Rebuilding is remembrance

David Hatuel came to Kiryat Sanz for succor when his wife was murdered by Palestinian terrorists.

hatuel family (photo credit: )
hatuel family
(photo credit: )
Israel's Remembrance Day for Fallen Soldiers has become controversial. As the number of terror attacks has increased, there are arguments for including the victims of terror officially in the name and ceremonies of the day, and there are arguments for leaving the day specifically as a memorial for those who have died in Israel's wars. Whichever side of the controversy one is on, I was struck by the fact that this year's Remembrance Day, May 2, fell on the anniversary of the terrorrist attack that killed the pregnant Tali Hatuel and her four daughters in 2004 in Gush Katif. (The Hebrew yahrzeit is a week later.) David Hatuel, Tali's husband, has created his own memorial and it is connected to the Holocaust memorial in which I live. Yes, I live inside one of the largest Holocaust memorials in the world. I don't live inside a museum and I don't live inside a sculpture or a mural. I live in Kiryat Sanz, a hassidic neighborhood on the sands of Netanya. A majority of the older generation in Kiryat Sanz are Holocaust survivors; thus I say that I live inside a Holocaust memorial. One would think that during the week of the Holocaust Remembrance Day Kiryat Sanz would be a focus of activity, speeches and ceremonies commemorating the Holocaust. But it isn't. The reason is twofold. The first is the 1959 decision to institute a "Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day." Why were this name and date (the 27th of Nissan, April 15 this year) chosen? The Knesset picked a day close to the start of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in order to emphasize the physical resistance to the Nazis. For the same reason they included in the official name the term "heroes" - connoting physical resistance. Similarly, the official name of Yad Vashem is "Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority" as if only the heroes can redeem the "shame" of the martyrs. But Orthodox and haredi Jews feel there is no shame to be redeemed. There were thousands of acts of spiritual resistance: a shofar smuggled into a concentration camp; tefillin surreptitiously passed around barracks; flour hoarded to bake one precious palm-size matza; butter-dipped threads for Hanukka candles. To build the remembrance day around the Warsaw Ghetto uprising denigrates these myriad acts of quiet rebellion. THE SECOND reason that in Kiryat Sanz they minimize the once-a-year memorial is that the survivors have thrown themselves single-mindedly everyday for the past 60 years into rebuilding their lives, raising large families, and running a hospital that serves the entire Netanya region of a quarter of a million people. To be sure, when the siren is sounded the residents and schoolchildren stop and recite Psalms. But there are no official Holocaust lectures or ceremonies. Instead the residents constitute a 24/7 year-round living memorial. In this they took their cue from Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda Halberstam, who founded Kiryat Sanz 50 years ago. A survivor of the hassidic dynasty of Sanz, he had been the young, gifted chief rabbi of the city of Klausenberg, Romania. His wife and 11 children were murdered by the Nazis, and he barely survived the slave labor and concentration camps. In the aftermath of the war he did not allow himself prolonged mourning for his own losses, but instead went about spiritually and physically rehabilitating the young survivors whom he encouraged to come to the displaced persons camps near Munich where he established kosher kitchens, yeshivot and girls' schools. Hundreds of survivors adopted the Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe as their leader, my neighbors among them. Sometimes I feel like I am living in a gold mine, and when I scratch the surface, a nugget of testimony and experience is revealed as these survivors tell their stories. Yankel Levy, who lives downstairs, explains that his parents were the first couple to be married by the Klausenberger in the DP camp. "All my mother had for a wedding dress was a sheet resewn as a gown. The Rebbe danced ecstatically at the simple wedding in the camp." A neighbor across the street in Kiryat Sanz says the Rebbe attached the highest priority to helping couples marry and start families. "When he lay in the camp hospitalized with severe typhus, another rabbi in the camp had been asked to perform a wedding but did not have a proper ketuba text to use for the wedding contract. Although the Klausenberger was suffering from a very high fever, he proceeded to dictate the entire ketuba from memory." Another Sanz resident describes the extraordinary effort the Klausenberger made to help with survivors' marriages by assuming the role of parent for hundreds of orphaned young people, teaching orphaned brides the basic laws of Jewish marriage, and taking a fatherly interest in girls who were frightened. In the Rebbe's own words, "Around us all are bare and destitute. They are left here as solitary souls: here a bereaved young man, there a lonely young woman. When we assist them to unite under the wedding canopy, we build a new home to heal the straits of our people." THESE DP camp inmates became the Sanz hassidim, and many settled in Israel when the Klausenberger came here to build a hospital in Netanya, along with kindergartens, boys' and girls' schools, yeshivot, seminaries, senior citizens' homes, a civil guard. The first department to open 25 years ago in the Laniado-Sanz hospital was the maternity ward. To date it has delivered some 80,000 babies. Last year they opened Children's Hospital in memory of the children killed during the Holocaust - a 365 days-a-year commemoration. Rebuilding is remembrance. Sanz couples have an average of eight children, and families of 14 are not rare. The Klausenberger Rebbe himself remarried and had seven more. BECAUSE OF the emphasis on pushing forward as the preferred form of remembering a tragedy, it is not surprising that David Hatuel came to Kiryat Sanz for succor when his wife, nine months pregnant, was murdered by terrorists along with their four daughters. Hatuel knew that the Klausenberger Rebbe, who passed away 10 years ago, had also lost his wife and children, but had remarried after the Holocaust and rebuilt his family. Hatuel came to Sanz to talk with the current Sanz Rebbe, the son of the Klausenberger. In a Pessah interview in the Sheva weekly Hatuel explained why. "The Rebbe from Sanz gave me tremendous encouragement and strength, since he himself comes from a family that experienced a similar tragedy and in the face of that disaster his father rebuilt his life with renewed strength and went forward. That is my motto. I identified closely with Sanz approach." Hatuel has taken a similar route: "I remember the moment of the decision. On the third day of mourning I told four close friends that I intended to rebuild my life; I would not let this keep me down." He recently remarried and as a living memorial established a fund under the auspices of the Puah Institute for couples with fertility problems. The "Tali Byad Rama" fund (named in memory of his wife and his four daughters) helps childless couples with fertility treatment expenses. There are few more moving statements than that by David Hatuel when he said of his project. "If a couple calls me and announces that they have a child after 20 years, to my mind this is the truest memorial." The concept of looking forward into the future in the wake of death is implied in the the chapter from Leviticus read the week of Holocaust Remembrance Day. Two of the four sons of Aaron suddenly died - "a fire came forth from before the Lord and consumed them." Moses comforted Aaron saying, "Of this did the Lord speak saying: I will be sanctified through those who are nearest Me." Most commentators say "those nearest" refers to the two sons who died. But a minority explanation says this refers to the two surviving sons who will sanctify God by carrying on the leadership in the future after their brothers' deaths. In a similar vein, both the Klausenberger Rebbe and David Hatuel responded to trauma by looking to the future, rebuilding their own families, and helping others bring children into the nation of Israel. In Hatuel's words, "This is continuity, continuity of life." The writer is a translator in Netanya and is associated with the Haredi College in Jerusalem.