As I approach another yartzeit of my father’s sister, Rivka Bryna Lulinski, I struggle with how to meaningfully continue my father’s observance of her memory. Lighting a yahrzeit candle or even reciting Kaddish feels insufficient, especially compared to the magnitude of her death. On the 12th of Kislev 1942, the Nazis rounded up young Jewish girls, including Rivka and burned them alive in a shul. These women were robbed of one day getting married, having a family, and being a part of the continuity of the Jewish nation.
The biblical Rivka, as we recently learned in Parshat Toldot, arranged for her son Yaakov to get the coveted blessing from Yitzchak. Rivka knew she had to help establish the future of the Jewish people and realized the need to foster physically capable and strong future Jewish generations. She understood that in order to survive, the Jewish people would need both strength in the battlefields and strength in Torah and scholarship. Jews would have to be strong and fight like the IDF, or as in the case of Rivka Bryna’s few surviving family members, fight like the Jewish partisans did in the woods.
In subsequent parshiot, Rivka’s dream begins to unfold after Yaakov wrestles with adversaries or even God himself. His name is ultimately changed to Yisrael which permanently adds the characteristic of a fighter to his already established spiritual qualities . As we approach the holiday of Chanukah, we celebrate the strength of the Jewish Macabees who bravely fought the great Greek armies and are reminiscent of the fighting spirit that enabled the continuity of the Jewisn people throughout history .
As I reflect on ways that I can honor the memory of Rivka Bryna Lulinski, I recognize that I, along with other children of survivors, have been given the unique opportunity to step up as a witness to the witnesses. Testimonies must continue to be shared and yahrzeits of those we never knew must be observed. We can continue to remember and honor them by teaching and inspiring our children and other Jews about the legacy they have been given. The legacy of Rivka and Yaakov. That as Jews, our survival is dependent on both our spiritual connection and our understanding that we need to be strong and defend ourselves when necessary, whether on the battlefield, social media or anywhere else. It is this legacy that enables the Jewish people to thrive in spite of the tragedies we have faced throughout history.
May the memory of Rivka Bryna and all of the Six Million Jews and the lessons of the brave Maccabees inspire us to be defenders of the Jewish people and Israel with renewed strength and deep Jewish pride.