By Wendy Weisbrot
My father survived Auschwitz. He shared the horrors that he and over 1 million other Jews suffered in Auschwitz with over 15,000 people in the WNY area. My father’s motivation to present his family story and share the lessons of the Holocaust was to illustrate what the results of organized hatred, antisemitism, and intolerance can be. As a passionate Zionist, he knew what most Holocaust survivors knew: the existence of the State of Israel, our Jewish homeland, is the only assurance we have against a second Holocaust. Today, these words resonate deeply.
We are all processing the magnitude of the heartbreak of the Israel/Hamas War differently; however, I know that I have never had more gratitude and love for our Buffalo Jewish Federation and our Jewish Buffalo community. BJF and Jewish Buffalo have provided us with countless opportunities to grieve together, engage with and support each other, pray together, deepen our understanding of relevant issues, have opportunities to hear about life in Israel directly from Israelis, and share our joy in celebrating Judaism.
I’ve been privileged to engage in many of these community gatherings that have filled me with hope and strength, being surrounded by many of you – members of our Jewish Buffalo. Here is a snapshot of one of these gatherings that truly touched my soul, while allowing healing to begin. The Descendants Group (2nd and 3rd generation Holocaust survivors) of the Holocaust Education Resource Organization (HERO) recently gathered with Rabbi Sara Rich who facilitated an expertly created reflection/meditation, filled with the compassion and wisdom that she always provides those with whom she engages. Additionally, this engagement was specifically designed being mindful of our unique group that views the world through a shared lens as children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. Rabbi Rich facilitated a simple, but extremely poignant exercise where she read a series of statements while we were standing in a circle. If we agreed with the statement, we stepped into the circle. The most profound statement was, “I am relieved that my parent/grandparent is no longer here to have witnessed the Hamas Massacre.” As you can envision, all participants fervently stepped into the circle. Nobody needed to utter the label of “intergenerational trauma,” but indeed we were all experiencing this on some level. Our need to have fiercely protected our parents/grandparents from re-experiencing the unfathomable horrors of today that parallel the Holocaust was palpable; and conversely, we’ve all been triggered by the most recent events and continue to process the war through our survivor’s eyes.
Yet, I must confess that I have deeply yearned for my father’s voice and wisdom to guide me through these challenging times. And so, I find comfort in this week’s Parshah, Chayei Sarah. Although the portion is titled, “The Life of Sarah,” it details events that occur after Sarah’s death. Contemporary Midrash tells us that Sarah, the first of our Matriarchs, was an independent, righteous, selfless, and compassionate woman who had clarity of understanding life that Abraham benefitted from. “The righteous are considered alive even after death,” our Sages tell us. Sarah achieves this distinction. She raised Isaac, who would perpetuate the path of God, and perpetuate the values that she represented and the essence of who Sarah was. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, z”l, suggests that “death must not bring despair, but motivate us to strengthen our eternal values and pass them on to the next generation.”
My father is not here, but I am here and our children are here. I know that my father’s experiences and wisdom, along with his resilience and strength, are deeply embedded into my essence. It is my father’s legacy that gives me the strength and clarity to process through these challenging times. This legacy has been passed on to our children, for all generations to come.
As second generation Holocaust survivor Elisha Wiesel (son of Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, z”l) recently stated in an interview, “It is our turn to bear witness.” Dan Grunfeld is a former professional basketball player who played in the Israeli Basketball Premier League. He is the grandson of Holocaust survivors, and the author of the acclaimed book By the Grace of the Game, where he tells his family story from Auschwitz to the NBA. Dan perfectly shares the power of legacy in his book: “My legacy is complicated, but my obligation is simple. Our son will know their stories. He will know all of these stories. They are his now.” Dan will be here this Sunday, November 12th at Kenmore West High School at 6:30 pm to share his powerful story. Please join us and register here.
As Isaac found strength and clarity in the inspiring and empowering legacy of our Matriarch Sarah, I pray that you derive strength, clarity, resilience, and much hope from the beautiful legacy that you carry forward, surrounded by loved ones and community. Am Yisrael Chai!
Wendy Weisbrot is Chair of the Holocaust Education Resource Organization (HERO) and is a passionate Zionist.