Grapevine April 10, 2020: Rena remembers

A round up of news from around Israel.

THE YAD VASHEM monument to Righteous Among the Nations.  (photo credit: UKRAINIANJEWISHENCOUNTER.ORG/WIKIPEDIA)
THE YAD VASHEM monument to Righteous Among the Nations.
Many Holocaust survivors are hesitant about telling their stories. Of those who are not reticent about their wartime experiences, the most articulate are recruited by Yad Vashem to speak to visiting groups. Many of the same people also speak to groups visiting AMHA, a mental health and social support services organization for Holocaust survivors in Israel, and more recently to Zikaron BaSalon (Remembrance in the Living Room), a more intimate gathering of the number of people that can comfortably fit into an average-sized living room. Zikaron BaSalon was founded in 2011 by social entrepreneur Adi Altschuler.
One of the most widely known Holocaust survivors in Jerusalem is arguably Rena Quint, who in addition to speaking frequently at Yad Vashem, has spoken to numerous organizations and institutions in Israel, Europe and South Africa.
She has hosted organizations such as Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America in her home. She has also hosted non-Jewish groups from Germany, the US, China and elsewhere.
A few years back, because she is religiously observant, she decided to combine two of her activities at the same time. Always a generous hostess, she was approached by Shabbat of a Lifetime to be among the people on their list who give visitors to Israel an authentic Shabbat experience.
Because she is religious, this was a totally natural thing for her, aside from which she genuinely likes meeting new people.
To her ongoing amazement, not only through Shabbat of a Lifetime, she came across people who had never previously encountered a Holocaust survivor, but worse still people who had never even heard of the Holocaust before signing up for a group tour to Israel, in which the itinerary included a visit to Yad Vashem.
So when she hosts Shabbat of a Lifetime, which often includes non-Jews, one of the first questions she ask her guests is whether everyone present has heard of the Holocaust. Then she asks whether they’ve ever met a Holocaust survivor – and very few of them have.
For many, it is their first time in Israel, so she also asks them to state what their aha moment was. Curiously, even for those who are not remotely religious, it’s saying a prayer at the Western Wall, being at Masada and hearing the story of the Maccabees, or in the case of Christians, walking in the footsteps of Jesus. Sometimes when her guests think about their aha experience, they are overcome with emotions and begin to weep.
Israel seems to have that effect on a lot of people who might have previously described themselves as tough cookies.
So between explaining the customs of Shabbat and teaching them a couple of easy Shabbat songs, between dinner courses, she also tells her own story, which has been committed to print through the many interviews she has given and through the book she wrote together with Jerusalem Post columnist Barbara Sofer: A Daughter of Many Mothers. Her story is also available on YouTube as part of a series released by Yad Vashem.
Many of the people who come to her home maintain contact with her and come back on subsequent visits to Israel, bringing friends and acquaintances with them. They purchase her book and they call up her story on YouTube, but it’s not the same as talking to her.
Some of the groups that she had lined up for the first half of this year were obviously unable to come to Israel, and some of the members who have been before were deeply disappointed that they would miss out on seeing her.
So Quint, in consultation with Sofer, came up with a solution. She would set her table on Friday afternoon for guests who had wanted to come for Shabbat, and then she would get on to Skype or WhatsApp or Facebook and talk to a group gathered in someone’s home in some overseas destination. They could answer questions and she would answer them. She would go through the whole of the Friday night session on Friday afternoon before Shabbat and that way she could still get both messages across without desecrating the Sabbath.
Sofer, who did considerable research on the book, is available to do these sessions with her when the book is being discussed. Quint is now thinking of doing future Shabbat of a Lifetime or Q&A talks about the Holocaust on Zoom, so that she gets better visual and sound contact with the people with whom she is interacting
Holocaust Remembrance Day comes very soon after Passover, and this will be the first time that she will be alone with her memories, because there will be no memorial ceremony at Yad Vashem where survivors and their families have traditionally gathered in Warsaw Ghetto Square.
This year, the square will be empty or near empty, as will the Knesset plaza the following day, where leading figures of the country recite the names of members of their families who were murdered in the Holocaust.
As with most other annual events this year, there will be a virtual ceremony, but it will not and cannot have the same emotional impact as a plaza full of survivors whom Hitler had wanted and tried to exterminate.
For these survivors coming each year with their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, the only time when the revenge is sweeter is when at least one of their grandchildren is there in IDF uniform.