An enduring miracle

Forewarned is forearmed. If you’re keen on klezmer, it’s going to be a very late-night musical experience.

311_Herschkowitz (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
■ SCIENCE AND Technology Minister Rabbi Prof. Daniel Herschkowitz was the guest speaker at the third Shabbat meal gathering at Hazvi Israel Synagogue last Saturday. Aside from the fact that it was the beginning of the month of Nisan – which is regarded in some quarters as the true New Year – it was also the 40th anniversary of the congregation’s move to its permanent home. Because the beginning of Nisan heralds Passover, Herschkowitz naturally incorporated the crossing of the Red Sea into his address, saying that according to the sages, the ultimate redemption will be an even greater miracle. There are those who believe that the existence of the State of Israel is the redemption and this is greater than the crossing of the Red Sea, he said.
Then veering momentarily away from this theme, Herschkowitz, who was raised in a religiously observant household in Haifa, said that as a youth, his favorite biblical verse was the prophecy related to the Valley of the Dry Bones in the Book of Ezekiel. Then he went on to talk about the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp on April 11, 1945. Rabbi Herschel Shacter, a chaplain with the US forces had entered the camp and seen masses of corpses and skeletal survivors of the Nazi atrocities. Addressing them in Yiddish, he told them that they were free, and if they needed anything at all – he was their address.
Initially they were wary of him and the soldiers who were with him – but one of them, a 17-year-old boy came forward and said that there was something that he wanted. Shacter expected him to ask for food or clothing, but instead the newly freed inmate said that he had managed for most of the war to keep his tefillin, and had hidden them in a safe place where he and other observant Jews took turns to bind them on their arms and foreheads.
The Nazis had eventually discovered the hiding place and had taken away these two precious symbols of the Jewish faith.
Now that he had the opportunity, said the youngster, he wanted to put on tefillin as a free man. Schacter, overcome with emotion and unable to believe that after all he had endured the young man had not lost his faith, took his own tefillin and handed them to the young survivor. “These are yours,” he said. “Keep them.”
The young man was Herschkowitz’s father, who subsequently migrated to the Land of Israel, joined the Givati Brigade, fought in the War of Independence and was seriously wounded.
After the war, he met and married another Holocaust survivor.
In 1966, 21 years after the liberation of Buchenwald, Herschkowitz had his bar mitzva, and the first pair of tefillin that he donned were those that Rabbi Shacter had given his father.
Fast forward several years later. Herschkowitz had completed his stint in military intelligence, was a professor at the Haifa Technion and an ordained rabbi. Invited to be a scholar in residence at the Beth David Synagogue in West Hartford, Connecticut, he told the story of his father and Rabbi Shacter, adding that his father had been in Auschwitz before that, and was the sole survivor of his family. After he had concluded his address, Herschkowitz was approached by the congregation’s rabbi emeritus, the late Rabbi William Cohen, who was then in his mid-80s and who told him that Shacter was a good friend of his and that they spoke to each other on the telephone almost daily. In every one of these conversations he added, Shacter never failed to mention Buchenwald.
Moving further forward in time, but still relating to history, Herschkowitz, who is among those who are inclined to believe that the existence of the State of Israel is the fulfillment of the prophecy of the Valley of the Dry Bones and of the redemption of the Children of Israel, recalled that at the creation of the state, there had been only 650,000 Jews in the country, of whom somewhere between a quarter and a third were Holocaust survivors.
“Look what we’ve achieved in Torah learning, science and technology in those 64 years since,” he said. “Isn’t that a greater miracle than the crossing of the Red Sea?” The crossing he said, had been a suicidal act of faith. People were scared of what might happen to them, and were initially hesitant, but then they crossed – albeit not all of them. Many remained in Egypt out of choice. Similarly, when David Ben-Gurion declared the establishment of the sovereign State of Israel, there was hesitancy and fear among his colleagues, but he went ahead and did it anyway. It was no less suicidal or an act of faith than crossing the Red Sea, given the population ratio of the nascent Jewish state to the collective might of its Arab neighbors.
Two years ago, Herschkowitz was chosen to represent the government at the March of the Living, which is always held on 27 Nisan (the Hebrew calendar date of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising), unless the date happens to fall on a Saturday. Among the permanent participants in the March of the Living is Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who like Herschkowitz’s father is a survivor of Buchenwald.
As they were preparing for the march, Lau asked Herschkowitz if he was aware of the date. “Of course,” said Herschkowitz. “It’s 27 Nisan.” “No, the other date,” Lau persisted. It was April 11, the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Buchenwald. “And I, an Israeli rabbi, professor and government minister was there as representative of the government of Israel,” said Herschkowitz with such a tremor in his voice as to indicate that in his mind he was still standing in Auschwitz.
■ THE NAME of the late Eli Hurvitz, the legendary chairman of the board and CEO of Teva Pharmaceuticals, will be linked in perpetuity with the company that he built into the world’s largest producer of generic drugs. Hurvitz, who died in November after a long and difficult battle with cancer, was not only a leading industrialist with regard to Teva, but also a leading figure in Israel’s industrial and financial circles. He was chairman of the Israel Export Institute; president of the Israel Manufacturers Association; chairman of the Jerusalem Development Authority; chairman of the board of Bank Leumi; and a member of the Advisory Committee of the Bank of Israel.
And that’s only a short list of many positions that he held. He was the recipient of honorary doctorates from the Haifa Technion, the Weizmann Institute, Tel Aviv University and Ben- Gurion University of the Negev, and in 2002 was awarded the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement and special contributions to society and the state.
A native son of Jerusalem, who as a child moved with his family to Tel Aviv, he nonetheless spent much of his life in Jerusalem as a student at the Hebrew University, and later at Teva’s Jerusalem plant, which now officially bears his name. His wife, Dalia Hurvitz, and other members of the family were present for the renaming ceremony as were Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Shalom Simhon and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, along with senior executive members of Teva led by current president and CEO Shlomo Yanai. President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who were unable to attend in person, sent videotaped messages.
■ LAST YEAR, contrary to the Passover message of freedom, members of the Schalit family “celebrated” Seder night by chaining themselves to the railings around the corner from the Prime Minister’s Residence to express their solidarity with their son, brother and grandson Gilad Schalit, who at that time was spending his fifth year in Hamas captivity. This year, they will be home in Mitzpe Hila, having received the afikoman prize, well ahead of time with Gilad’s release and homecoming last October.
■ THE ISRAEL Museum, together with the Google Art Project Team, will on April 3 co-host a noon media event in the presence of Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat to mark a significant advance towards the goal of bringing more culture online and making it accessible to the widest possible audience.
■ DUE TO daylight saving, which started today, fans of the weekly Saturday night Kool Klezmer concerts held at the Yung Yidish premises in Romema by Avraham Burstein and members of the Jerusalem Klezmer Association will have to adjust to night owl hours. Because some of the musicians belong to haredi sectors that tend to extend Shabbat to well beyond the times listed in the Friday newspapers, performances will not start before 10 p.m. Jewish mean time. Any regular at these concerts knows that they never start on time because people are too busy partaking of refreshments, in addition to which not all the performers are present at the advertised starting time.
Forewarned is forearmed. If you’re keen on klezmer, it’s going to be a very late-night musical experience.