A radiant good

Heroines come no truer than Irena Sendler.

Irena Sendler 88 248 (photo credit: Iwona Hoffman)
Irena Sendler 88 248
(photo credit: Iwona Hoffman)
Heroines come no truer than Irena Sendler. She and her equally intrepid band of helpers from Zegota, the Polish underground, rescued 2,500 children from the Warsaw Ghetto between 1942 and 1943. On January 6, 2009, the feast of the Epiphany in the Christian calendar, the Ra'anana Symphonette (RS) conducted by Omer Wellber, will play Irena's Song - a Ray of Light through the Darkness by Kobi Oshrat. Between these dates grows a story no less wonderful than the life, deeds and soul of a Polish Catholic social worker who risked her life that Jewish children might live. "Every child saved with my help, and the help of all the wonderful secret messengers… is the justification of my existence on earth, and not a title to glory," Sendler said to the Polish Senate when it honored her in 2007. In January 2008, RS general director Orit Fogel saw the portrait of a woman (pictured) in a Poznan home "whose goodness radiated, and when I asked 'who is that?', I was told the story of Irena Sendler. I said 'we have to write a work in her honor.'" Sendler died in Warsaw this past May 12 at the age of 98, so she will never get to hear the song that Oshrat calls "more than a professional challenge. It was a kind of mission, the least that I, as a Jew, could do to honor this woman." The 20-minute work is "a sort of collage of her life, ending with seven-year-old Menashe Shalev, who sings like an angel, and symbolizes a better future." "'I entered the room and saw an angel,' were the first words spoken by ten different people who had met her on ten different occasions," says Fogel. She buckled down to the research on Sendler by enlisting the mayor of Ra'anana to get 2,500 junior high school students to write letters to Irena, after they'd been told her story by some of her "children" who now live in Israel. The Israel Philatelic Authority issued a limited edition of two stamps (designed by renowned Polish artist Rafal Olbinski who volunteered his services when he heard it was "for Irena") for the envelopes. And others including artist Ilana Gur, echoed the sentiment of her angelic nature. "The project was a huge privilege for me," says Fogel. "I threw in a stone called Irena Sendler and the ripples spread and spread. People from all over the world are coming to this concert." Sendler and her helpers smuggled the children out of the ghetto in ambulances, coffins, burlap bags, boxes - any way they could. They settled the children in convents, orphanages, private homes, giving each false papers with a new name. Sendler wrote the child's real name, new name, and that of his parents in code on thin sheets of paper that she buried in jars beneath a neighbor's apple trees so she could reunite the children with their parents after the madness was over. In 1943 she was arrested by the Gestapo, horribly tortured and sentenced to death. Zegota bribed a guard, and so rescued her. She resumed her activities under another name until the end of the war. When she was little, her doctor father once said to her "Irena, in this world there is good and evil. Always choose only the good." And so she did. Tickets are not being sold for this event, which takes place at 8:30 p.m. at the Ra'anana Arts Center, (09) 745-7773.