Yom Rishon. I get ready to go outside my dalet amot for the first time in a few weeks. When the pandemic began, I stocked up in several runs to the Kosher and local supermarkets. Since then I have been sheltered in place in my father’s house, where I was stranded since I could not return home for my wife’s birthday and Passover.
Although I am in Florida, I have on a long shirt, long pants, sock, sneakers, and a baseball cap. My eyeglasses and mask are set to protect my face. My father and I set out to the Kosher market to purchase food for Pesach.
When I made Aliyah a little over 2 years ago, I thought I had spent the last Pesach in chut la’aretz. I looked forward to celebrating Passover in Jerusalem. And for the past two years, I have been blessed to have my family enjoying the Seder. Sadly, this year I will not get to Jerusalem.
Today I could be focused on the hardships my family and I am going through. My son and daughter-in-law will be by themselves in a very small apartment. My youngest daughter will be with her roommate. Worst of all my wife is all alone with just our dog and cat. My current living arrangements are not the most conducive to preparing for or celebrating the holiday.
On top of that, we are currently living through a pandemic. I have seen family and neighbors pass from Coronavirus. I have had dear friends infected and B”H recover. In my town over 1,000 people have been diagnosed with 49 deaths, a rise of 390% since last week.
All in all, you could easily conclude that we are living in dark times. Of course, Jews have gone through many dark times in the past. And I doubt this will be the last challenge Jews or the world will have to face. So, when I feel despair, I try to remember a much more difficult time.
The term ghetto has long been associated with Jews from its origin. Beginning in Venice on March 29, 1516, Jews were mandated to live in a ghetto. This was an area that was enclosed, and all Jews had to be behind the walls and locked in upon sunset or suffer the consequences. It was only when Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Venice was the ghetto dissolved on July 11, 1797.
And yet, Jews in Venice were able to flourish as compared to one of the most notorious ghettos’; the one located in Warsaw. Established in November 1940, Germans imprisoned almost a half-million Jews within 3.4 square kilometers (approximately 1.3 square miles). On average, there were more than 9 people living in each room in the ghetto. Most did not survive.
The final liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto started on April 19, 1943, the first night of Passover. While Jews under the most trying circumstances once again yearned for freedom, the Germans began rounding up Jews block by block and apartment by apartment for the final liquidation. Those who were not shot on the spot were shipped to concentration camps including Treblinka, Poniatowa, Majdanek, or Trawniki where they were exterminated.
Resistance that was mounted by a small group of Jews was important but did little to stay the final outcome. By the end of April most resistance was put down and the liquidation was completed by mid-May. Most of the Jews who occupied the Warsaw ghetto were dead.
I have been extremely blessed. I was raised in the US. I never had to hide my Judaism. I was never rounded up, put on a cattle car and shipped to a ghetto or concentration camp. I grew up around people who did live through these horrors. I saw the impact it had on their families and the community. I marched for Soviet Jewry and fought Antisemitism; however, I have always had food on my table, clothes on my back, and roof over my head.
My Zionism developed later in life so by the time I made Aliyah at 60, I did not have to serve in the IDF. I never fought in any of the wars. I did not suffer through the early years of Israel where life was challenging, shortages were abundant and the future unknown. I don’t know how it felt to live in a nation where the national joke was the last one leaving should turn out the lights.
So, as I sit down this Passover, I am not going to reflect on the challenges that I am now facing. I am going to think about how blessed my life has been; that I have faced minimum hardships and life-threatening situations. I am going to pray for the sick and mourn for the deceased. I am going to thank Hashem that I live in an age where Jews have a national homeland that not only survives, it thrives! I am going to pray that my children and grandchildren will focus less on defending our homeland and more on building it. And I will pray once again that Next Year, I will spend Pesach in Jerusalem.