* Translation by Yehoshua Siskin (http://yehoshuasiskin.blogspot.com)
Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Yonatan Stavisky, a third grader at the HaBe'er school in Jerusalem, was asked to write something about the weekly Torah portion for his classroom's newsletter. It seems to me that on this particular day, the story he wrote about needs to be heard, and not only by third graders:
"These last Torah portions describe leaving Egypt and the command to eat matzot. Each year around the Seder table, our family makes this story personal: It's the story of my great- grandfather, Yosef Zalman Kleinman, z"l, a Holocaust survivor from Auschwitz who was a witness at the Eichmann trial. This is the story he told:
'On the 18th of May, 1944, they announced in our ghetto that all the residents of our street had to evacuate. We would be allowed to take only what our backpacks and suitcases could hold. My mother collected flour and all the families began baking bread so that we would have something to eat during the long journey ahead. The oven was in use all night long, and our turn to put dough into it arrived just before dawn.
As the sun came up, around ten minutes after we put our dough into the oven, the order came for all of us to immediately leave our homes and walk to the synagogue courtyard that was outside the ghetto. Our bread had not yet been baked. We delayed leaving for several minutes while we hoped, meanwhile, that it would bake, but the shouts from outside got louder. We took out the half-baked loaves from the oven. They were still sizzling and burned our hands. Mother shoved one hot loaf into each of our backpacks, but the heat went through the backpacks and burned our backs. In the middle of the street, we could not take it any longer. We stopped, removed the steaming bread from our backpacks and put it in our handbags. This was an unforgettable moment. And now, every time we learn in the Torah about the first Seder night, and about the dough of the children of Israel that did not rise, I tell my children and grandchildren about my history.'"
This is not only the story of Yonatan and his great-grandfather, z"l, but the story of us all. In the face of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, we simply need to tell it: Thousands of years after our forefathers prepared matzot in Egypt, and eighty years after Yosef Kleinman's mother baked bread in haste during the Holocaust, Yonatan told the story to his third grade friends in Jerusalem.
And as of the morning before International Holocaust Remembrance Day , we in Israel were waiting for snow. Children as well as adults were looking forward to a blanket of white with much excitement. This is an opportunity to be reminded of and to examine two Biblical verses that are concerned with snow:
* "Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow." In this verse, the prophet Isaiah explains that sins are like a fabric dyed in scarlet that can be turned as white as glistening snow. It's possible, life can be changed, transformed, and purified. Even when hopelessness sets in, it's possible to start fresh, with a new story that begins on a page as smooth and white as snow.
* "Her household does not fear the snow since they are all dressed in scarlet." This verse is taken from Eshet Chayil (woman of valor), the final chapter in the book of Proverbs, which is sung on Friday night in honor of the mother of the family. She does not fear the cold of the snowstorm outside since every member of her household is dressed, snug and warm, in scarlet.
Our commentators explain that the verse does not only refer to warm clothes as a remedy to blustery blizzards. Rather, the woman of valor envelopes her household in loving warmth and provides her children with tools to cope with the stormy challenges of life.
This year, especially, it seems to me that this verse describes a multitude of mothers.
Perhaps the young daughters of a Chabad emissary can provide us with a model in that vein:
I participated yesterday evening in a zoom conference for women emissaries of Chabad, where I shared the following story: It came out of a virtual conference for Chabad emissary daughters that was held this week as well:
The host for the daughters' conference had spoken emotionally and complimented the girls who live in remote areas and must cope with challenging hardships and situations. Rabbi Dov Hoenig, Chabad emissary in China, was at home when his daughters connected to the conference. Suddenly 9-year-old Chani and 7-year-old Musia turned to their father from their computer and said: "Daddi, they are telling us that there are emissary daughters in the world who are having a truly hard time, who are living with real self-sacrifice under very difficult conditions... they are real tzadikot."
Rabbi Hoenig was amazed. His daughters are living in Chengdu in the Sezchuan province of western China, without any Jewish children their age, learning solely through an Internet school. If it's not difficult enough living there as is, they are now also living under China's severe corona restrictions. Anyone returning to the country must enter government supervised isolation for three weeks and, therefore, they have not been with their extended family for two years.
Despite all this, when speaking of girls who are having a hard time, his daughters had no idea that they might be included in this group. They did not understand that they were being complimented for their resilience. They are doing well and having fun, living with a sense of meaning, on a mission that fills them with joy. Their parents do not communicate a sense of despair, but one of privilege.
Ever since I heard this beautiful story, I have been contemplating its message for us and how to apply it to every aspect of our lives.