An Eerie Experience

Police with guns and German Shepherds surround Jews in a cordoned area.

The sight was familiar; the feeling was eerie. Hundreds of Jews were directed to a cordoned area by gun toting men in uniform accompanied by trained dogs. The burly officers commanded the attention of all in the immediate area.

As a child of survivors who spent their teenage years and early 20’s in Plaszow, Auschwitz, Ravensbrück and Theresienstadt, the scene served as a natural trigger of association to a horrific past.

But this scene was not WW2 Poland where my grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and countless relatives were murdered … the geographical points were 40.6413° North and 73.7781° West; the El Al check in counter at John F Kennedy airport.

Was there security elsewhere in the airport? Of course there was a presence on patrol, but near the Israeli counters the security seemed disproportionately present.

I couldn’t help but think about the sharp contrasts between my situation and the horrific experiences of the grandparents I was never able to know due to their brutal murder at the hands of the Nazis.

Two generations ago, Jews were forced out of their homes, herded into cattle cars, starved, worked to death and subjected to unimaginable horrors – made possible by Nazi henchmen armed with guns and accompanied by dogs.

My mother and the handful of Jews who survived Auschwitz were forced to go on a infamous death march guarded by Nazis with guns that shot Jews who lagged behind. The bullets were reserved for those the dogs didn’t maul to death.

Jews, guards with guns, and German shepherds have a sordid past.

Those waiting at JFK were about to board a jet to a vibrant Jewish nation, to experience something our people had prayed for through the millennia. As Rabbi Yotav Eliach, principal of Rambam Mesivta, has frequently emphasized during our school assemblies, the star of David, which had been a symbol of degradation and persecution during the Shoah, was transformed into a symbol of pride and hope with the reestablishment of our Jewish state.

These policemen were there to facilitate our trip and protect us.

Sadly, hatred of the Jewish people has been passed down through the generations, necessitating the ‘extra protection’ at the terminal.

It is so easy to take for granted that which we have. Freedom, opportunity and prosperity are the ‘positives’ those with tickets were privileged to attain. Do we remember our history and realize that our situation is radically different than those who lived and died in the immediate past?

We certainly should, and if we don’t … the guns and the trained dogs should help us remember and appreciate what we have.

About the Author
Rabbi Zev Friedman is the Rosh Mesivta, Dean Of Rambam Mesivta for Boys and Shalhevet High School for Girls.
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