Grapevine: Kfar Etzion saga

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (photo credit: BLAKE EZRA PHOTOGRAPHY)
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
■ AMONG THE most ironic tragedies in contemporary Jewish history is the number of Holocaust survivors who came to the State of Israel in the making or during the first year of its sovereignty and lost their lives in a massacre or in the War of Independence.
On the day prior to Israel’s declaration of independence, members of the Arab Legion of the Jordanian Army, assisted by local Arabs, concluded a three-day battle against the settlers of Kibbutz Kfar Etzion. Of the 127 Hagana combatants and kibbutz members who died in defense of the settlement, 15, according to historian Martin Gilbert, were murdered after they surrendered. Many kibbutz members who paid the supreme sacrifice during that massacre were Holocaust survivors. These included Yechiel and Tzippora Rosenfeld, who had met in a forced labor camp when Yechiel was 18 and Tzippora was 14. They married immediately after they were liberated. She was not yet 17.
The pair were in Germany in 1946 and applied for permission to travel to the Land of Israel. Yechiel was denied, but Tzippora received permission to travel with a group of children. In his attempt to follow her, Yechiel was apprehended by the British, arrested and sent to Cyprus.
In June 1947, the couple was reunited at Kfar Etzion, where their son Yossi was born.
Several of the children of Kfar Etzion lost a parent during that battle of 1948. Yossi was the only one who lost both parents, and at the age of one was an orphan. For many years he never spoke of what had befallen his family. He had been sent to an orphanage near Jaffa, had been adopted and raised with the right values to become a colonel in the Israel Air Force. He is also an electronic engineer. It was only at the urging of his wife that he began delving into his background, reading letters from survivors of the battle and getting information from a maternal aunt.
On Monday, May 9, in advance of Remembrance Day, Yossi Ron (as he is now called) will relate the saga of the Kfar Etzion massacre and will accompany his talk with a video presentation. The lecture, in Hebrew, will take place at 8 p.m. in the Blondheim Hall of the Hatzvi Yisrael Synagogue.
■ ALTHOUGH PASSOVER is one of three pilgrim festivals in which the Children of Israel went up to Jerusalem to offer their sacrifices in the Temple, these days Passover for many Jerusalemites is the time of exodus, not just in relating the story of the Exodus from Egypt but also a literal exodus to hotels and holiday homes in other parts of Israel and abroad. This severely depletes the attendance in many synagogue congregations, but in some synagogues visitors from overseas or other parts of Israel take the seats of the missing locals. And, of course, visitors to the city at this time seldom miss the opportunity to attend at least one service at the Western Wall, which was extremely crowded last Friday night. But it must have been a little confusing for the tourists who expected to hear prayers for the last night of Passover but instead heard the prayers to welcome Shabbat. That’s the difference between being in Israel and being in self-imposed exile in the Diaspora.
There are certain rabbis who make a point of being in Israel on at least one of the pilgrim festivals. One such rabbi is Rabbi Haskel Lookstein of New York’s Kehilat Jeshurun, who always brings a group of his congregants or students from the Ramaz school with him. This time he brought a group of 180 people, who spent Passover at the David Citadel Hotel. Lookstein led the morning prayers at Hatzvi Yisrael on Saturday. Lookstein is in the news these days as the rabbi who converted Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka to Judaism. Her in-laws, the Kushner family, are longtime members of Kehilat Jeshurun.
Should The Donald realize his aspirations to become president of the United States, chances are that the first synagogue he visits will be Kehilat Jeshurun.
■ AT THE Inbal Hotel, the scholar in residence for the week of Passover was Rabbi Meir Yaakov Soloveichik, the son of Rabbi Eliyahu Soloveichik and grandson of the famed Rabbi Aharon Soloveichik, known as the Rav. He proved that the apple has not fallen far from the tree and, moreover, has found an entertaining way of imparting knowledge by interweaving the secular with the spiritual. If he wasn’t a rabbi, he’d make a great stand-up comedian.
His lecture on the freedom of controlling, managing and utilizing one’s time in relation to the link between Passover and Shavuot and the counting of the Omer contained references to Groundhog Day, the Chicago Cubs, Marx, Spinoza and Freud, Alan Dershowitz, hamentashen, latkes, Scotch whisky and more. The packed audience in the hotel synagogue relished every moment.
■ HUGE CROWDS are expected at the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem on Monday, May 16, when Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks will engage in conversation with Israel’s former ambassador to the United Kingdom Daniel Taub. The two men are not strangers and have strong similarities. Each was born and educated in Britain, each studied at Oxford University, each is Orthodox, both have brilliant minds and write frequently for the international media, and both are fine orators.
Sacks has previously spoken to overflow audiences at the Great Synagogue. On one occasion, more than 700 people – including some who had come to Jerusalem from other parts of the country – had to be turned away. The event will also be used to launch Sacks’s latest book, Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence, published by Koren Publishing House Jerusalem.