A song in memory of Azriel David

Azriel David was ready to meet his fate, but he wanted so much for his Rebbe to hear the tune.

A flame at Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
A flame at Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
■ EVERY HOLOCAUST Memorial function has its poignant moments, and the annual ceremony held by Emunah College’s Yossi Berger Holocaust Study Center was no exception.
This year the keynote speaker was Shanghai-born Chanie Persoff, whose parents were among those fortunate Jews who received visas from Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese Consul in Kaunus, Lithuania, who made it possible for thousands of Jews to find a haven. Notwithstanding orders to the contrary from his Foreign Ministry, Sugihara kept issuing visas for as long as he was in Lithuania, and in this way saved some 6,000 Jewish lives at the expense of his own career. Approximately a third of these people found their way to Japan, and most of these were encouraged to move to Shanghai, where they were able to live a relatively normal life for the duration of the war. Sugihara has a special place in the hearts of many Holocaust survivors and their progeny.
After Persoff had finished telling her story, Larry Wachsman led the audience in singing “Ani Ma’amin,” (“I Believe,” with a perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah), the song with which many Jews went to their deaths in the gas chambers.
Before he started to sing, Wachsman told the audience how the melody was composed by Azriel David Fastag, a Modzitzer Hassid who regularly sang for the Modzitzer Rebbe, Rabbi Shaul Yedidya Elazar Taub. When Reb Azriel David was rounded up with other Jews and put on a cattle train bound for Treblinka, he listened to the noise of the train, and a melody based on the sound came to his mind, which he began to sing to the words of “Ani Ma’amin.”
Soon, the chant was taken up by everyone else on the train.
Azriel David was ready to meet his fate, but he wanted so much for his Rebbe to hear the tune. Finally he said that he would give half of his share in the world to come to whoever would be willing to jump out of the train and take the tune to the Rebbe. Two young men volunteered. One died when he hit the railroad track. The other survived and somehow made his way to Israel and to the home of the Modzitzer Rebbe’s son.
The notes were then sent by mail to Rebbe Shaul Yedidya Elazar in New York who, upon receiving them and having “Ani Ma’amin” sung before him, made it his mission to see that the melody was disseminated far and wide. It is the melody most commonly sung to this day. As Wachsman raised his voice, people rose from their seats, and soon everyone was standing and singing in memory of Azriel David and those who perished with him.
■ FOR SOME years now, the hotel in Jerusalem once known as the Dan Pearl, which is a hop, skip and a jump away from the path leading to the Jaffa Gate, has stood desolate and seemingly abandoned. The architects of the hotel had not put sufficient thought into the design, so that the banquet hall, for instance, was a serpentine shape, meaning that people in one section could not see those in the other. Eventually the hotel closed; the storekeepers and the bank moved out, and the building became dilapidated over time. Its owner was French art collector and real estate investor Claude Dray, who owned property in several countries. Dray, who bought the hotel five years ago and promptly closed it down, was murdered last October. His daughter, who inherited the hotel, will within the next few days present the municipality with a plan for tearing down the existing building and constructing a luxury hotel on the site.
■ APPROXIMATELY THREE months ago, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar urged Jews to desist from visiting the Temple Mount, reminding the religiously observant public that that the greatest scholars of this generation have said that such visits are prohibited. Now in response to efforts by some extreme elements to defy this prohibition, Shas mentor and former Sephardi chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef last week echoed those Torah scholars.
He did so after receiving first-hand reports of the intensive efforts being made in certain quarters to encourage people to ignore the ban and not only visit the Temple Mount but also to pray there. Aside from any religious prohibition, it is illegal for Jews to pray on the Temple Mount.