Within just over a month, ZAKA rescue and recovery organization chairman Yehuda Meshi Zahav lost his younger brother Moshe, his mother, Sara Zisl, and his father, Menachem Mendel. Prior to Moshe’s death, Yehuda had never sat shiva for
anyone. Suddenly, he had to do so three times in a row.
In interviews with electronic and print media, Meshi Zahav is not asking why this happened to him. As an ultra-Orthodox Jew who was raised in Mea She’arim, he believes that God is testing him.
As chairman of ZAKA, Meshi Zahav has been in frequent contact with the dead and the dying – but not in his own family. In common with leaders of other organizations engaged in search and rescue missions, lifesaving operations and in
caring for victims of terrorism, Meshi Zahav carries an ID card that gives him carte blanche in accessing medical centers, especially Hadassah, where he has spent a lot of time during the pandemic, recording messages from relatives of
patients, then going into the coronavirus ward and holding his cellphone next to patients’ ears so that they could hear the voices of their loved ones.
In every interview, Meshi Zahav warns of the dangers of ignoring Health Ministry directives. On almost every building in haredi communities, he says, walls are plastered with death notices, yet people still defy the rules because their
rabbis tell them to attend prayer services and to send their children to school.
Meshi Zahav draws an analogy between what is happening today when rabbinical leaders ignore the requests of the prime minister and the health minister and encourage their followers to go about their daily lives as though there were no
pandemic, and what happened in Europe during the Holocaust when numerous rabbinical leaders told their flocks not to flee and assured them that everything would be all right. In the final analysis, most of their followers ended up in the
gas chambers, were shot, or died of illness and starvation.
■ IN THE immediate aftermath of the Holocaust, parents who survived went to redeem their children from the Christian families to which they had entrusted them. It was seldom an easy task. Many of the children did not remember their
biological parents and had been raised as Catholics in Christian homes. In cases where biological parents had not survived, many of the Christian families adopted or wanted to adopt the Jewish child and battled against surrendering the
child to Jewish spiritual and welfare authorities. The most difficult battle was with monasteries and nunneries which had rescued Jewish children and were reluctant to give them up.
When Israel’s first Ashkenazi chief rabbi, Isaac Halevi Herzog, went to Europe to search for Jewish children, one of the methods he used with those in custody of the Church was to recite the Shema out loud. Many children automatically
responded – the words coming from somewhere in their subconscious.
Special homes were set up in Europe for children who had not been reunited with their biological parents. Inasmuch as everything was done to bring a sense of tranquility into their lives and to help them to reclaim their Jewish
identities, theirs was a lost childhood without a mother’s kiss or a ride on a father’s shoulders. When these children grew up, married and raised families of their own, not enough thought was given to their lost childhood.
For International Holocaust Remembrance Day (IHRD), Yad Vashem has uploaded an exhibition that tells the stories of seven of these children’s homes. In addition to the artifacts on display, there are the voices of child survivors who
have given testimony.
“This exhibition sheds light on what Jewish children had to endure in order to survive and then rebuild their lives,” said Dana Porath, director of the Digital Department in Yad Vashem’s Communications Division. “But above all, it tells
the story of the resilience of these children and how, despite their unspeakable traumas, the vast majority became fully contributing members to the countries in which they later settled.”
Outgoing Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev, in stressing the need to be constantly aware of the Holocaust, said: “Today, as the world continues to battle expressions of hatred, antisemitism and xenophobia, the significance and meaning of
the Holocaust is particularly relevant. It is Yad Vashem’s ongoing mission to make sure that the stories and voices of Holocaust victims and survivors are maintained and preserved for generations to come.”
The Yad Vashem website, www.yadvashem.org, contains comprehensive information about commemorative activities and online exhibitions that focus on the Holocaust.
Another Yad Vashem project is the virtual Wall of Memory which makes it possible for everyone to identify with the victims of the Holocaust, whether or not they or members of their families were in any way directly involved. The project
matches members of the general public with the names of Holocaust victims who did not survive. To date, well over ten thousand people have signed up to be randomly matched with victims of the Holocaust, in Yad Vashem’s central database.
Examples of people who have signed up for the project appear on the Yad Vashem website together with photographs and names of the victims plus other details. An online form gives participants the option of suggesting a surname and a
country whose citizens suffered death or forced labor under the Nazi invasion.
■ IT IS customary for heads of diplomatic missions in Israel to gather at Yad Vashem on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This year, due to the lockdown, the gathering will be virtual, with the participation of President Reuven
Rivlin, Shalev, Chief of State Protocol Gil Haskel and Yad Vashem senior historian Dr. David Silberklang, who will present a lecture titled “From mass shootings to the ‘Final Solution.’”
As a rule, the diplomats’ event is not open to the public, but this year, because it is virtual, it can be seen on Yad Vashem’s YouTube channel at 3:30 p.m.
■ LIAISING WITH Israel embassies around the world, Ruth Cohen-Dar, who heads the Foreign Ministry’s unit to combat antisemitism, has asked ambassadors to light candles to honor the memories of the six million Jews murdered in the
She has also organized for some embassies to conduct Zikaron Basalon (memories in the living room) sessions in which a Holocaust survivor relates his or her personal story to a group of people. Although such events are much more
meaningful when the audience can actually sit in the same room as the Holocaust survivor, this year participants will have to rely on videos. There are many videos in different languages in the Yad Vashem Archives, the Steven Spielberg
Jewish Film Archive and in the archives of Holocaust museums in different countries.
■ WHILE MANY Jews around the world will be celebrating Tu Bishvat on January 28, some will be continuing with events related to the Holocaust, such as an online discussion on “the Nazi rise to power and the Weimar Constitution,” which
will be held in partnership between the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists and the Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Program.
The event, which is cosponsored by the permanent missions of Germany and Israel to the United Nations, will feature among the speakers Melisssa Fleming, United Nations undersecretary-general for global communications; Meir Linzen,
president of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists; Germany’s permanent representative to the UN, Ambassador Christoph Heusgen; and Israel’s permanent representative to the UN, Ambassador Gilad Erdan, along with a
distinguished panel that will discuss legal and moral issues related to the main topic.
Details of the program and registration can be found on the International Jewish Lawyers website. The event will be broadcast at 10 a.m. EST, 4 p.m. CET and 5 p.m. Israel time.
■ JANUARY 27, the date on which Auschwitz, the most notorious of the death camps, was liberated in 1945 by soldiers of the Red Army, was chosen by the United Nations as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Ten days earlier, the
Soviets had also liberated Czestochowa slave labor camps and the Czestochowa Ghetto which had been established on September 3, 1939.
Two of the Czestochowa survivors, Heniek and Bronka Fagenblat, together with their baby son, Mark, a year or two after the war, joined relatives living in Melbourne, where their second son, Lenny, was born just a little over a month
before the proclamation of Israel’s independence. Mark’s son Michael, who now heads the humanities department at Israel’s Open University, was born almost 33 years to the day after the German invasion of Czestochowa, while Lenny’s
daughter Tali, a design consultant who lives in Vail, Colorado, was born almost 33 years to the day after the liberation of the Hassag slave labor camp.
Heniek Fagenblat had managed to rescue the beautiful parochet (curtain over the ark) of the Czestochowa synagogue, a similar version of which was on the bima from where the Torah was read, and is now in the possession of the Israel
Museum. The parochet is in the possession of Mark Fagenblat, whose two children, together with Lenny’s two children, may eventually argue over the ownership.
Melbourne has a Holocaust memorial museum, so it may end up there, or it may be transferred to Jerusalem to either the Israel Museum or to Yad Vashem, or alternately both items may eventually be transferred to Yad Vashem.
■ IN 2016, during the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) “From Holocaust to Independence” mission to Poland and Israel, Holocaust survivor Marcel Levy was reunited with Sid Shafner, the American soldier who liberated him.
It was during their first meeting that the Greek survivor and US GI discovered they shared a common language – Yiddish.
After Levy escaped the Dachau concentration camp, he traveled with Shafner’s military unit, working as a cook. Shafner and Levy became good friends and stayed in touch. Before their 2016 meeting at an Israel Air Force base, they had not
seen each other since 1995, when Levy attended the bat mitzvah celebration in Jerusalem of Shafner’s granddaughter.
The emotional reunion of the two, who have since died, will be commemorated at the FIDF’s IHRD virtual event, at which speakers will include Elayne Shafner Feldman, daughter of Sid Shafner; Avi and Nurit Farchi, son-in-law and daughter
of Marcel Levy; and Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Yaron Rosen, who served as the 2016 IDF delegation commander. They will be sharing memories of experiences from that historic mission, particularly about the moment Sid and Marcel saw each other
again. The event will conclude with lighting memorial candles. Details of the broadcast are available on the FIDF website
■ FOR 40 of the 70 years of the existence of Army Radio, the various chiefs of staff of the IDF (with the possible exception of Gabi Ashkenazi) have urged defense ministers to get rid of the station. The defense ministers have also
received countless complaints from politicians who were stung by Army Radio reports of their remarks and activities.
The worst period was during the early 1980s when Ilana Dayan became the station’s first female reporter. Her aggressive, probing style of interviews angered and embarrassed many politicians, who said that they did not enjoy being
questioned by some 19-year-old upstart in uniform. Dayan went on to become one of Israel’s leading and best-known journalists.
In August 2015, Dayan and other media personalities (many of whom were graduates of Army Radio) showed solidarity with their colleagues of the now defunct Israel Broadcasting Authority. Dayan warned at an emergency meeting, in Beit
Sokolov in Tel Aviv, that closure of the IBA was just the beginning of an effort to close down all public broadcasting, and that Army Radio was next in line.
There are still efforts to close down the IBA’s successor, the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation (KAN), despite its many achievements. Veteran Army Radio anchor Razi Barkai, in an interview with his long-ago former base, Israel
Radio’s Reshet Bet, responding to various reports that the Army Radio station costs too much money and that soldiers should not be reporting on politics, said that the total annual budget for Army Radio is NIS 50 million, and that no one
in uniform reports on politics.
The latter statement is not quite true, but, on the other hand, if soldiers can vote in Knesset elections, then Army Radio should be reporting on politics – but as objectively as possible, so that soldiers can be informed of what every
party stands for before they cast their votes.
Barkai warned that if Army Radio goes down the drain, KAN will follow. What may need changing is the ratio of civilians who work at Army Radio. There seem to be too many of them working as broadcasters.
Defense and Acting Justice Minister Benny Gantz risked loss of votes from members of women’s movements in the upcoming Knesset elections when he appointed the controversial Amit Aisman as interim state prosecutor. Aisman made explicitly
sexual remarks to female subordinates. With the decision to either close Army Radio or move it out of the purview of the Defense Ministry, Gantz is now risking the loss of votes from soldiers.
This is yet another indication of political suicide. Gantz is not a cat. He doesn’t have nine lives. Perhaps he should bow out before suffering indignity and humiliation at the ballot box.
■ IT WAS pretty much a foregone conclusion that Merav Michaeli would win the Labor Party leadership race. Although the voter turnout was small, the result suggested that voters value integrity and adherence to party values.
Although outgoing chairman Amir Peretz put his weight behind Avi Shaked, who came in second but way behind Michaeli – which was a mean-spirited thing for Peretz to do, considering that he is retiring from party politics to focus on his
bid to become the next president of Israel – he failed to put a dent in Michaeli’s popularity with the voters, many of whom believe that after Avi Gabbay came close to ruining the Labor Party, Peretz came even closer to putting a nail in
Fortunately, there are still some people in Labor who put ideology ahead of ego. In a quarter-page advertisement on the front page of Sunday’s Haaretz, voters were urged by former Labor ministers and MKs to vote for Michaeli. Her
supporters included former ministers Shlomo Ben-Ami, Uzi Baram, Ghaleb Majadle (who was Israel’s first Arab government minister), Ophir Paz-Pines, Avraham Shochat, Shalom Simhon, Yuli Tamir and Moshe Shahal, as well as former Labor Party
chairman Amram Mitzna.
■ MANY ORGANIZATIONS are happy with Zoom because it affords them the opportunity to have events more often than in the days when they had to worry about venues, advertising and invitations, which were all costly. Many Zoom events are
either videos to start with, or are recorded live and are available afterward on Facebook and YouTube.
The problem is that too many organizations and institutions give only a day or two notice of a webinar, not realizing, perhaps, that not everyone is locked up during lockdown, and that there are people who, for any number of reasons, are
not at home.
Conversely, the Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association gives plenty of notice of its events, and on February 22 at 4:30 p.m. will be hosting former deputy president of the Supreme Court Elyakim Rubinstein in a Zoom program that
will be exactly one month and one day prior to the Knesset elections, about which he will probably have much to say.
Rubinstein is also a former attorney-general and former legal adviser to the Foreign Ministry, as well as a peace negotiator between Israel and her neighbors. One of his assets in this regard is his fluency in Arabic, both spoken and
written, which may have helped in his contribution to Israel’s peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan.
While religiously observant Orthodox, Rubinstein believes in religious pluralism, and while a fervent Zionist, he upholds the right of non-Zionists, including civil servants, not to sing the national anthem.
At the age of 73, Rubinstein is nowhere near retirement. Although he had to step down from the bench at age 70, he now serves as an adjunct associate professor of political studies and public policy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
■ IT IS amazing how quickly the status of former US ambassador David Friedman was updated by last Wednesday. His embassy Twitter account was canceled, and his final tweet as ambassador was “Signing off now. Moving to @DavidM_Friedman.
Thank you President Trump for the honor of a lifetime.” Given that his own Twitter account had been canceled altogether, president Donald Trump could receive Friedman’s tweet only secondhand, which was not really a problem, as other
recipients of the thank-you tweet included Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo, Steve Mnuchin, Jared Kushner, Avi Berkowitz, Robert C. O’Brian and Aryeh Lightstone. “And eternal thanks to my beloved Tammy.”
■ REGULAR READERS of The Jerusalem Post may have last Friday read the review of the latest book by Richard Schwartz, PhD, Vegan Revolution: Saving Our World, Revitalizing Judaism.
Just in time for Tu Bishvat which is a celebration of nature and its bounty, Schwartz has initiated an international campaign to “Celebrate Tu Bishvat as if Global Survival Matters.”
A fervent vegan, Schwartz believes that Tu Bishvat, the most vegan and the most environmental Jewish holiday, should become a Jewish Earth Day and that Tu Bishvat Seders should be used, among other things, to increase awareness that the
world is approaching a climate catastrophe. He advocates that Jewish values should be applied in efforts to stabilize the climate of the world.
Schwartz contends that many recent climate events are wake-up calls to the urgency of immediate responses. He cites 2020 and 2016 as the hottest years in recorded history, noting that they occurred in so short a period of time. Within
this context he also makes the point that glaciers worldwide, polar ice caps and permafrost are rapidly melting, elevating the seas to the extent that there is already “sunny day flooding” in some coastal cities. There has been a
significant increase in the frequency and severity of heat waves, droughts, wildfires, storms, floods and other climate events.
The urgency of immediate efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is reinforced by the warning of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2018 that the world may have only until 2030 to make “unprecedented changes,” in order
to have a chance to avert a climate catastrophe.
Schwartz believes that Judaism’s eternal values should be applied to reducing climate threats. He quotes Genesis 2:15 in which God puts Adam into the Garden of Eden to work the land and to guard it. Again referring to the Bible, he
presents the sages’ interpretation of Deuteronomy 20:19-20 in which the Children of Israel are told that when they lay siege to a city, they should not destroy fruit-bearing trees, so that they may eat of the fruit.
On Wednesday evening, January 27, Schwartz is scheduled to facilitate four Tu Bishvat Seders: one at his retirement village in Shoresh; one at his former synagogue in Staten Island; one for Israelis, in conjunction with the Israeli
Jewish Vegetarian Society; and one for American Jews.
He has compiled a series of quotations from the Torah, Talmud and other Jewish sources, which he has used in facilitating previous Tu Bishvat Seders in the US and Israel.
He has contacted many rabbis and other influential Jews, suggesting that they facilitate a Tu Bishvat Seder or other events related to the holiday.
The restoration of Tu Bishvat, the New Year for Trees, as an active holiday, by the kabbalists in Safed in the 16th century, after it had fallen into general disuse after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, can serve as a model for
the restoration of another Jewish holiday, the New Year for Animals, says Schwartz.
Initially introduced for tithing for animal sacrifices in Temple days, the ancient holiday, Schwartz believes, should be restored and transformed into a day devoted to increasing awareness of Judaism’s powerful teachings on compassion to
animals and how far current realities for animals are from these teachings.
Among the rabbis who responded to Schwartz was Rabbi David Rosen, who is renowned for his international interfaith work. Rosen is also a vegetarian, who refrains not only from eating meat or its derivatives, but also from wearing
leather, including shoes.
Rosen’s response, in which he also quoted Genesis, was: “The issue of global survival has become more urgent today than ever before, as the threat of climate change and environmental degradation threaten our very existence as never
before. The Jewish celebration of Tu Bishvat, in which we give special thanks for Creation itself and the seasons which nurture life on this planet, is thus of added importance in our times, in order to enhance our appreciation of the
Divine Creation and our duty to nurture, protect and conserve it.”