SAN DIEGO (Press Release)–San Diego’s largest attended one-day Jewish community building event, Yom Ha’atzmaut takes place on Sunday, April 25 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the San Diego Jewish Academy, 11860 Carmel Creek Road, San Diego. Admission is free, and the event is open to the public. Parking is available for $5 at the Marriott Del Mar, 11966 El Camino Real, San Diego, CA 92130. Free shuttle service is provided.
Sponsored by the Israel Center of United Jewish Federation of San Diego County, Yom Ha’atzmaut this year will feature 60 shops, Jewish community organizations and kosher foods, and fun and educational activities for children, teens and families not to be missed. The annual celebration of Israel’s Independence Day provides a festive conclusion to a month of holidays: Passover, which focuses on freedom, Yom Hashoah, commemorating all who died in the Holocaust, and Yom Hazikaron, honoring those who died fighting for the State of Israel and terror victims. This year’s event is designed to help participants connect with Jewish community in celebrating Israel.
Children can ride on the “Middle East Peace Train” from “Jerusalem” to “Cairo”, play on a climbing wall and bounce house, relive history as they dig up ancient coins, tiles and other artifacts in an archeological dig presented by the Agency for Jewish Education, or get balloon creations of their choice as part of the festivities. Adults may practice their Hebrew, Spanish and French in a series of “Cafés” offered by Kef Li – Tarbuton, appropriate for this holiday because Israel exemplifies diversity as the largest immigrant-absorbing nation on earth. Attendees also may wish to hear Israeli Deputy Counsel Gil Arzieli present the latest news on U.S – Israel relations or learn about “Gifts Israel Gave the World,” from J.J. Surbeck, Executive Director of T.E.A.M, Training and Education About the Middle East.
Teens and adults can initiate their travel plans at “Experience Israel – Just Go,” co-sponsored by MASA and the UJF Israel Center. MASA, the Hebrew word for journey, consists of 150 programs in Israel for those ages 18 to 30, from 5 months to one year. The UJF Teen Trip to Israel is San Diego Jewish community’s annual summer trip, connecting teens to Israel and their local Jewish community through travel and post-trip volunteer activities. This one-stop center for journeys to Israel can save travel enthusiasts many hours preparing for their dream trip.
Young adults also can experience “Bedouin Hospitality” enjoying complimentary tea in Birthright NEXT’s Bedouin tent, while learning more about Birthright trips and ongoing social connections. New to Yom Ha’atzmaut this year also is a quiet area for those who observe Sefirat Ha’Omer, the 49-day period between Passover and the beginning of Shavuot (May 19-20) which counts the days from physical redemption/physical slavery to spiritual redemption when the Torah was presented at Mt. Sinai.
Israeli music and dancing at the main stage will be led by Kolot, a band comprised of former Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers. For more information on this day of fun, celebration and learning, please contact the Israel Center at 858.571.3444 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Preceding provided by United Jewish Federation of San Diego County
By Toby Klein Greenwald
GUSH ETZION, Israel — In his official Memorial Day speech at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu described how, as a young soldier, two of his fellow soldiers, 19 years old, were killed during a lethal military operation, and how one of them, David Ben Hamu, died in his arms in the army car on the way to the closest hospital. The Prime Minister had been a member of the elite Sayeret Matkal unit, the same unit which his brother Yonatan, led during the Entebbe rescue, during which Yonatan died.
Netanyahu described how, years later, when he went to visit Ben Hamu’s parents in Beer Sheva, his mother showed him David’s room. It was exactly how it looked the day he fell in battle, she said. Not one detail had been changed, not one item moved.
I remember once staying overnight at the home of a friend in another town, a friend whose son had also died in a battle against terrorists. She now uses his bedroom as the guest room. Her hospitality was effusive and generous, but I hardly slept all night. I was surrounded by army medals, photographs, items that had belonged to the courageous young soldier.
As I heard Netanyahu speak, and as I remembered the room of the son of my friend, and the rooms of so many other soldiers who die in battle and whose families maintain their bedrooms as shrines, where they are young forever, all I could think of were the words, “rooms of the heart”.
In English, the four different parts of the heart are called “chambers”. In Hebrew, they are called simply “rooms”.
The week that is, every year
Holocaust Remembrance Day and Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers, and for those who have died at the hand of terrorist, come exactly one week apart. It is a week fraught with emotion and a deep clutching at the internal and collective spirit of the Jewish people in Israel. The two days are inexorably linked, for the event of the first day reminds us why we must have an army of our own, so a shoah will never happen again.
This year, on Yom Hashoah, I invited Mendel Flaster of San Diego, who was visiting in Israel, to speak to the 9th grade class I teach in Yeshivat Makor Chaim in Gush Etzion. Many of the students have brothers who have been in the army, or fathers or grandfathers who have fought in Israel’s wars, or family members who endured the Shoah, or grandfathers who fought with the Allies during WWII.
Mendel, who is 90 years old, is lucid and articulate. He described how, as a 19-year-old, in 1939, he was taken to a Nazi labor camp in Poland. He eventually endured 14 camps in six years, the last one being Auschwitz-Birkenau.
When he was liberated, he was recruited by the American army to work for the CIC and the CID, organizations that tracked down and gathered information to prosecute Nazi war criminals. Mendel helped send 30 Nazi war criminals to prison. Twelve hours of his testimony were recorded for the project of Steven Spielberg, who also wrote him several personal letters.
Mendel’s scores of stories are replete with descriptions of the camps – onerous labor, hunger, filth, cruel punishments, debasement and death, and what the inmates did, not only to survive, but to maintain their personal dignity. The stories are numerous, chilling and inspiring, and hopefully one day will fill a book.
He told five especially mesmerizing stories that I’d like to relate, as they seem so unbelievable, given the context in which they occurred.
One was how Mendel galvanized around him a group of young men in one of the labor camps who, with him, went “on strike” and refused to work after their shoes had fallen apart and they had no other shoes to wear. They struck for several weeks, in spite of severe deprivations and punishments, knowing that they could be executed for their rebellion. Yet they held out, and eventually a truck arrived full of shoes, and they returned to work.
A second story was about how he did everything to keep a modicum of religious observance. He befriended and made deals with one camp cook so that, on Pesach, he could trade the portions of bread for potatoes, for himself and others. He described how he led the davening of Kol Nidre in their “barracks”, with the participation of all of the inmates, even though they knew that if the Nazi guards chose that moment to walk in, they would all be killed.
In a third story, he described how they would do anything in order to see their families, who were hours away. He used to sneak out and walk seven hours each way each week, , through forests and over mountains, in order to – surrealistically – spend Shabbat at home. Every time he reported back to the camp for work, he received 25 lashes, but he bore them bravely each week in order to see his family. When he was in yet another camp, several years later, and the time came that he and the other inmates knew the villages of the area would be sent away to their death, he arranged with a somewhat sympathetic Nazi guard that he and a group of his friends, be allowed to visit their families one last time. He had to explain to the men that if any of them used the opportunity to escape, all the rest would be executed.
He worked out a schedule, and the guard arranged it so that trucks that delivered goods in the area would take detours in order to drop the men off for short visits with their families, who were subsequently sent to their deaths. He left his own visit for the end. “As the leader,” he said, “I wanted to go last.” But there were no more deliveries, so he snuck out. When he arrived at his family’s home, at 1 o’clock in the morning, he didn’t want to knock on the locked door, so as not to awaken neighbors who might report him; rather, he just touched a window and his mother opened it immediately. “I’ve been waiting for you,” she said, and took him immediately into the home. An hour and a half later he left to return to the camp. He never saw anyone in his family again.
In a fourth story, Mendel described how the first two fingers of his left hand got caught in a machine and the tips were cut off. When he recuperated in the infirmary, he did everything to help people who were in a worse state than himself. When Mengele sent everyone from the infirmary to the gas chambers, the staff asked that Mendel be spared, as they needed his help.
Lastly, when Mendel was in the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, he was asked to stay behind and help close the camp when all the others were sent on the infamous death march. But he refused to leave his comrades, even though he knew it could mean almost certain death. “Wherever they go,” he said, “I will go with them.”
Those who stayed behind were eventually shot. Mendel survived.
“All I did,” he told my students, “was try to help others, to not be selfish.”
“Be kind to each other.”
Just before he left the classroom, I photographed him with the boys. He looked them in the eye and said, “You are all good boys. Daven, learn Torah, and be kind to each other, because G-d loves that.”
When I asked the students to write what they received from Mendel’s talk, they wrote about faith, and human dignity, and the importance of not being selfish. One wrote, “Yom Hashoah was always a far nightmare…Mendel made my Yom Hashoah something deeper…Mendel describing his last moments with his family made me cry. Mendel describing Jewish people getting killed, in all kinds of ways, released a rope that was tied to my heart.”
We all hold someone special in the rooms of our heart. And some of those rooms are occupied by holy men and women who died for Kiddush Hashem.
Every year, for one week, in Israel, the entire country allows itself to tiptoe into those rooms, hand in hand, sit down quietly in the corners, weep, and remember.
The writer is a teacher, editor and educational theater director.
By Bruce Kesler
ENCINITAS, California–“I’m tired of hearing about the Holocaust.” Be close enough to most people for them to be honest, even Jews, and you’ll often hear that said. What they most usually mean is they are tired of hearing hypocrisy.
Sunday is Holocaust Day, Yom Ha-Shoah, Day of Remembering the Catastrophe, sadly commemorated in many nations so we don’t forget. The actual full title is Yom Ha-Shoah Ve-Hagevurah, Day of Remembering the Catastrophe and the Heroism.
Yes, there was heroism. Among the parents and strangers who kept spirits alive ‘til death. Among the relative handfuls who risked all to shelter or aid escape. Among those who escaped to fight. Among those who tried to alert the Allies and get their help, failing but persevering.
No one but a few crazies or modern advocates of mass murder now doubt the magnitude or the sheer evil of the Holocaust. But, we have largely forgotten that such enormous slaughter occurs only because it isn’t stopped, if not when emergent at least when evident. Most may mouth the words but fail to step up and combat the inciters and perpetrators before they proceed to unleash their venom and death beyond the original target peoples or nations.
Iran promises and prepares for another, of Israel, as would many in the region applaud or participate, and the world stand by. All will live in terror and subjugation to it.
To perpetrate genocide requires the encouragement of tyrants, the aid of organization and the state, inculcation and mobilization of murderers, and the willing or tacit support of the people sown with excuses and calumnies for violent hate.
They all profit: Rulers from distraction away from their oppression, corruption or incompetence and by organizing mass movements to be used for other ends; Organizations from receiving the favors of the rulers; Murderers from being unshackled from restraint; People who are enriched by their neighbors’ property or from feeling more elevated than they are.
To allow genocide only requires other nations’ leaders to have other agenda priorities believed above the justice of actively opposing it, or more important than the consequences not only for the murdered and dispossessed but also for regional peace and security when tyrants are allowed to their ends and then reach out further with their empowered belligerence. Weak and ill-guided leaders of these nations profit from temporarily avoiding responsibility.
In any genocide, there are some but few heroes who risk their own and families’ safety. It is unrealistic to expect many more, especially when isolated, endangered, operating in isolation. There are even fewer when abandoned by other nation’s leaders, especially by those who actually have the power to support them, and their opportunities to survive, overcome or overthrow are diminished.
“I’m tired of hearing about the Holocaust.” When something is really done to end the threat or actuality, then I want to hear. Politicians, please keep your empty platitudes. Do something. Do something real. Then tell me “Never Again!”
Actively support a US and an international strike force that will intervene promptly.
Stop supporting the United Nations’ platform for tyrants.
Stop belittling or hogtying the few allies who have the survival or moral stake to stand up to tyrants.
Repeatedly, loudly denounce those who set themselves on the path to genocide and send aid to those within their grasp with the courage to fight back.
Until then, “I’m tired of hearing about the Holocaust” will be common, and even justified.
My middle name is Neach, Neal in English, named after my grandfather’s brother, principal of a Jewish college (that’s an academic high school) in the Pale, he and his family beaten over their heads with shovels by Germans and locals and tossed into pits. I too am tired of hearing about the Holocaust as the tired BS from too many among our hypocritical or dangerously misguided politicians, most notably now President Obama.
This isn’t a Jewish issue. This is the human issue. Simon Wiesenthal: “For your benefit, learn from our tragedy. It is not a written law that the next victims must be Jews.
Cynics warp the Holocaust as not a special instance, as there were and are other genocides. But, they actually make the point of why the Holocaust is so important as our first modern technologic precursor, and still the most murdered. Others try to confuse the issue by calling anything they want to denounce a holocaust if it is alleged done by the West, to weaken the West’s self-respect and resolve, and to weaken Israel.
Holocausts, genocides, and how we speak and act reveal what we create, what we tolerate, what we are. As does the integrity of our focus, their prevention, our actually fighting, reveal our morality.
Kesler is a freelance writer based in Encinitas, California. This post also appeared on Maggie’s Farm.