Chavi Feldman

Looking for the pinpoint of light

I am the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors. I have to say, as a teenager growing up in the Toronto Jewish community which was mostly comprised of Holocaust survivors and their descendants, (as well as Mizrachi Jews that were forced to leave their homes), I was somewhat obsessed with the Holocaust. I read every book on the subject and every book report was about the Holocaust. My English teacher would gently remind me that there were other genres of books to choose from, but I wasn’t interested. I think part of my obsession was because I had a very close and special relationship with my grandparents. In short, I was somewhat in awe of them.

My grandfather was a quiet man who lived by the mantra of “אמור מעט ועשה הרבה” – “say little but do a lot.” He was always busy helping my grandmother, puttering around the house doing home repairs on his own, being the shamash (caretaker) at his small shul and secretly visiting and shopping for the bedridden. My grandmother was a woman who was quick to smile, and she would kiss me hard enough to bruise my cheeks. I miss those kisses in a way I can’t describe. Food was her love language and I was always “too skinny” (not true at all) and her attempt at constantly feeding me was hilarious. Forget about paying for therapy – a bear hug that lasted a century, a kiss that almost hurt and a bowl of her chicken soup was enough to soothe any pain be it mental or physical. Besides loving them immensely, I realize now that as a child they were somewhat of a paradox to me. I viewed them as both fragile and delicate, but also strong and courageous at the same time. That they survived the camps at all made them superheroes who limped and had false teeth and other health issues while wearing their capes.

I harbored a lot of anger at the people that could allow this kind of thing to happen to the sweetest people in the world, and to all of my friends’ grandparents, and to the Jewish nation at large. How could one man take control over an entire country (and then continent) and convince them that his plan of securing a “pure” Aryan nation, world domination and genocide of the Jewish people was a great idea? I always wondered that had there been more social media back then, it could not have reached the point that it had – the murder of six million Jews.

Now I’m not so sure.

But the tiny pinpoint of light in all of my grandparents’ personal difficult story – and in all the books I read – were the true-life stories of those “righteous gentiles” who defied Hitler and put their own lives at risk to help a Jew. I loved those people despite never having met them.

And I ate those stories up – I couldn’t get enough of them. For me, it was a saving grace, it was the sign that humanity was not dead and buried during this dark dark stain on history.

It was Oskar Schindler, and it was the SS officer in charge of my grandfather at the workcamp that caught him putting on a miniature pair of tefillin and instead of shooting him on the spot, said, “Come here 10 minutes every morning before I do so you can pray and we will never talk about this again.”

It was the story of Paulina, who was a young girl of maybe five or six who lived with her family on a small farm outside of Krakow. She recounted how her parents sat her down and told her that in the past few weeks there were Jews coming to their door in the middle of the night looking for food. And so the parents decided that they would continue to feed whoever would come and informed Paulina that she wasn’t allowed to tell anyone – that they were in this together despite the risks to their very lives. The few Jews quickly turned into 50 – and every night this family would give them a bowl of soup often rationing their own portions of meat so that they could feed these Jews. But it wasn’t just the soup every night – one night a young woman came to the door with a newborn baby. She begged them to take the baby and keep him safe until she could return for him. They took the baby and raised him during the war claiming he was the son of a niece who had died in childbirth. He was eventually reunited with his mother and they are now living in Israel.

I met Paulina in Krakow many years ago – she’s now well into her 80s, and devotes every Saturday to coming to the local synagogue to share her story with the many groups that come to Poland on a Holocaust trip. Dressed elegantly as if she were addressing nobility, she speaks to schools, to groups both Jewish and non-Jewish, to adults and teenagers. She speaks in Polish and her nephew comes with her every single time and translates. Her pride in her family’s role in saving Jews is written all over her face. This is her legacy of truth and justice and tolerance. And if that isn’t enough, she ends the talk by asking everyone to stand in a line and come up to her for a hug. She hugs every single person and says: “Just love. Do good things and love.”

This was her message and it can’t get more simple yet profound than that.

It’s these stories of the needles in the haystack – those unique and special people who didn’t just follow the masses, but stood their ground and said “THIS IS NOT RIGHT,” that make a difference in this world. They chose a different path, they chose that fork in the road and chose to save lives instead of destroy them.

And it dawned on me that since October 7th, with HUNDREDS of our people taken hostage in Gaza, that NOT A SINGLE “CIVILIAN” STOOD UP AND DID THE RIGHT THING.

There’s no Paulina in this story, no Oskar Schindler. There’s no quiet UNWRA worker who said to himself, “I NEED to do something about this, because I can’t stand by and watch this happen.”

Listening to Noa Argamani describe her living conditions during these last long painful eight months has me asking a lot of questions. One of them is how a family, a seemingly regular “civilian” family kept this young woman away from her home and her family for EIGHT MONTHS and not once –NOT ONCE – ask themselves if this was okay? That had the tables been turned, would they want the same thing to happen to their child? That maybe – JUST MAYBE – this was wrong? We know the answers to these questions, but it still boggles my mind.

There is no pinpoint of light coming out of Gaza. I’m not a person who likes to draw comparisons between the October 7th massacre and the Holocaust, but this one was glaring at me like neon lights at midnight.

And more than anything that is going on in the world right now – the ICJ ruling, the encampments, the pro-Palestinian protests, the insane level of Jew hatred – NOTHING scares me more than this.

About the Author
Chavi Feldman has a degree in graphic design and advertising and works primarily as a music teacher. She has lived in Israel for more than two decades.