My mentor, Yaffa Eliach, zt”l was a guiding light who illuminated the darkest corners of history with her incredible strength, passion, and intellect. She was a living embodiment of resilience, a woman who had faced the unthinkable and emerged with a fierce determination to share the stories of those who could not speak for themselves. As a young person in my early 20s, I was fortunate enough to spend several Shabboses at her home, a place that was filled with love, warmth, and a sense of purpose that I had never experienced before.
The first time I stepped into her home, I was struck by the palpable feeling of history that clung to every wall, every book, and every photograph that lined the shelves. The air was thick with memories, and it felt as if I had been transported back in time, to a world that existed before the cataclysmic events of the Holocaust. I could see the love and dedication she poured into every detail, from the carefully arranged family heirlooms to the meticulously curated library of books and manuscripts.
Over the course of those weekends, we would sit at her dining room table, surrounded by the flickering candles of Shabbat that cast a soft, golden glow on the room. As her family and I broke bread together and shared in the rituals of the Shabbat meal, Yaffa would regale us with stories of her childhood in Lithuania, of the vibrant Jewish community that had once thrived there, and of the horrors that had been unleashed upon them. Her voice would tremble with emotion as she recounted the harrowing tale of her family’s survival, their time spent in hiding, and the eventual journey to Israel and then to the United States.
As I listened, enraptured by her words, I began to understand the enormity of the task that Yaffa had undertaken. The weight of history seemed to rest upon her shoulders, and the responsibility of bearing witness was a mantle she carried with grace and determination. She had made it her life’s mission to ensure that the stories of the six million Jewish souls who perished in the Holocaust would never be forgotten, and that future generations would know the truth of what had happened during those dark times.
It was during these precious moments spent in her presence that I became acutely aware of the fragility of memory, and the urgent need to preserve it. Yaffa’s work as a historian, educator, and author was not simply an act of remembrance, but a defiant refusal to allow the past to be erased or forgotten. In her hands, the stories of Holocaust survivors were transformed into powerful tools for education and understanding, breaking down barriers of ignorance and prejudice, and fostering empathy and compassion for the victims and their families.
In my heart, I will always carry the memory of Yaffa Eliach, the woman who had been both a mentor and a friend, and who had shown me the true meaning of courage, determination, and the indomitable human spirit. Through her work, she had given a voice to the millions of souls who had been silenced by hatred and violence, and had inspired countless others to take up the torch of memory and carry it forward into the future.
As the sun would set on those Shabbat evenings, and the shadows would lengthen across the room, I would watch as Yaffa’s eyes glistened with tears, reflecting the flickering candlelight like stars in the night sky.
And I knew, without a doubt, that the legacy she had built would endure, a testament to the enduring power of love, hope, and the human spirit in the face of unimaginable darkness.