Sixty-eight years ago, last night, a train pulled into Auschwitz carrying my grandmother along with her parents, sisters, nieces, and nephews. That night, the first night of Shavuot, the Nazis murdered almost the entire family. By the grace of God, Mengele allowed by grandmother to stay on the side for life despite the fact that he had sent her to die. And she survived.
When the war ended, my grandmother’s brother returned to the family’s home in Kerestier, Hungary and found that their house had been transformed into a stable by the Nazis. He searched the house for any remnant of their earlier life there, and, in the attic, found a few copies of a Torah book which my great-grandfather authored called “Lechem Abirim al HaTorah.”
Last night, on the first night of Shavuot, I sat at my dining room table surrounded by my wife and four children, and read from the writings of this great man, Rabbi Elimelech Fishman. His great-grandson and his great-great grandchildren sat comfortably in Israel, the Jewish homeland, celebrating the same festival he celebrated that last Shavuot night of his life, and internalized his inspiring words. This afternoon, I delivered a Torah class to women in Bet Shemesh and shared his words with the public.
If anyone ever questions the destiny of the Jewish people, think about this story. 68 years ago - death, destruction, and devestation. Adults and children with no hope or future. 68 years later - safety, security, and spirituality. Adults and children with nothing but hope and a bright future.
I thank my great-grandfather, of blessed memory, for the legacy he left behind. I thank my grandmother, may she be blessed with continued health and life, for conveying the teachings and traditions of her father to her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. And I thank God for His grace and constant reminders that no matter how great our challenges may be as a people, and no matter how great the dangers we face as a nation, we are alive and well. We are here and must give every ounce of energy we have to keep improving both individually and as a nation, and to contribute to the success and flourishing of this country and land.
My friends, the Jewish people are alive and well – Am Yisrael Chai!