The Terezin/Israel Vortex

There are moments when the trajectory of a nation and one’s personal life conflate, such that one can gain insight into the legacy of history. These moments are precious few, and are replete with heavy emotion and anticipation.

Last week my 16 year old son left for the teenage tour of my dreams, starting in New Zealand. Should I feel guilty that I am happy he did not go on a teen tour to Israel– where many of his friends on teen tours are now in bomb shelters? My younger two kids are enjoying themselves surrounded by friends at their respective sleepaway camps…protected in their bubble of oblivion to the searing noise of the Jerusalem and Tel Aviv air raid sirens.

And I am thinking of two courageous women. One is Rachelle Sprecher Frenkel, who will never see her 16 year old son Naftali again– and who had the spiritual fortitude to recite the Kaddish for him at his funeral.  And now that the national focus has shifted to the realities of conducting the Operation– she is finally left to start processing the intensity of the pain, agony and loss that I can only imagine she feels. No matter how strong and heroic she has been, the lack of the glare of the international media will hopefully enable Rachelle and the other mothers and fathers the emotional space to start the sobering process of confronting their new reality.

I also am thinking of my maternal great grandmother Frederica Hess. Yesterday, my husband and I travelled to Terezinstadt. Frederica was taken there from Pappenburg, Germany and the Yad Vashem records indicate that she never left Terezin. Her granddaughter, my mother, assumes that she was murdered there. And I had the privilege of saying Kaddish for Frederica…standing in the bowels of the four timeworn ovens of the Terezin crematorium–with chills from seeing evil running down my spine — hearing the sound of my own voice saying the Kaddish through the raw emotions grasping my throat– listening to the other tour group members answering my prayer with the life affirming “Amen”. I lit a candle for Frederica, placing it on the rim of the long, narrow oven tray — where the murdered bodies were methodically fed into the fiery ovens. And I slowly emerged from the crematorium– where you still smell that sickening smell of death– out of what Joseph Conrad profoundly described as “the impenetrable heart of darkness.”

And I walked through the “renovated” Terezin, in tribute to my father in law Israel Kofman– who defied the odds and by sheer chutzpah and will triumphed over the Germans. From Amsterdam and then Westerbrook, sixteen year old Izzy was taken with a few family members to Terezin–including his parents, sister and brother. From Terezin, the family was transferred east to Poland and the Auschwitz extermination camp. In Auschwitz, Izzy volunteered to join a work detail–even though he was under age–and was transferred to a labor camp. From the labor camp –as the Germans were losing the war– he was taken on a death march… and ultimately made it back to Terezin where he was liberated. Izzy is the sole survivor of his family– our younger son is named for his murdered brother and our son bears a strong resemblance to his grandfather. Israel Kofman stared down the face of evil and has triumphed over it.

In the annals of history, we cannot allow evil and hate be the victors in the story of our State of Israel. The price of safeguarding a life of yiddishkeit and of the safety of Israel is very dear. It is a price paid in lives of young chayalim and in Jewish blood, and is paid in the untold hours that young children “play” in bomb shelters. But at the center of the vortex– Rachelle, Frederica, Israel and all the anxious parents of the Israeli soldiers that have been called up to serve their country are the heroes that allow each of us to live our lives as authentic & proud Jews and Zionists. May HaShem continue to protect the chayalim.

About the Author
Chavie N. Kahn is a leader, strategist, fundraiser, educator. Building relationships, developing the strategy, cultivating & securing the resources to make dreams happen-- that is her passion. She is an experienced non-profit development professional, managing campaigns and successfully generating major endowment gifts for metropolitan New York schools in excess of $84M. She is a former litigator at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, and in house litigator at Prudential Securities. She currently is focusing on improving Jewish day school education and on leadership.
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