January 27 1945: Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp is liberated by the Soviet Army.
January 27, 2010: Sixty five years later, 150 survivors, European leaders, Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu and other Israeli dignitaries, stand in the cold, snow covered field of death to mark the International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Watching this dramatic scene unfold on television, a day declared by the UN in 2005 as a global day of remembrance, I couldn’t help but recall the day, five and half years ago when I stood with my mother and sister on that very same horrible piece of land, as we toured (is that the word to use?) Auschwitz. Though we were there in July and the ground wasn’t frozen, it may as well have been. I recall feeling a chill travel up my spine. I recall feeling angry that that ‘place’ looked alive: Green grass, tall trees, paths, buildings. It could have been anywhere. It was fertile land. Auschwitz was fertile. It is ironic, that in this place of unspeakable horrors suffused with the all pervasive aura of death, greenery was plentiful, fertilized by the bones and bodies of Europe’s Jews. Seeing the horrors of that place, well, they are so difficult to describe. Walking under the deceitful ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ sign was eerie and unnerving. But there is a certain sense of pride that despite the evil that pervaded that era, Jews walk that ground in 2010 with Israeli flag held high, with defiance, and with pride in who we are. Netanyahu spoke of the evil Amalek that pervaded Europe at that time, and he alluded to the present day Amalek, the leader of Iran, and vowed that we will never again allow ‘the hand of evil to sever the life of our people and our state.’ Let’s hope Israel and the world truly heed those words.
January 27, 2010: The main Jewish cemetery in Strasbourg in eastern France is desecrated with gravestones defiled with swastikas, and some overturned. One tombstone was found with the inscription ‘juden raus’ (Jews out).
Anti Semitism continues.
January 27, 2010: Stepner family celebrates its 23rd week of life in Israel as new olim. And what a week its been. As you know, last Shabbat was spent in Jerusalem at Yeshivat Hakotel for the Shabbat Horim, Shabbat for parents and families of shiur bet boys who will be entering the army in March. It was a most uplifting Shabbat. We heard divrei torah from the Rosh Yeshiva, from the rav in charge of the army boys, sang zemirot, and met so many nice people. Friday night we davened mincha with the boys in the beit medrash and then the guys sang and danced down to the kotel for kabbalat Shabbat. A very moving, enjoyable and proud experience. After kabbalat Shabbat, we met Debbie and Michael Block and walked with them to their apartment where we enjoyed a deliciously prepared Shabbat dinner with they and their family. It was so nice laughing and enjoying their company. I really miss that. Eitan walked over to the Inbal hotel to spend some time with Josh Friedman. Afterwards, we walked back to Hakotel and went to sleep. Shabbat morning davening was beautiful. Davening in the Beit Midrash of Hakotel, overlooking the kotel, Har Habayit, well, it really is quite incredible. There really is something special about Jerusalem. Before lunch, there was a Kiddush and we met with the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Veider. What an inspiring Rav. So kind, so menshlechkite. He was so nice to us, and blessed us for making aliyah, and he spoke glowingly about Yechezkel. After lunch, we went on a tiyul with a Rabbi from Hakotel who lives in the Muslim quarter. We walked through the quarter, toured Ateret Cohanim, the yeshiva that remained unharmed during the ‘67 war, and eventually visited this Rabbi’s house, the most northeastern corner of the old city. Indeed, his house backed up to chomot yerushalaim, the wall surrounding the old city. He and one other family live amongst the Arabs and their daily lives are filled with mesirat nefesh. They can never leave their homes without an escort. They believe, truly believe that all of Jerusalem will be ours and we settle one person, one family, one house at a time. If it takes 300 years, he said, so be it. I couldn’t do it,, live like that, with no freedom of movement. I couldn’t live in Chevron either. Hey, I made aliyah. That’s enough!!! J Anyway after the tiyul, we returned to Hakotel and I attended a class for the mothers of the boys (in Hebrew of course). At the end of the class, the Rabbi gave us and our boys and families a bracha that the boys will serve with pride, will go in health, protect and defend Israel, and return in health. Amen to that. We then went on the roof to watch the sunset. It was a clear day, and oh, so beautiful. Yechezkel explained the different vantage points to us and we really took it in. We then went in for Seudah Shlishit which lasted well beyond the end of Shabbat. The boys sat with their Rebbeim and sang so beautifully and melodious. No one wanted Shabbat to end. And the rebbeim spoke about the Hesder belief that serving in Tzahal, defending and protecting Medinat Yisrael in any capacity is a big mitzvah. All the boys are eager to serve. Concerned as we all are, it really was a moment to behold. We are first timers with this and for us, it really was a moment of pride. The whole Shabbat was a ‘shot in the arm’ for us.
After Shabbat, we went out with Jerry and Beth Schiff for some dessert at Waffle Bar. It was a most enjoyable evening. We caught up with each other, we laughed and talked. They then drove us home to Maaleh Adumim. It was great seeing them. Sunday we were treated to a visit from Dani Flam and kids. Eitan really enjoyed seeing Mickey and spending time with him. Monday Eitan went to Sderot with the Tabers, Ehrenreichs and Himbers and had an amazing experience. They visited the Yeshivat Hesder, saw the kassam rockets that fell on that city, and met some of the people living there. Meyer and I joined them all for dinner at Little Italy and we all really enjoyed being together. Everyone looks great and it is so much fun reconnecting with all of you. Tuesday was a day for me to spend with Debbie after ulpan and as always, it was the best!! We talked, ate, laughed, cried. Meyer spent some one on one time with Michael also on Thursday. We are really going to miss them. I know I will be very melancholy when you all leave and inevitably have to ask again….WHY DOES EVERYONE LEAVE??????? L I didn’t get to see my cousin Phyllis, unfortunately, so Phyllis, as you are reading this, you are just going to have to come back!
The interview I was supposed to have on Sunday took place on Wednesday instead because the woman I was to meet was sick. So I traveled to the biomedical park at Hadassah, a beautiful new complex and met with the vice president of business development. She was very impressed with my résumé and level of experience. Had I been a physician, I would be employed right now. But there may be an opening soon, (she was forwarding my résumé to some people) so we’ll see.
Tova, Gary and Josh arrived last night and will be staying with us through next Saturday night. Shabbat looks to be great: The weather magnificent, (currently 75 degrees, tomorrow 84) and family, well, there’s nothing like family. We bought dried fruits for Tu Beshvat, and I cooked new interesting foods including Pomegranate chicken. I’ll let you all know how it tastes. We are having a Melava Malka tomorrow night for all of Meyer and Tova’s cousins who live here..my first experience entertaining here. Bagels, cheese, cake, coffee, fruit and vegetable salads are the menu of choice, with of course….wine!! (what else goes with cheese?)
Well, I signed off last week with hopes of a great tennis run for Shahar Peer in the Australian Open, but unfortunately, that wasn’t to be as she was eliminated in the third round. Maybe she’ll have better luck at the French Open. Hope so.
Well, as Shabbat is fast approaching, I want to wish you all a Shabbat Shalom, Chag Sameach, and good health always. For those of you returning this week to the States, I hope you leave our homeland feeling fortified, strengthened, and well, just plain happy. And remember, vow to return soon. For Michal and Chezky, we hope you are having the best time in Florida visiting Grandma and Grandpa David. I know they are taking really good care of you and love having you there. And for all the rest, again we miss you and love you.
Ok, now really time to sign off. No news on Gilad Schalit, so our tefillot are still needed.