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Ronnie Katz Gerber
Communications Chair, Hadassah Los Angeles Metro Region

Antisemitism: A Small Cure

(Photo courtesy of Hadassah)
(Photo courtesy of Hadassah)

I heard a story last night that I’ve heard a few times before. But this time I was listening. Why? Because this time it happened to my friend’s family.

I’m sure you’ve heard the one about Chiune Sugihara, the Vice-Consul for the Japanese Empire in Lithuania who, during the ’30s, was stationed in Lithuania and was so moved by the plight of the Jewish refugees pouring into the country, he began issuing passports and visas so they could leave for safer grounds. Sugihara helped approximately six thousand Jews travel through Japanese territory. He risked his job for this. For them. For what’s right and humane. I won’t tell you his story, though you can certainly research it on your own. I will tell you part of Vivian’s story.

Vivian Kalev is the co-president of South Bay’s L’Dor V’Dor Hadassah group and a friend of mine. She’s a gentle, well educated, poised and creative soul. Her son is a rabbi of a conservative temple. Last night, many of the L’Dor V’Dor members and affiliates gathered for a special casual dinner at a nearby restaurant.

Ostensibly we gathered to break the Covid spell and re-unite face to face. But more than that, we also raised money for Ukraine relief. Our other co-president, Margie Lunt, started the evening with the prayers over wine and bread and then introduced Vivian to remind us why we were there. But as soon as she began to tell her story I was changed. She began speaking of the Great Exodus of the 30’s. From Ukraine. From where my family is from.

As a young man, her father left Russia and his entire family, who knows how? And most likely by foot. His brothers and sisters thought they’d wait it out at home and of course, we know what happened to them. But her brave father walked across the continent and in time met Vice-Consul Sugihara in Lithuania. In more time, and with great mindfulness and bravery, the vice-consul signed visa after visa for several years to get Vivian’s father and almost 6,000 other Jews, these poverty-stricken, hapless, orphaned refugees, to Shanghai and some safety. Think about Ukraine and Poland, the UK and USA right now. Heroes and villains in our modern midst. Not all Ukrainians are Jewish these days, but that country has the largest Russian Jewish population in that part of the world. Antisemites and antisemitism are on the prowl again, growing and wreaking havoc again. Putin is practicing genocide and some crazed manifest destiny to reclaim the ports on the Crimea and wipe out dissention in one foul blow.

Leaving the now and getting back to then, and Vivian’s father, good can happen. He met the lovely woman who was to become Vivian’s mother, and they made it out of the Shanghai ghetto to the USA. Their family flourished and kept the faith warm. An honest, honored life that is living on with Vivian and her family. I am so proud to know her and call her one of my heroes.

There are the other stories. My friend James is a Reform Jew. Of Russian / Norwegian parents who escaped to Poland where he was born and raised until a teen. Because of the Holocaust, he knew no other family besides his parents and brothers. All relatives were killed, and no memories were kept. Intentionally. It was far too painful for the family, but once his mother became ill in Poland, she began telling stories, bringing her girlhood Russian memories to life. Seders, shabbats, walks with friends to temple on a Saturday morning. James was listening hard. He had never really identified as a Jew nor made any attempt to know more.

But the stories and the culture and the lifestyle of what once was kept niggling under his mind. Once his mother passed and the remaining family moved to America, he began feeling free enough to investigate not his past, but his Jewishness. He knows little, does little, but has a deep affection for his identity which he now proudly owns. He’s even looking for a nice Jewish girl to finally settle down with.

Antisemitism is a disease, a virus with seemingly no cure. It reaches all the way back, beyond the Dark Ages and ancient Rome. It haunts. It destroys. It shadows us and darkens our path in almost every generation in any corner of the world. What can we do?

We can live! We can enjoy our heritage and let that be a lesson to the rest. Overtly or discreetly antisemitism cannot and will not diminish us. And another holocaust is out of the question.

Hadassah, the Zionist women’s organization I volunteer for, has been vigilant in speaking out against and defining antisemitism. Read their policy statements here.

Go and meet a nice boy. Meet a nice girl. Make happy Jewish lives and happy Jewish memories.

About the Author
Ronnie Katz Gerber is currently Communications Chair for the Hadassah Metro Los Angeles Region. A retired English and drama teacher for one of the largest school districts in California, she has written, directed and produced a handful of curriculum-based plays for her students and received a Los Angeles Awards nomination for her educational outreach through the arts. She has now turned her attention to columns, articles and short stories. Ms. Gerber is active in the community doing volunteer work and also spends her time pursuing her avid interest in travel. She has visited most of Europe, Russia and Africa, China and a bit of South America as well. Most springs, she hosts foreign exchange students for a month while they take an American culture and language crash course at a local university. As a result, she has spent time with them and their families abroad. Her family, especially her grand girls are the best activity of any day.
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