needed to process what I was seeing. However, closing my eyes didn’t make things go away; it’s not like watching a scary movie and covering your eyes just as something terrible is about to happen and when you open them it’s over. With my eyes closed, my senses were heightened and from deep within, I felt just how dark, cold and evil the ground was beneath my feet. There was no silence, only the distant, soul-wrenching sounds of screaming, weeping, and unanswered prayers.

“Feeling” was even more terrifying than “seeing”.

Day 1 – Majdanek

Majdanek is positioned in the city of Lublin; residents drive by daily on their way to work and this former concentration camp is in plain sight for all to see. It is the most well-preserved of the camps and remains today pretty much as it did in 1944 when it was liberated by the Soviet Army. While Majdanek is less spoken about than Auschwitz, it was in no way less horrific. It is estimated that 360,000 people were murdered there, 125,000 of them Jewish and the remainder Poles or Soviet prisoners of war.

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The barracks housing rows of triple layer bunk beds, the showers that either released ice cold or scorching hot water to ensure there was absolutely no pleasure in taking a shower, and the room filled with thousands of pairs of shoes – mans’ most personal item, are just a few of the spine chilling things one will find at Majdanek. When walking into the gas chamber, my breath immediately caught in my throat. The gas chambers were not rooms that by default were filled with gas. They were meticulously thought-out and designed with the sole intent to kill as many as possible as fast as possible, right down to the smallest detail. One of the first things you will notice is that the door opens outwards instead of inwards, as human instinct had frantic victims trying to break the door open when they realised what was about to happen and resulted in piles of corpses next to the door making it extremely difficult to open from the outside. The low ceilings of the gas chambers are not found anywhere else in the camp. The gas chamber inter-leads with the crematorium, complete with an en-suite bathroom where Nazi officers often bathed next to burning corpses as this was considered by far the warmest place during the winter.

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As we exited the crematorium, we were confronted by a large concrete monument which houses a monstrous pile of ash. Here lie the remains of our dear brothers and sisters, their bodies reduced to mere ashes. Stripped of their dignity, clothes, hair and teeth; robbed of their possessions, forced into slave labour, forced to watch their relatives die and children torn away from them, and at the very end not even afforded a decent burial. They lie there on display for all to see – and all we could do was say Kaddish (the prayer for the dead).

 

Day 2 – Belzec

There is very little that remains of this Extermination Camp – in fact there wasn’t a whole lot to begin with. Jews were transported by freight trains and traveled for hours or even days under intolerable conditions. Many died en-route. Upon arrival, they were told that they had arrived in a transit camp in order to be disinfected and showered. Men and women were separated; all were told to remove their clothing and were forced to hand over their valuables. Thereafter they were sent straight to the gas chambers. The whole process took between 60 and 90 minutes. 600,000 Jews were murdered at Belzec, and there are only two known survivors who managed to escape into the surrounding woods. Had they not escaped and given their testimonies, we would never have known about the atrocities committed. One of the most powerful moments of this entire journey was walking down the snow-filled pathway to the memorial wall at Belzec singing somberly and unanimously:

– גם כי אלך בגיא צלמות לא אירא רע כי אתה עמדי –

“Though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no harm, for You are at my side”

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We grappled a lot with the concept of faith in G-d during the Holocaust, finding it harder by the moment to believe how Holocaust victims who lived through the worst degradations and pain retained theirs. A German prison guard was asked how he knew when everyone in the gas chamber was dead, to which he responded, “It was when I stopped hearing the words Shema Yisrael“.

 

Motzei Shabbat – Buczyna Forest

After an uplifting and inspiring Shabbat (Sabbath) filled with song, stories and a walking tour of the Jewish quarter of Krakow, we were instructed to dress warmly and get on to the bus for a night activity. 1.5 hours later we arrived at what appeared to be a very affluent Polish neighbourhood and started walking through its streets until we eventually arrived at a forest. It was pitch dark, bitterly cold and wolves could be heard howling in the distance. We walked down a dirt path and then finally turned left into a field and arrived at a sectioned off area decorated by balloons, candles and an Israeli flag.

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(Photo: Eli Wrightman)

We were then told that we were standing next to a mass grave where 800 children from the nearby town of Tarnow were brutally murdered in the middle of the night at the hands of Germans soldiers – hearts hardened against the children’s humanity by years of incessantly messaged hate. We stood there teary eyed and shaking from the cold, picturing young children, perhaps siblings, holding hands. Helpless. Scared. Crying for their mothers. In that forest. In that very spot. We could do nothing but pray for their souls. This was undeniably the most disturbing aspect of my entire experience, but powerful beyond imagination and speaking volumes about the importance of Jewish continuity.

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Jewish mass grave in Buczyna Forest

 

Day 3 – Auschwitz-Birkenau

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(Photo: Eli Wrightman)

We were told of a story about a how a survivor of the Holocaust who was transported from Majdanek to Auschwitz, got off the train and kissed the ground upon arrival at the camp. At a first glance, I could understand why. The former military compound, in stark contrast to Majdanek, is organised into clear sections with sturdy structures, a post office, kitchen and medical barracks. Undoubtedly the largest and most notorious of all the Nazi death camps, Auschwitz was equipped with several extermination facilities and 1,100,000 Jews were murdered by means of Zyklon B gas. In its museum today, you will find 100,000 pairs of shoes, 12,000 kitchen utensils, 3,800 suitcases and 350 striped camp garments and millions of items of clothing that once belonged to men, women and children. One of the most harrowing sights is a room containing 6,350kg of human hair that had been destined for factories where it would have been woven into fabric for carpets, work clothes and for car seats.

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(Photo: Eli Wrightman)

Visiting Birkenau isn’t like a museum. You are mostly left on your own with your thoughts. Left to take it all in and try to make sense of what took place here. It is vast – spanning over nearly 2 Kilometres with over 200 buildings, and honestly too much to possibly comprehend. Most of its structures lie in heaps of bricks as buildings were torn down, blown up or set on fire, and records were destroyed by Nazis desperately trying to hide evidence of their crimes pending the end of the war. But it is increasingly evident that this place is an emblem of evil, a site of historical remembrance and a vast cemetery.

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(Photo: Eli Wrightman)

Although there is a lot more I still want to share, I am going to end this post by saying that this experience changed my life. I am in complete awe how anybody survived those places under the most untenable conditions, and I have nothing but admiration for the resilience of our precious Holocaust survivors who walked through hell and emerged to tell their stories in order to ensure that the world will never forget. I am still processing a lot of emotions, fighting off bouts of anger, uncontrollable sadness and teary moments, but I am immensely thankful for the opportunity to have experienced this with an amazing group of young professionals from all over the world, led by Rabbi Avi Hill, Rabbi Ilan Segal and Rabbi Raphael Raiton who took us to the darkest of places and showed us the most beautiful light through their love for Judaism, Torah and song. They always had a positive message to lift our spirits, teaching us to value and appreciate life through the hardest of lessons. The impact of embarking on this journey with a group, as opposed to alone was immense and I urge anyone with enough courage to join the next Inspired TLV journey to Poland for a truly meaningful and life-changing experience.

 

 

About the Author:

Steph2.jpgStephanie Hodes made aliyah from Johannesburg in 2011 with a background in Journalism, Jewish communal leadership. Today, she lives in Tel Aviv and runs a hi-tech recruitment company focusing on placing English and foreign language speakers in Israel with top Israeli companies.

 

 

It’s Pronounced Tzade, Dad !

By Gidon Ben Zvi

Imagine finding out at the ripe old age of 46 that there was a letter in the English alphabet that you never knew existed. Would you be left awestruck? Would you be temporarily blinded by this flash of enlightenment? After all, how often does a shiny new nugget about the language you speak, write, sing, read, think and feel in, fall into your lap? You may well come away from such a revelation altogether buoyed.

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I felt my knees buckle; my head swirl, throat turn dry, and a cold sweat break out across my face.

“You look pale,” my wife observed. “What happened?” “Turns out that I’ve been mispronouncing ‘Tzade’ as ‘Tzadik’ for the last 40 years or so,” I lamented.

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To the uninitiated, ‘Tzade’ is the 18th letter of the Hebrew Alphabet. Meanwhile, ‘Tzadik’   is a title in Judaism given to the most righteous among us. This A-list includes Moses and

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Rabbi Saadia Gaon

other characters from the Bible’s cast of thousands. There are also spiritual masters like Rabbi Saadia Gaon, the medieval Jewish philosopher, translator of the Bible into Arabic, commentator, and author of a Hebrew dictionary. There are even 36 hidden Tzadikim. According to Jewish mysticism, every generation produces at least 72 holy men, 36 who live in Israel, and 36 who live outside of Israel. We have no idea who these righteous among us are, except that their good deeds and sterling character keep our world going.

I’m not the only one who confuses ‘Tzade’ with ‘Tzadik’. It’s about as minor an infraction as the comma splice or split infinitive. Difference is that I KNOW about those common English language grammar mistakes, and choose to ignore them as I see fit. But the swapping out of ‘Tzade’ for ‘Tzadik’ was an act of criminal negligence.

Even more humbling was the fact it was my eight-year-old daughter who cottoned onto my hint of illiteracy. She’s in second grade now, and developing a healthy addiction to letters, words, and reading. It was while I was helping her with her homework one evening that my terrible secret, a secret unbeknownst to me, was exposed.

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Getting skunked this way by a language I’ve struggled to make my own since moving back to Israel confirmed my fear that Hebrew will never supersede English as MY language. Sure, I read the daily newspapers, watch the nightly newscasts, and converse in the vernacular when arguing with the bank. But the soundtrack of my life, language of my dreams, and mapping of my thoughts remain stubbornly in English.

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And perhaps this is as it should be. The language we imbibe as children contributes no small measure to the formation of our identities. To quote Oliver Wendell Holmes: “Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow.” My experiences, knowledge, and beliefs are coded in the same language used and mastered by Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill. I quite enjoy being linguistically linked to such righteous fellows.

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Yet by raising our children in Israel, my wife and I are ensuring that their unique personalities will be nourished by the letters, grammar, syntax, idioms, Biblical associations and quirks of a language that until about 70 years ago was buried among the ruins of history.

I quite like the idea of being linked by family bonds to the perpetuation of the Hebrew language, and the Jewish people.

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Family Roots. Connected over 3000 years through language,

 

 

About the Author:

image007 (33).jpgGidon Ben-Zvi is an accomplished writer whose work has appeared in
The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, the Algemeiner, American
Thinker, the Jewish Journal, Israel Hayom, and United with Israel. Ben-Zvi
blogs at Jerusalem State of Mind (jsmstateofmind.com).
A former Californian, the writer lives with his wife and four children in Israel.

 

 

My journey as an Olah (Immigrant)

By Justine Friedman

To make Aliyah in the literal sense of the world is a process of going up. Going up from a place that would assume to be on a “lower level” up to the land of Israel which is therefore assumed to be on a “higher level”. And while this is true for the most part, and I imagine the ultimate result will be one of ascension, this process of going up sometimes feels a lot like a long slide down a snake in a game of snakes and ladders.

I may still be very fresh and green in this process as I have only recently arrived from South Africa in November of 2019, but already I see a trend that I can imagine will continue to emerge no matter how long the period from my actual date of Aliyah.

My journey as an Olah2

Living in the land of Israel still feels quite surreal. I can’t believe I am actually here. I feel that from the time my husband and I decided to start the process towards making this monumentous change in our lives until today, that there was always another force at work ensuring that once we got on board that Aliyah train there was not a single exit stop on the way until we disembarked at Ben Gurion airport.

All olim (immigrants) have their own story to tell and some sound and seem more glamorous than others; but the truth at the end of the day is that we all want to be here and we all miss and mourn the loss of what we have left behind. No matter where in the world you have come from, what we gain has come at the cost of a loss as well.

For me one of my biggest losses was walking away from the private practice I had built up over 17 years in Johannesburg as a dietician. I had just started giving more talks and using coaching in sessions to help my clients with the skills and tools they needed to make lasting lifestyle and behavioural changes. With the ability to work online I am so lucky to still be able to connect and help some of my clients. However, to practice in Israel I need to convert my degree and sit an exam. Imagine after 20 years going back and studying an entire syllabus all over again! So each day, I sit down with my new brand of coffee and my water from my mehadrin water machine and tackle the next chapter of nutrition.

As I slowly settle into a new home, culture, language, grocery store, foods, driving on the opposite side of the road, medical system, the list goes on… my desire for the familiar screams out to me. Having a sense of humour is definitely a priority when countless times I have to remind myself which side of the car to get into if I want to be the driver. The first few times I reached for my seat belt over the wrong shoulder and every time I am in the passenger seat it feels weird that I can’t look up at the rear view mirror and see what is behind me.

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Waze (the GPS navigation app) has become my best friend.  I really don’t know how people made Aliyah before this incredible app existed. A small victory for me is when I am able to get from one point to another without needing to use this super intelligent driving buddy!

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If I can reflect on the last 3 months my highlights have been davening  (praying) at the Kotel (Wailing Wall) , seeing our container drive up to our front door and offloading our possessions from home, receiving my permanent Teudat Zehut (identity card), receiving my Israeli drivers licence and my children finally telling me that they are enjoying being here and that it is starting to feel like home.

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I know I have a long way to go.  A doctor recently told me, after 25 years I will feel settled, but I am so grateful to be where I am with the incredible community of olim (immigrants) around me who make friends feel like family. There is a process to the rungs up this ladder of Aliyah that I need to climb and I will learn to embrace the slides down the snakes as well because in my heart I know that I am finally home.

 

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Justine Friedman (nee Aginsky) made aliyah from Johannesburg, South Africa in November 2019 with her husband and their two children. In Johannesburg she was a successful clinical dietician, coach and speaker who ran her own private practice for 17 years. Justine is passionate about helping people, and women in particular, achieve greater degrees of health in their mind, body and soul. She achieves this with her own blend of a holistic approach which includes nutrition, skills and tools for improving thoughts and healing emotions and energy healing which includes visualisations, meditation and hypnosis. All consultations that she offers can be done both face to face or online. She is based in Modi’in and loves the challenges and successes that living in Israel has to offer.

 

 

Feature Picture – Credit : RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS

 

Unto Every Person There Is A Name

The Stolpersteine Project

By  Rolene Marks

Unto every person there is a name. If you think about it, our names are the only possessions that we retain throughout our lives and many of us worry if they will be remembered long after we pass. In Jewish tradition, names are symbolic of divine energy.

Memory can be also regarded as the lifeblood of Jewish tradition. We remember our dead every year with special dates in the Hebrew calendar that mark the anniversary of their death and by lighting a yahrtzheit (memorial) candle. But what of the millions who perished in the Holocaust? Whole families and communities who were murdered? How do we remember them?

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 Illuminating Loved ones – A traditional “Yahrtzheit” (memorial) candle.

One poignant way is through a project called Stolpersteine (stumbling stones).

If you walk through the streets of Prague or Berlin or any number of European cities, you will come across brass plates, no bigger than 10cm x 10cm, dotted all over the cities. These are Stolpersteine.

Stolpersteine or “stumbling stones’ was founded by artist, Gunter Demnig.  The project was started as a way to commemorate the victims of the Nazis. These plates are painstakingly and respectfully placed into the pavement in front of the last voluntarily chosen places of residence of the victims of the Nazis. Their names and fate are engraved into a brass plate on the top of each Stolpersteine.

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Art of remembrance – The German artist Gunter Demnig best known for his “Stolpersteine” memorials to the victims of Nazi persecution and oppression.

These modest memorials keep memory alive; they bear testament to the tenet that here too, lived a person. This person had a life, a family and a future. The person that lived at this address ceased to exist because of hatred and intolerance.

It is not just Jews that are honoured by the Stolpersteine project. Famed Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, once commented that not all the victims were Jewish, but all the Jews were victims. The Nazis with their racist ideology, also deemed the Sinti and Roma, people from the political or religious resistance, people who had physical or mental disability and were “euthanized”, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and anyone who they felt was “sub-human” and not a perfect Aryan.

For some families, participating in the Stolpersteine project, it is not just a way to eternally memorialise their lost loved ones, but a way to learn family history. It is also important for the descendants of those who perished, to have the opportunity to restore dignity to the victims that were so cruelly robbed and to give their loved ones the funerals they never had.

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Solemn Ceremony – Participating in the Stolpersteine ceremony of Dr. Max & Therese Oppenheimer in Pankow, Berlin are their grandchildren (R) Prof. Amnon Carmi,  Mrs Yachida Chelouche and on (L) Chairman of the Stolpersteine Volunteers Committee in Berlin – Pankow, retired pastor Gerhard Hochhuth.

Yair Chelouche has a Stolpersteine dedicated to his family members in Berlin and Halle, Germany shared some thoughts:

ותרזה עם יחידה ואמנון ברלין 1931
Berlin Family – Dr. Max & Therese Oppenheimer (née Karfunkel) with grandchildren, Amnon Carmi sitting on Max’s lap and his sister Yachida Chelouche (née Carmi) standing (1932).

“When I visited Berlin a couple of years ago and participated in a guided tour, I became curious where these Stolpersteine came from. I wrote to the project founders; and was told that my application was referred to the relevant region where my family came from and that it could take a few years to process. One day, I was contacted by one of the volunteers who dealt with the Stolpersteine in Pankow, where my family lived. Finding information on my grandmother was easy because all the documentation was there, where she lived and where she died later in Theresienstadt. My grandfather was more of an enigma; but after a lot of intense research, we found out that he was a PhD from Heidelberg University and one of the founders of one of the first Jewish student fraternities of that university.  He was a great Zionist who knew Herzl, Bodenheimer and others who were giants of the Jewish world,” continues Yair, a great-grandchild who searched for his family roots and history.

 

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Home of the Oppenheimers – Outside the home they lived, Stolpersteine for the great grandparents of Yair Chelouche, Dr. Max & Therese Oppenheimer in 31 Breitestrasse. Pankow – Pankow.

“Finally, we were able to tie up all the loose ends and close the painful chapters of our family history that we did not know. Through learning about our family during this process, we were able to give them their name, their dignity, make sense of the places they lived in. We were able to follow in their footsteps until the cruel end of their lives”, he says.

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The Artist And The Family – At the ceremony for Dr. Max & Therese Oppenheimer, (l-r) grandson Prof. Amnon Carmi, the artist Mr Gunter Demnig and granddaughter Mrs. Yachida Chelouche.

Stolpersteine exist in many countries across Europe but not everyone embraced the memorials. The German city council of Munich rejected the Stolpersteine following objections from Munich’s Jewish community (and particularly its chairwoman, Charlotte Knobloch, then also President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, and herself a former victim of Nazi persecution). Knobloch objected to the idea that the names of murdered Jews be inserted in the pavement, where people might accidentally step on them. It would be seen as “walking on the graves of dead Jews”.

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Ernst and Nelly Grünberger  from Halle, Germany (Uncle & Aunt of Prof. Amnon Carmi and Mrs Yachida Chelouche)

Founder of the Stolpersteine project, Demnig, participated in the discussions, stating that “he intends to create a memorial at the very place where the deportation started: at the homes where people had lived last”. A compromise was reached where plaques were put up on the walls of homes of individuals and not the pavement.

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Hate Prevails. A Stolpersteine outside the home of Ernst & Nelly Grünberger, in 32 Kleine Ulrichstrasse, Halle, Germany. A few minutes walk from a synagogue where a heavily armed assailant ranting about Jews, tried to force his way in on Yom Kippur, Judaism’s holiest day, then shot two innocent people to death nearby ( 09 October 2019).

In other cities, permission for the project was preceded by long, sometimes emotional discussions. In Krefeld, the vice-chairman of the Jewish community, Michael Gilad, said that Demnig’s memorials reminded him of how the Nazis had used Jewish gravestones as slabs for sidewalks.  A compromise was reached that a stolpersteine could be installed if a prospective site was approved by both the house’s owner and (if applicable) the victim’s relatives. Since 2009, 23 Stolpersteine for the Belgian city of  Antwerp have been produced but have not be placed due to local resistance against the project. They have been stored in Brussels where they are regularly exhibited.

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Laying Flowers – Lena Sonneberg at the Stolpersteine outside the building where her grandparents lived in Berlin.

Most cities across Europe welcome this initiative. They recognize that as time passes and the numbers of survivors dwindle, projects like Stolpersteine play an important part in saying, I too existed. I too lived and loved.

I too had a name.  

 

 

 

 

 

*Feature picture: A view of some “stolpersteine” in Berlin, August 2012. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images via JTA)

“If I Forget Thee O Jerusalem”

World leaders spoke but will they act?

From the 2020 World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem to the protest against Lithuania in Tel Aviv 24 hours later

By David E. Kaplan

They came but who saw2

As world leaders from some 50 countries descended on the capital of the Jewish people for the  World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, on the 23rd January 2020, marking 75 years since the “gates of Hell” were opened at Auschwitz, one commentator on i24NEWS remarked:

 “This conference is about education,” to which another in the panel skeptically responded:

 “Yes, but young people in Europe today not only know nothing about the Holocaust; they also don’t want to believe it. They deny it!”

And this is Europe where the largest mass murder in history  occurred? Where the majority of its Jews today lie beneath its surface while above the horrific truth is obscured, denied, ignored, equated or “they had it coming”?

And with a world increasingly directing the “new antisemitism” on the ‘collective Jew’ – Israel – it was only fitting that the World Holocaust Forum was held in the centre of the Jewish people – Jerusalem – Israel’s eternal capital since King David over 3000 years ago.

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World leaders gather at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem for the 5th World Holocaust Forum.

If a world – and in particular one where its young generations – need to hear the truth, who better to hear it from than the President of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier who addressed the memorial forum with:

Seventy-five years after the liberation of Auschwitz, I stand before you all as President of Germany – I stand here laden with the heavy, historical burden of guilt.”

He confessed his country’s guilt to the world with:

Germans deported them. Germans burned numbers on their forearms. Germans tried to dehumanize them; to reduce them to numbers; to erase all memory of them in the extermination camps.”

No less important for the world to hear was Steinmeier’s admission that Germans had not learned the lesson of the Holocaust as Jew-hatred was not disappearing but growing and that despite different times, the “same evil” prevails today. And while the German State President wished he could say that Germans had learned from history, he felt compelled to admit that “I cannot say that when Jewish children are spat on in the schoolyard; I cannot say that when crude antisemitism is cloaked in supposed criticism of Israeli policy,” and “I cannot say that when only a thick wooden door prevents a right-wing terrorist from causing a bloodbath in a synagogue in the city of Halle on Yom Kippur.”

 

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‘Laden With Guilt’. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier delivers a speech during the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem on January 23, 2020.

Beginning and ending by reciting in Hebrew the Jewish blessing of “Shehehiyanu”, Steinmeier  told the world there remains only one answer:

To ensure – “Never again! Nie wieder!

But who was hearing in order to remember?

Even with Prince Charles representing the United Kingdom, President Emmanuel Macron representing France, Vice President Mike Pence representing the USA and President Vladimir Putin representing Russia, I switched TV channels to notice there was hardly a mention on CNN , Sky, BBC or RT of the event. The exceptions were France 24, i24NEWS and Israel’s Hebrew channels that gave live coverage.

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Right Royal. 75 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, “hatred and intolerance still lurk in the human heart, tell new lies, and seek new victims,” says Prince Charles at the 5th World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum on January 23, 2020 in Jerusalem, Israel.

Far more important than for Israelis to hear –  Jews know what happened –  it was for the billions across the world, in particular, the Europeans to listen, and to hear from their national leaders.

Did these international news networks not believe there was any interest despite the gathering of world leaders in Jerusalem? When these very same leaders were in Davos only a few HOURS before for the 50th Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum, there was continuous news coverage.

Even over news content, global economics trumps Jewish existential anxiety so are we surprised that antisemitism is here to stay?

For this writer, it was poignantly ironic and telling that only one day after the World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem titled ‘Remembering the Holocaust, Fighting Antisemitism” initiated by the President of the European Jewish Congress Dr. Moshe Kantor, that there was a demonstration of Jews of Lithuanian descent outside Lithuania’s embassy in Ramat Gan in the district of Tel Aviv.

While I was there covering the event for Lay Of The Land it was also personal, and I  had helped draft the invitation notice in English:

No One Saved Their Lives, Lets Save The Truth

Come protest Friday 24th January 2020 outside Lithuanian Embassy, Ramat Gan.

We won’t forget and we won’t forgive!

And why did over 200 people brave the freezing cold and rain  to protest? They came to register their opposition to Arūnas Gumuliauskas, chairman of the Lithuanian parliament’s Commission on the Fight for Freedom and Historical Memory, who intends to propose a parliamentary resolution declaring that:

Lithuania has no responsibility for the murders and extermination of Lithuanian Jews during the Second World War because it was occupied by Soviets and then by Nazi Germany.”

The proposed resolution is to absolve Lithuania and Lithuanians of involvement in the Holocaust for the murder of 95% of Lithuanian citizens because it was occupied successively by Russia and Germany!

The protestors knew the truth and could relate stories of members of their families who were killed. Etched in the memory of this writer,  was my visit to Lithuania in 1992 when I met for the fist time a cousin who had survived the war by escaping into the forest and joining with the partisans. Alexander Judelis related the only reason he had not perished in his Shtetl of Riteva with his family was, “that my father had sent me to a Yeshiva in the north only a few weeks before the Nazi invasion. In fact, I did not want to go because I was not religious, but he saved my life.”  Judelis further related that , “the day before the Nazis entered Riteva,  local Lithuanians in our village, people who we knew all our lives, wanted to impress the Nazis before they came and went on a rampage of murdering most of the Jews,” which included members of his family.

There are few Jews in Lithuania today.  The Holocaust in German occupied Lithuania resulted in the near total destruction of Lithuanian Jews (Litvaks) and as all who stood shivering in the cold outside the Lithuanian embassy knew, their forebears who died in peacetime were the lucky ones lying beneath simple gravestones. Those that came after them have no gravestones –   they were dragged out of town, marched into the woods and shot to death in front of mass pits.

Many watching them dig their own graves before pulling the triggers of the submachine guns were their fellow Lithuanians. To the rat-a-tat soundtrack of gunfire, they gloated while murdering their neighbours, impressing their smiling German invaders.

This is the horrendous visual truth that Gumuliaskas wants to conceal by parliamentary legislation!

And this is what the shivering protestors outside the Lithuanian Embassy were determined not to permit – not without a fight.

Law is designed to reveal the truth not to hide it!

As chairman of the Association of Lithuanian Immigrants in Israel, Arie Ben-Ari expressed at the protest that “In the first months of the Nazi occupation, most of Lithuanian Jewry was annihilated by Lithuanians, and that from published information, over 22,000 Lithuanians participated in and carried out the murders in 214 places in Lithuania. Many of them advanced and subsequently served the Nazis as guards and murderers of Jews in concentration and extermination camps, including in Auschwitz.”

Yes, the very Auschwitz which in Jerusalem the day before, the world leaders assembled not only to commemorate its  liberation 75 years earlier but to impress upon the world the words:

Never Again”.

Conspicuous by his absence at the World Holocaust Forum was the President of Lithuania, Gitanas Nausėda, who declined to attend. He  joined the Polish President Andrzej Duda who also did not come. Setting aside their issues with Putin, Duda  too is introducing a law in Poland imposing fines and jail time on anyone who refers to Polish complicity in the Holocaust.

Instead of trying to conceal their nefarious past by introducing laws, had both presidents attended the World Holocaust Forum, they would have heard the wise words of former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, Yisrael Meir Lau, a Holocaust survivor who 75 years earlier, was liberated as a 7-year-old from the Buchenwald concentration camp.

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You Have The Power To Lead For good, So Lead. Holocaust survivor and former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, sends strong message to world leaders at World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem.

Drawing a parallel of the world leaders before him together in one tent in Jerusalem with Noah’s ark where all the animals of the world  – many of them too natural enemies –  proved no threat to each other. With arms outstretched and looking at the world leaders in front of him he posed the question:

How did the snake and the lion share the confined space with the lamb and the dove?  The answer was they feared a common enemy – “the flood”.

The “flood” today is poverty, disease, war, and antisemitism.  “You as world leaders have the power to work together against these threats to mankind”.

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Call To Arms Against Antisemitism. A view of the audience at the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem on Jan. 23, 2020.

But the presidents of Poland and Lithuania were not present to hear these words. While world leaders were all expressing “Never Again”, Lithuania had another use of the word “never” – that Lithuanians were “never” involved in the mass murder of its fellow Jewish citizens and that future generations must “never” hear again of Lithuanians mass murdering Jews.

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We remember. Protestors holding placards outside Lithuanian Embassy in Ramat Gan (Photo: LotL – D.E Kaplan).

The banners at the protest outside the Lithuanian embassy  included  with the wording “Lithuania – take responsibility for the Holocaust”, “Zero Tolerance For Antisemitism” and “Gumuliaskas – no law can wash away Jewish blood’.

And when the rain poured, the umbrellas went up and the protestors stayed at their posts.

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Come Hell Or High Water. Downpour of rain did not deter the protestors outside Lithuanian Embassy countering attempts to deny past evils (Photo: LotL – D.E Kaplan).

Moderated by Zohar Cheskov,  other speakers included Chairman of the Vilnius Association Mickey Cantor, the CEO of the Wiesenthal Center Dr. Ephraim Zuroff, Holocaust historian and researcher Remi Neiderfer  and 91-year-old Holocaust survivor from Kovna (Kaunas) Rosa Bloch,  who said Lithuanians “started to kill the Jews even before the Germans arrived.”

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Truth Be Told. Chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the director of its Israel Office Efraim Zuroff (left) with former South Africans living in Israel and of Lithuanian decent (l-r)Abel Levitt, Marcelle Kornel, the writer, David Kaplan and Barry Kornel holding a banner in Hebrew “Gumuliaskas – no law can wash away Jewish blood”.(Photo: LotL – D.E Kaplan).

Since I was in Lithuania in 1992, the country has come a long way in confronting her wartime past.

However, maybe again, and possibly emboldened by the recent path of Poland’s leadership, does Lithuania too want to rewrite history and erase its ugly history of Nazi collaboration?

The message from the protestors outside the Lithuanian Embassy on the 24th January 2020 in Tel Aviv is a call for protest  not only by Jews of Lithuanian descent; but all decent people around the world  to join together against the rising “flood” in Lithuania and oppose the despicable resolution of Arūnas Gumuliauskas.

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Resolute Against Resolution. Protesting opposition to Arūnas Gumuliauskas resolution declaring Lithuania not responsible for the murders and extermination of Lithuanian Jews during the Second World War (Photo: LotL – D.E Kaplan).

To the murdered Jews of Lithuanians:

No One Saved Their Lives, Lets Save The Truth

When Healers Became Killers

75 years after Auschwitz – The importance  today of educating medical professionals on the Holocaust

By Dr. Tessa Chelouche

When Healers became killers1
The Legacy Of Nazi Medicine. A shameful past of a proud profession, the dark side of medicine under the Nazis.

On the 27th of January the world commemorates the 75th liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In the past few years, the world has witnessed violent and disturbing antisemitic attacks in many countries. One of the ways to combat antisemitism is to educate on the Holocaust. The medical profession has a major responsible role to play in perpetuating this education because unlike other instances of genocide that the world has witnessed, the Holocaust was a medically sanctioned genocide. The greatest stain on the record of medicine in the 20th century was the role played by German physicians during the Nazi period.

When the Nazis came to power in Germany, medicine there was among the most sophisticated in the world. German medicine had contributed to, and shaped, academic and clinical medical practice worldwide. Despite its preeminence, however, German medicine became enmeshed in the Nazi ideology and broadly complicit in the conceptualization and promulgation of the Nazi racial and social programs. The engagement of the medical profession was extensive and was led by the active involvement and support of the academic establishment. Medicine was not alone in its support of National Socialist policies, but the medical profession differed from the other professions in its explicit commitment to an ethical basis, to a humanitarian stance and to a 2000-year-old Hippocratic Oath that placed the sufferer first.

German physicians began to elevate service to the state above medical ethics well before the Holocaust – the term used for the genocide of the Jews – occurred. In the early years of the 20th century, German physicians promoted policies of racial hygiene and eugenics in their eagerness to limit the reproduction of people believed to have hereditary disorders: the disabled and the chronically ill who were considered as a burden to society. Between 1939 and 1945 they sterilized an estimated 400,000 Germans with mental and physical disorders. Following this, German physicians designed and implemented the notorious T-4 “Euthanasia” program, where they performed medical murder on their mentally, physically and socially handicapped patients with the goal of producing a pure Aryan race. This policy was ethically sanctioned by the Nazi medical profession in Germany. Traditional medical ethics was adapted and altered to suit the policies of National Socialism. Nazi physicians did not abandon medical ethics as is usually perceived, but rather replaced traditional fundamental universal medical ethics with selective medical ethics. The disabled and the chronically ill, the feebleminded and the “unproductive” members of society were perceived as living “lives unworthy of living” and as such did not deserve to be treated according to the regular medical code. This new ethical code was taught at every medical school in Nazi Germany and a special textbook was required reading for this compulsory course. More physicians were members of the Nazi party than any other free profession. They were not forced but joined of their own free will and they joined early on. In this manner, German medicine became an arm of Nazi state policy. Nazi physicians failed to see themselves as physicians first, with a calling and an ethic dedicated to healing and caring for the well-being of human beings. Instead they believed that the welfare of the state was to take precedence over their individual loyalty to their patients.

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Doctors Determining Death. This poster (from around 1938) reads: “60,000 Reichsmark is what this person suffering from a hereditary defect costs the People’s community during his lifetime. Fellow citizen, that is your money too.”

The above-mentioned medical programs of sterilization and “Euthanasia” became enmeshed with the policy of virulent antisemitism, and as such were the forerunners for the Holocaust – the genocide of the Jews at concentration camps like Auschwitz-Birkenau and many others. The ‘medical murders’ that began in the hospitals in Germany and Austria, culminated in the murder of the Jews and other minorities in the camps, as the extermination of millions of people was considered as “treatment” for the state. The same professionals who were involved in the T4-“Euthanasia” program, among them many physicians, were consulted when the camps were built and were the medical experts who were consulted in the design and activation of the gas chambers.

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Death By Design. View of the cemetery at the Hadamar Institute, where victims of the Nazi euthanasia program were buried in mass graves.

Although the subject of ‘Medicine and the Holocaust’ usually brings to mind the cruel and barbaric experiments, medicine was involved long before the infamous experiments were performed at the various camps, hospitals and clinics. In 1946 one of the first post war trials to be held was the “Nuremberg Doctors’ Trial.” For the first time in history, physicians were tried for crimes against humanity for their participation in murderous and tortuous experiments conducted in the Nazi concentration camps. In the final judgment, the court articulated what is known as the “Nuremberg Code”, the first international code for human experimentation. In fact, it was in the ashes of the Holocaust, through the formulation of the Nuremberg Code that modern medical ethics, known as bioethics, was born. All contemporary bioethical codes are based on what transpired in the profession in the years preceding and during the Holocaust. Every ethical issue under consideration today – among others: the value of human life, disability care, equity in medical care, genetics, public health, research ethics, health system economics, reproductive medicine, abortion, military medicine, refugee care, death and dying – includes inquiry influenced by the Nazi medical crimes.

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Doctors In The Dock. Medical practitioners on trial in Nuremberg for intentional unethical malpractice on behalf of the German state.

Medicine is a powerful profession and was especially so under the National Socialist regime. The questions that need to be asked are:

  • How did a professional group that was internationally respected, scientifically innovative and ethically advanced, evolve an understanding of their social, ethical and scientific obligations only to lead them to use their advanced medical knowledge and professional ethics to justify committing cruel and heinous medical crimes against humanity?
  • How did healers become killers?

It was precisely the success and power of the profession in Nazi Germany that led to its hubris and collusion with a racist political regime. These physicians were not peripheral actors in the attempt at collective regeneration. Rather, they were central and crucial to the running of Auschwitz and the other camps as well as to the evolution and fulfillment of broader extermination policies.

Medicine was abused then and is constantly in danger of being abused today. It is not enough just to say, “Never Again.” As medical professionals, we have a responsibility to act so that this does not happen again, certainly within our profession. Education on ‘Medicine and the Holocaust’ can contribute significantly to professional identity formation of healthcare students. This history can help to instill a moral compass in future generations of healthcare professionals. Learning from the past can provide them with a way of reflecting and discussing inherent medical challenges in the present. Using this lens, we can encourage the aversion to racism and overt prejudice. But in addition to the value that this discourse can have on the next generation of medical professionals, the inclusion of education on the Holocaust in today’s world can also do much to vanquish the evil that is antisemitism.

75 years after Auschwitz the time has come to teach!

When Healers became killers5
Shedding Light On A Dark Subject. This important casebook on the phenomenon of medical treatment and physicians’ behavior during the holocaust was edited by the article’s author,  Dr. Tessa Chelouche.

 

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Dr Tessa Chelouche, born in South-Africa, is a Family Physician in Israel. She is the Co-chair of the Unesco Deaprtment for Bioethics and the Holocaust, Unesco Chair of Bioethics, Haifa and the Co-director of the Maimonedes Institute for Medicine, Ethics and the Holocaust.

 

 

*Feature Picture: Nazi Medicine: In the Shadow of the Reich & The Cross and the Star (1997) – studies the step by step process that led the German medical profession down an unethical road to genocide. It graphically documents the racial theories and eugenics principles that set the stage for the doctors’ participation in sterilization and euthanasia, the selection at the death camps, as well as inhuman and unethical human experimentation. Director John J. Michalczyk

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Golda

A letter to Israel’s iconic first female prime Minister

By Rolene Marks

I have often wondered what I would say to you if I ever was to meet you. What would an immigrant to the beautiful country that you helped establish, say to one of the greatest leaders of all time? You were Israel’s fourth Prime Minister and very first female leader at a time in the world when this was virtually unheard of; and remain an inspiration to this day. You gave the impression that even though you were a formidable leader, you were still “savta” (grandmother: Hebrew) Golda, with your trademark bun and cigarette, an approachable “bubbe” (grandmother: Yiddish) who we could count on for advice.

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It is 2020; and the tiny little country that you helped birth is a thriving, cosmopolitan and beautifully flawed democracy. Women’s rights have grown in leaps and bounds since you paved the way for us to realise we can become so much more than we ever thought we could. We are pioneers and trailblazers, entrepreneurs and home makers, politicians and doctors, ballerinas, soldiers and teachers. We are nation builders. In a neighbourhood where many women are silenced, persecuted, raped and denied basic human rights, Israel’s women are the backbone of our great state.

A lot of this we owe to you.

You mentioned in your memoir of how emotional it was to sign the Declaration of Independence. I wish you could see us now!

Dear Golda, Israel has always been the birthplace of ideas. You were so proud of this fact and always encouraged education and now we are world leaders in science, medicine, agriculture and technology. We have been renamed “The Start-Up Nation”. You would be amazed at the incredible creativity bursting from our young, innovative citizens.  We even sent an unmanned vehicle to the moon and arrived with a bang! It wasn’t the landing we were hoping for; but we did it regardless and now we have our sites set even higher. The sky is not our limit – we seek to explore the universe!

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One of your most memorable quotes was that there would be peace “when the Arabs love their children more than they hate us”. Golda, it breaks my heart to tell you that this has not changed. You wrote in your memoir “My Life” that you worried about preparing the next generation of 9 and 10-year-olds for the army. Sadly, the same incitement and terror that you worried and opined about has not stopped and we have had to fight several more wars and endure two “Intifadas” as a result of such hostility. But you know we are a stubborn people and we sanctify life and will never lose our hope for peace. We never lose hope that our neighbours will choose to educate their children to become members of the start-up generation instead of educating them with hate filled rhetoric. We face a brutal enemy in the form of Iran and its proxies, but our hope lies with the Iranian people who seek to overthrow this brutal regime. While this is happening, many Arab countries are starting to see the benefits of warming ties with us. Who would have thought that this could happen!image003 - 2020-01-15T100736.187

Dear Golda, we have mourned together and suffered loss as a nation. Our heads have been bowed but our spirits have never been broken.  Our defiant love for life sustains and motivates us to carry on. At a time when stones are weapons of war, we use ours to build homes. When barbaric terrorists behead their victims, we use ours to look for groundbreaking solutions and at a time where women are maligned and mistreated in our neighbourhood, we endeavor to follow in your trailblazing footprints.

Dear Golda, you raised the ire of some, but I reckon if people applaud every single thing you do, you probably aren’t doing your job effectively enough. You sometimes made decisions that were not always popular but as a true leader, always had Israel’s best interests at heart.

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A Golda Moment. Golda Meir with children of Kibbutz Shfayim.

Africa held a special place in your heart, and you believed that many of the countries shared a similar history and yearning for statehood that we did. You would be delighted to see the contribution Israel is making on the continent in helping with sustainability and growth. We pride ourselves in living up to the tenet of Tikkun Olam and wherever there is a crisis or natural disaster, you will find Israel leading the way. Our enemy Syria has been engaged in a civil war for many years and despite this, Israel has saved over 2000 lives. Wherever there is a call in distress, we answer immediately and send our finest to help.

Dear Golda3
Golda Meir dancing with Margaret Kenyatta (daughter of Kenya’s leader Jomo Kenyatta), Kenya, 1960

You would be amused that some of your most awe-inspiring quotes are used by us, generations later, to effectively communicate how much we love our country and how we share the same frustrations you did. You had a way with words and in today’s technologically driven world I cannot help but wonder what you would have thought about social media and its importance in telling Israel’s story?  Today we will not be silent in the face of adversity and rising antisemitism and even though you are no longer with us, your words continue to inspire us and give us fortitude.

Dear Golda2
Golda shoes (from the Rona Doron collection).

Dear Golda, we may not share the same taste in shoes but I would so love to join you in a celebratory glass of your favourite Israeli wine and toast to Israel, to her pioneering people and to you, a venerable leader who burst through the ceilings, raised the standards and blazed a glowing trail.

L’Chaim!

 

 

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The author was pleasantly surprised to find that her copy of “My Life” was signed by Golda Meir.