Before World War II there were over 400 synagogues in Warsaw. Only one was left standing after the war. Last Friday, after a full day of traveling, we went to Friday night services at the Nozyk Synagogue, the only pre-war synagogue in Warsaw, a city that once boasted a population of 350,000 Jews. To our surprise, it was the Bar Mitzvah of Sean, a young man from New Jersey. His great-grandmother had escaped Warsaw during the War. She overcame a lot in her life and had a beautiful family, but in the words of her grandson, Sean’s dad, she never overcame Warsaw.
Watching Sean and his family, I was overcome with emotion. My Zayda saw himself sitting on his Zayda’s lap, 76 years ago on a train speeding away from his home. In the face of adversity, my great-great grandfather took his grandson and started singing L’cha Dodi, the prayer welcoming the Sabbath. That moment impacted the way my Zayda led the last 76 years of his life. He remembers walking through the streets of England at age 10 saying “I am a Jew.” I saw myself, 10 years ago, being Bar Mitzvahed in Israel. On that trip I met family that had moved to Israel during the Holocaust. In the following years letters from the Holocaust surfaced and helped my Zayda piece together his story. Sean’s great grandmother instilled important values in her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. On Friday night, we witnessed what Sean’s great-grandmother never thought she would – her great grandchild having his Bar Mitzvah in Warsaw.
As we walked through the Warsaw Ghetto, my great-great grandfather was in my mind. In 1938 he moved into a home for the blind in Warsaw. Aside from a few letters, we know very little about his final years in Warsaw. We do know that he always has and continues to influence my Zayda and all of our family today.
I am blessed to have a strong relationship with my Zayda. My great-great grandfather, though he was blind, had a strong vision well beyond his years: one of his grandchild and great-great grandchildren standing by who they are, no matter what the circumstances. Today, that vision is true.
My Zayda also has a vision well beyond his years. It is a vision of his grandchildren and great-great grandchildren standing up for not only for who they are as individuals, but standing up for others in the world. At the onset of this odyssey it is clear that this moment will impact the way we all lead our lives.
Tomorrow we will visit Otwock, a small suburb of Warsaw where my Zayda lived for 2 weeks before escaping Europe. In Otwock, he saw his Zayda for the last time.