Among the Holocaust survivors who led The March of the Living this week was one who has consistently participated since the very beginning, and who is arguably one of the most widely known living Holocaust survivors in the world – former chief rabbi of Israel Yisrael Meir Lau. As a child, Lau, now 85, survived Buchenwald. He is probably one of the most frequently interviewed Israelis and also one who is often asked to address the public. Aside from being an excellent orator, he has a phenomenal memory and a gift for applying religious wisdom to secular situations without sounding patronizing. One of the things he said on Holocaust Remembrance Day was: “We Jews know how to die together, but we don’t know how to live together.”
This is borne out not only in the discord fomented by radical politicians – particularly in the sphere of judicial reform, but also in ignoring the wishes of bereaved families who do not want politicians to attend memorial ceremonies for fallen soldiers on Memorial Day.
There are several possible solutions to that problem. One is that the only politicians representing both the coalition and the opposition should be from bereaved families themselves. Another is to have the state represented by former chiefs of staff, whether or not they are politicians today, or have been in the past. Every chief of staff has a long military career behind him and has lost comrades and sometimes family members in action, and has a keen understanding of the grief of the families of fallen soldiers or victims of terror. There are eight former chiefs of staff, some of who are politicians and some who were politicians. But they can leave their politics at home if they are representing the state at memorial ceremonies in military cemeteries in the largest cities. The eight are Aviv Kohavi, Gadi Eisenkot, Benny Gantz, Gabi Ashkenazi, Moshe Ya’alon, Dan Halutz, Shaul Mofaz and Ehud Barak.
Some people who object to the presence of politicians have threatened to disrupt the proceedings if politicians are present. That would be a great travesty and an act of desecration. It is universally accepted that cemeteries are holy places in which respect for the dead is paramount.
March of the Living
■ OF THE broadcasters who reported from Poland this week, it was amazing how many of the Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation representatives – including those broadcasting from the studio in Jerusalem – were second- and third-generation Holocaust survivors. Aryeh Golan (formerly Skurnik) is one of the best-known and has most frequently broadcast from Poland where he was actually born. He also has a long and solid relationship with the Polish Embassy in Tel Aviv, he speaks Polish and reports on a variety of issues related to Poland.
What was most heartening among the many interviews conducted by broadcast journalists was to hear from many non-Jews, particularly those from Muslim-majority countries, such as Bahrain and Morocco, that they had come to participate in the March of the Living out of humanitarian beliefs and concerns.
Hopefully, many of these interviews will be uploaded to YouTube or made available to the public on some other platform.
■ MUSIC LOVERS entering the foyer of the Charles Bronfman Concert Hall in Tel Aviv on Tuesday night were each presented with a yellow daffodil made out of thin cardboard, courtesy of the Warsaw-based Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews.
For many years, Marek Edelman, the last surviving leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, received a bouquet of yellow daffodils from an anonymous donor. He did not keep them but laid them at the impressive monument that was created by Warsaw-born sculptor Natan Rapoport and stands within the confines of what was once the Warsaw Ghetto. An almost identical monument by the same sculptor stands in the Warsaw Ghetto Plaza at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
The daffodils became a symbolic reminder of courage, heroism and the fight for human dignity in the face of insurmountable odds. Because the person who sent the flowers remained anonymous, people could only theorize about why they were sent and what they actually symbolized.
To some extent, the answer is obvious. A yellow daffodil has six pointed petals. When flattened and its crown removed, it looks like a star of David. During the Nazi occupation, Jews were forced to wear yellow stars on their clothing so that they could be instantly singled out.
The Polin Museum sought to transform the yellow star, or the daffodil as a symbol alluding to it, from a badge of shame, fear and humiliation into a badge of pride and honor.
Each year, on the commemoration of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, tens of thousands of cardboard daffodils are distributed to Jews and non-Jews alike, who wear them proudly.
Edelman died in 2009 at the age of 90. The Polin Museum continued to distribute cardboard daffodils, but in 2013, on the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, mounted an ongoing campaign to raise greater awareness of the Holocaust through the daffodil. The aim was to get increasing numbers of people in Poland and beyond to wear it on the anniversary of the uprising. That’s what happened both in Warsaw and Tel Aviv this week, under the slogan “Remembering Together.”
Marek Magierowski, a former Polish ambassador to Israel and current Poland ambassador to the US, tweeted that Polish and Israeli ambassadors around the world had joined forces in the Remembering Together project.
Indeed, tweets from other Polish ambassadors included photos of them and their Israeli counterparts with yellow daffodils.
In addition, there were memorial concerts sponsored by the Polin Museum in Tel Aviv on Tuesday and in Warsaw on Wednesday.
At the memorial ceremony in Warsaw on Wednesday President Isaac Herzog and German President Frank Walter Steinmeier joined Polish President Andrzej Duda in wearing the yellow daffodil.
This was the first time in 75 years of the annual ceremonies commemorating the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising since its inception in 1948 that was attended by a German head of state. However, Steinmeier has participated in other Holocaust-related memorial ceremonies in the company of former president Reuven Rivlin as well as Herzog; and when he was Foreign Minister, in the company of former president Shimon Peres. He has a long history of apologizing for the shameful atrocities of his fellow countrymen.
Edelman was largely ignored by Israel because he was not a Zionist. He was a Bundist who had opted to remain in Poland; the other few remaining heroes of the uprising chose to live in Israel. It was only after his death that Israel gave him his due recognition.
In Tel Aviv, broadcast journalist Kobi Meidan, as master of ceremonies, recalled Edelman, and also read out the names of noted Jewish musicians who had perished or who had been murdered during the Holocaust.
The 80th-anniversary memorial ceremonies of the uprising were also an attempt at reconciliation between Israel, Poland and Germany. Representatives of all three countries participated.
In Tel Aviv, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by Lukasz Borowicz, the music director and chief conductor of the Poznan Philharmonic Orchestra, with famed German trumpeter Reinhold Friedrich as soloist. Holocaust survivors and their families were in the audience, and almost everyone on and off stage wore a yellow daffodil.
At the conclusion of the first-class performance, a roar of approval went through the auditorium, followed by a standing ovation.
All students will be welcome
■ AS HE does every year, Jeff Seidel, head of the Student Centers will once again be hosting a huge Israel Independence BBQ in Sachar Park, starting at 4 p.m. It is primarily for the benefit of his Hebrew University students, Tel Aviv University students, North and South American Gap Year students and Lone Soldiers but, as always, all students will be welcome. Seidel believes that it is crucial for students to celebrate and appreciate Independence Day so that when they return abroad to their University campuses they will be better advocates for Israel. For additional information and to RSVP contact email@example.com. RSVPs are not necessary but helpful in making sure that there is enough food for everyone, says Seidel.
■ WHEN ANY national or international event falls on the Sabbath or during a religious Jewish festival, it is celebrated or commemorated on another close date. That’s the case this year with Earth Day which falls on April 22.
Shoresh resident Richard H. Schwartz, a long-time advocate for vegetarianism and environmental concerns, has found a solution for marking Earth Day on the correct date, by encouraging rabbis around the world to dedicate sermons and classes this Sabbath to Jewish environmental teachings, and how they can be applied to reduce environmental threats.
Among the rabbis who have indicated their support are: Nathan Lopes Cardozo, dean of the David Cardozo Institute and author of many Judaica books, including Jewish Law as Rebellion; Yitz Greenberg, president of the J.J. Greenberg Institute for the Advancement of Jewish Life; Yonatan Neril, founder and director of the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development and coeditor of Eco Bible, volumes 1 and 2; David Rosen, former chief rabbi of Ireland and now director of international interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee; Jonathan Wittenberg, leading UK Masorti rabbi; David Wolpe, leading US Conservative rabbi and author; and Shmuly Yanklowitz, founder and director of Uri l’Tzedek and Shamayim Jewish Animal Advocacy and author of many Judaica books.
Several organizations are also supporting this initiative, given the growing interest in climate control and protection of the environment in order to assure sustainability.