The importance of kiddush for a Holocaust survivor - reflection

Tears blurred my own eyes as I looked at the person who had endured for so long, and now chanted these holy words with such feeling, in our sukkah, so many years later.

Kiddush. (photo credit: MENDY HECHTMAN/FLASH90)
(photo credit: MENDY HECHTMAN/FLASH90)
 I wrote this reflective piece in 1997 when I was in Year 11 at the age of 16/17 while growing up in Melbourne, Australia, surrounded by many Holocaust survivors who were our neighbors, family and friends. 
The protagonist of this piece is our Kambea Grove neighbor – Harry/Hershel Keller. I gifted a copy to Hershel back then, and then years later in 2010, he gifted a copy back to me, keeping the memories alive from generation to generation. I am honored to now share this piece with you as a dedication to his blessed memory. 
With love & blessings, 
Riv 2021
He must have been a fun-loving, easygoing sort of boy; good looking and tall. I’m sure he was a good student too because even today he seems to have a broad interest and reads a great deal. Most of all, I think he would have been really happy and full of hope, like kids should always be. But things don’t happen as they should and Hershel’s childhood memories are like old faded photos, of times that can never be recaptured.
You see, Hershel is a survivor of the tragic fate of a most beautiful and flourishing era in Jewish history. I know that the question is always the same; what meaning is there to the one who survived, while so many of his brothers and sisters succumbed?
While Hershel himself never lets on and does not like to pride himself on this, I believe that he is a messenger. This past Sukkot his special message really came home.
We invited Hershel for the first night of Sukkot, a Friday night. I love our sukkah, it always seems so special and welcoming; but on this Friday night there was an extra-special atmosphere, for sitting among us was a person who had been through the worst, yet had been destined to survive for the sake of us all.
It was a beautiful night. The sky was velvety black and the stars twinkled up above and there we all stood under the green schach as my father recited the Kiddush. And standing huddled in the cozy sukkah, the sounds of song mingling with the outdoor noises of nocturnal creatures, I thought how lucky we are to be entering this shelter full of light and Yom Tov spirit; whereas our people ran to shelters of another sort, in terror and fright.
Hershel wanted to recite his own kiddush. With his siddur opened on one side, he held the kiddush cup, his hand trembling and began to say the words that he had not recited for over 50 years. And as he recited the blessing, I could hear his voice crack, and though his face was brave and strong, brimming tears began to fall into the sweet, red kiddush wine. And I thought of the millions of mothers’ tears shed over the blood of their precious Jewish children. His kiddush came from his heart, bringing back the kiddush from a Shtetl somewhere in Europe, long ago. Tears blurred my own eyes as I looked at the person who had endured for so long, and now chanted these holy words with such feeling, in our sukkah, so many years later.
I thought of the Shabbat Queen who enters our home every Shabbat, the Prophet Elijah who visits us on Passover, and the seven special guests who visit us in our sukkah on the Festival of Sukkot, each guiding us and leaving behind a special message. And then I looked at Hershel, and I realized that he too was one of these messengers, a truly great one, who in spite of his suffering brings to life a past that would have otherwise been lost; bringing to me a message of all those who wanted to celebrate as we did.  
L’chaim! 
The writer lives in Jerusalem and recently launched her global business LivwRiv (Live with Riv) at – bridging entrepreneurial visions and visionaries, while manifesting creative ideas and enlivening dreams in all aspects of life. Her blog Riv’s Rivers has been gaining wide readership throughout the world.