Since the Stolperstein were laid outside the home that my father grew up in, and from where my grandparents were taken to their death at Treblinka, I have been thinking even more deeply about my identity and the identity of my parents. And even more so when Treblinka became intertwined with one of the happiest events of my life, the birth of our first grandchild – a son born to our eldest daughter.
As we impatiently waited outside the delivery room to meet our first grandson, we began the calculations. All being well, he would be entering our ancient covenant with his brit (circumcision) in 8 days’ time. It was going to the Thursday a week or so before Rosh Hashana. And then we made another calculation- the projected date of the Redemption of the First Born – Pidyan Haben.
First born sons were originally ordained to be Cohanim or priests. This changed after the sin of the golden calf so that today, first born sons are redeemed for silver coins, thirty days following their birth. This is a comparatively rare ceremony as it only applies where neither of the parents are Cohanim or Levites and where the first child is a boy born naturally with no previous miscarriage. As our new grandson blessedly fitted into this category we worked out that the Pidyan Haben would take place on Hoshana Rabba – the seventh day of the Tabernacles-Succoth festival.
Hoshana Raba holds another significance. Three years ago, when the memorial stones were laid outside the home of my grandparents in Offenbach Germany, we discovered for the first time details about their fate. They had been taken away from their home, at the beginning of the Succot festival and arrived in Treblinka to their certain death on Hoshana Rabba in 1942. So, now, for the first time, we have a yarhzeit date for my grandparents. A date that my father sought vainly to ascertain during his life-time.
As we entered my daughter’s hospital room, we beamed. There was our daughter and son in law, looking happy and healthy, cradling the most beautiful newborn and we were simply filled with thanksgiving and joy. Ever the pragmatist, the amazement and love that filled the room did not prevent me from discussing the mundane including the brit and the Pidyon Haben.
“Hoshana Raba, that was the day that my grandparents were murdered in Treblinka,” I suddenly blurted out.
“Hoshana Raba was the day that this baby’s father’s had his circumcision – somehow that seems more appropriate for this setting,” she countered. I was suitably silenced.
Hoshana Rabbi is not only the last day of the Tabernacles-Succot Festival. This day also concludes the holy days of judgement. On Rosh Hoshana (New Year ) our fates are written, on Yom Kippur (Day of Repentance) are fates are sealed and on Hoshana Raba our fates are delivered. Theoretically we have until Hoshana Raba for our fates to be changed.
On Hoshana Raba, in Treblinka 77 years ago, the inhuman cruel fate of my grandparents was not only sealed but also delivered. 77 years later, to the day, their great-great-grandson is being redeemed in the Jerusalem of the Jewish democratic State of Israel. My heart aches with this thought that will hover in the background of the upcoming ceremony.
During the redemption ceremony – the Cohen asks the parents of the child whether they would rather have the five coins which they are obliged to give him for the redemption of their first born son or the firstborn son. The parents reply that they want their firstborn son and therefore they pass the coins to the Cohen.
My grandparents, together with the six million who were murdered were not given a choice. They could not be redeemed and their fates were written, sealed and delivered.
Today, on Hashana Raba my grandson is being redeemed. During the ceremony we recite the words
bless the L-rd our G‑d, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us concerning the redemption of a son.
To this I will add another silent blessing,
In gratitude that we are blessed to redeem our grandson and in doing so to redeem the memories of our ancestors.
My grandparents lived in Offenbach in an apartment building which housed their parents and their children. Three generations living in one building. Today we live in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, we are now three generations in a neighborhood where my children were blessed to grow up, supported by their grandparents and surrounded by their many cousins. The destruction of three generations has been repaired. Perhaps this is a kind of redemption. For this I am indescribably grateful.