2008: Eastern Europe Community

On Wednesday evening, May 14, 2008, we held our Am Yisrael Chai community event. The Atlanta Jewish Male Choir set the tone with an overture of songs presaging the theme of the evening which was to reflect on the past glory of the Golden Age of Jewish Culture in Eastern Europe, the suffering and the faith of the Jewish People during the Holocaust and the renewal and revival of our Jewish spirit since the Holocaust, most significantly in the establishment of the State of Israel 60 years ago.

The presentations began with David Feldman’s research into his family history in Poland and Belarus which you can see on his poster in the hallway at the Shul. We then heard from Fred Katz and saw his photographs of Holocaust Monuments over the past 30 years, some of which are displayed in the hallway of the Shul opposite the posters. Seth Cohen, a community volunteer with Atlanta Jewish Federation, told us about and showed us pictures of the revival of the Jewish Community in Minsk Belarus and the friendship between the Jewish Communities of Minsk and Atlanta.

The core message of the program was captured by Tosia Schneider, herself a survivor of the Holocaust, or rather The Shoah as she prefers to call it. She started her story by describing her feelings as an 11 year old girl being prevented from going to school where she was doing so well and then the gradual robbery of possessions, status and identity that ensued with the death, destruction and murder of many of her family members along with the 6 Million other Jews. She tells the story in her autobiographical book Someone Must Survive to Tell the World which was on sale with a number of other books written by survivors on display and on sale, autographed by the authors.

Mel Konner, Professor of Anthropology at Emory and an author of many books including Anthropology of the Jews, wrote the following in a Foreword to Tosia Schneider’s Book:

“Yes, it is a horror story, and a true one, in which the monsters are neither giant goblins nor ravenous space aliens but something much worse: these monsters are dressed in German uniforms and in the ordinary clothing of Polish and Ukrainian men and women; they are real. But the horror story is bracketed by an account of a beautiful childhood, a celebration of love and tenderness and loss, a living memorial to gifted and generous human beings who were destined to be murdered for one reason only; and by the story of a survivor who not only lived to tell the world, but who created a loving family of her own, a family that is a mirror image of the love and gifts and decency of the family she lost.

“This new family, which Tosia Szechter Schneider created out of her own body and heart and soul, is the final decisive answer to the vicious but failed attempt to destroy her and her people, root and branch. True, she still has occasional nightmares; how could she not? Yet through sheer courage and will, she became a new root for a new large branch of her own family tree—the re-founder of her family--and a new branch of the tree of the Jewish people. And through this horrifying yet touching and beautiful book, she creates countless emotional links between her lost world and each of us, her readers. This is her final victory. May her readers and her offspring be, like Abraham’s, as numerous as the stars.”

The other highlight of our evening was the presentation by 2 High School students from our community who had just returned from their trip on March of the Living 3 days earlier. The freshness of their experiences and poignancy of their thoughts and emotions seared into our hearts the horrors and suffering of our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers and other family members during the Shoah, but then reflected Hope – Hatikvah – in the establishment of the State of Israel after almost 2,000 years. Arianna Kamran spoke beautifully and poetically of her visceral experiences at seeing and experiencing through all her senses, what everyone would feel and experience in the camps of Poland, especially Majdanek, and Adin Pearl spoke prosaically about the stark contrast between their oppressive experiences in Poland and the sense of liberation and freedom that greeted them in Israel.

To top this off, we had young soldiers from the Israel Defense Force in uniform and in number, visit and participate in our evening, reminding us that our young people represent our hope. They are the ones who will defend our land, our culture, our religion and our spirit well into the future, as those before us have done for us.

The young men and women from Tzahal are spending Shabbos with us at Beth Tefillah and here to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the State of Israel. They will be singing at the celebratory event at the Marcus Jewish Community Center on Sunday May 18th – be there to celebrate with them and with everyone else in Atlanta.