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Effie Kleinberg
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Where are all the survivors?

My grandparents stood before crowds to deliver their first-hand testimony and bare their tattooed numbers. Now they are gone
Screenshot from YouTube video, 'Howard and Nancy Kleinberg tell their Holocaust love story'
Screenshot from YouTube video, 'Howard and Nancy Kleinberg tell their Holocaust love story'

How is this Yom HaShoah different than all other Yom HaShoahs?

This year marks the first time in my life that I am commemorating Yom HaShoah without the living presence of my grandparents, survivors of the Holocaust — Howard and Nancy Kleinberg. My grandparents’ harrowing story of loss, love, and survival is legendary. I invite you to learn more by watching the World’s Greatest Love Story as one of the many ways to commemorate this day.

Howard and Nancy Kleinberg survived the Starachowice Labor Camp and the Auschwitz Labor Camp, and were liberated from the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp on April 15, 1945. Howard passed away in 2020, and Nancy just this past October, 2022. I had the privilege to interview (via Zoom) Howard & Nancy one final time in honor of Yom HaShoah during the global pandemic of 2020. It became the final Holocaust memorial lecture they would deliver jointly in their lives in the presence of thousands of online viewers from around the world. That presentation was the culmination of decades of sharing their story of tragedy and hope with countless students, communities, March of the Living participants, media outlets, heads of state, artists, and publications.

And now, I am marking Yom HaShoah in 2023 for the first time without their physical presence in the world.

How is this Yom HaShoah different than all other Yom HaShoahs?

It is different because the responsibility to educate and commemorate weighs ever heavier on me as I can no longer rely on my grandparents who would stand before auditoriums, sanctuaries, and houses of government to deliver their first-hand testimony and bare their tattooed numbers. I have reached that moment in my family’s history where the generation of witnesses to the Holocaust have passed on and left their testimony in my hands. It is this weight that has motivated me to write and to share these words, not only because it is what they implored us to do as the next generation, and not only because it is part of the Jewish experience to recall the past, but because their story holds me accountable as a Jew and as a human.

As a Jew and as a Jewish educator I have asked hundreds of my students over the years the question of what makes them Jewish. Some connect their Jewish identity to being part of the Jewish people, others to the State of Israel, and others to Jewish history. Those who have forged their Jewish identity as a grandchild of Holocaust survivors or after having visited the death camps in Poland on a Jewish heritage trip, have a foundation of what it means to sacrifice for one’s faith; that they should not take it for granted or simply throw it away. A Jewish identity forged through a connection to the Holocaust serves as a strong anchor, but I don’t believe its enough anymore to prevent large swaths of the Jewish future from being swept away by stormy seas.

The message of my grandparents was not just to remember for memory’s sake, it was for a purpose, it was in order to rebuild. They may have invested in Holocaust museums and testimony projects to remember the past, but what really mattered to them was investing in the future. They implored young people wherever they travelled to engage in their Jewish lives, in their connection to Israel, and in the traditions of Judaism. They knew that the Jewish future needed more strong anchors in addition to the memory of the Holocaust. This is the message I pass on to you on this Yom HaShoah.

There was also a message of my grandparents to all of humanity. They advocated love over hate and this message always featured in their closing words at every presentation they gave. They promoted doing good for others, being a good person, and having gratitude for life itself.

How is this Yom HaShoah different than all other Yom HaShoahs?

It’s my turn now to tell the truth to the world as a grandchild of witnesses to the atrocities to the Holocaust, to stamp out hate, and to ensure that young Jews have the anchors they need to build vibrant Jewish futures.

In memory of my grandparents, their families, and the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Effie Kleinberg serves as Senior Educator and Program Director at Forum for Jewish Leadership and the Netzach Leadership Institute- organizations focused on developing the next generation of ambitious future Jewish leaders around the globe. Rabbi Kleinberg holds semicha and a doctorate from Yeshiva University and worked as a Jewish educator in New York and Toronto before making aliyah. He is the host "Daf In-Sight" a daily podcast sharing inspiration on the daily page of Talmud. He currently resides with his family in Ra’anana, Israel.
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