“Everybody — every human being — has the obligation to contribute somehow to this world”

—Edith Carter, Holocaust Survivor

Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur

Inspirations from the Jewish Experience: Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur

Rosh Hashana in the Telz Ghetto
The Telz Ghetto was in the very worst part of the city. The men had already been deported, so the people, mostly women, lived in cowsheds and stables. When Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, came, the women gathered in the old synagogue for the holiday service. There were hardly any prayer books, nor was there anyone to serve as rabbi or cantor. They all waited. Suddenly a sweet voice was heard: “Bless the Lord who is blessed” and the congregation responded: “Blessed be the Lord who is blessed forever and ever.” In front of the Holy Ark stood a young girl who prayed by heart, like a real cantor, and the congregation was swept after her. The girl also pretended to blow the shofar. She put her hands to her mouth and blew through her fists to make the sounds of the shofar. The girl was Tova Golda Amalan. She was known for her kindness and her concern for other people. In the village, Tova Golda had helped a widower with his shopping and prepared his meals on Shabbat and festival eves. Tova Golda refused to take any money from the man, but he wanted to give her something for all of her work. The old man was a cantor and Tova Golda asked him to teach her the prayers for festivals; and so she had learned the prayers and cantorial melodies.

Now, in these hours of grief and fear, she used her sweet voice to sing her beautiful songs to comfort the women in the ghetto.

-Adapted from The Book of Telz, a Memorial to a Holy Community, by Chassia Gering-Goldberg

On December 24 and 25, 1941, the Nazis murdered the Telz women, including Tova Golda. Only 64 women survived.

Yom Kippur in Elie Weisel’s Night
“Should we fast? The question was hotly debated. To fast would mean a surer, swifter death. We fasted here the whole year round. The whole year was Yom Kippur. But others said that we should fast simply because it was dangerous to do so. We should show God that even here, in this enclosed hell, we were capable of singing His praises.”

“I did not fast, mainly to please my father, who had forbidden me to do so. But further, there was no longer any reason why I should fast. I no longer accepted God’s silence. As I swallowed my bowl of soup, I saw in the gesture an act of rebellion and protest against Him. And I nibbled my crust of bread. In the depths of my heart, I felt a great void.”

The following article is excerpted from Vedem, the underground magazine produced by boys in the Terezin Ghetto. The writer is their teacher and mentor, Prof. Valtr Eisinger (1913-1945).

Preparing for the High Holiday
I noticed an interesting psychological feature in myself this week: How even an unbeliever and atheist can be drawn against his will into the emotions surrounding the high holidays. Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, is the first link in a chain of ten days, when every Jew scrutinizes his actions over the last year, weighs them on the scales of his impersonalized sense of justice and, before his conscience or before God, confesses all his sins and repents.

Not even I could escape the atmosphere enveloping Terezin in the days of Rosh Hashana, an atmosphere whose special aroma was sweetly familiar to me from my Orthodox past. But in my case, it indicated a special kind of contemplation. I did not examine my own past actions, but rather those of the people around me.

The world is swimming in a sea of war crimes. Its depths are unmeasurable. So I ask myself: how should I behave towards the perpetrators of that war? Is the German nation as a whole guilty? Should our hatred, our just rage, and our judgment come down on them all, without distinction?

I do not want to give you ready answers. That would be too easy. Nor do I wish to say straight out: Let us love these and hate those. I shall try to outline a method that is less easy, one that will force you to think and draw your own conclusions.

By a most unusual chance I discovered, on the eve of Rosh Hashana, a notebook of mine containing my notes on Eckermann’s conversations with Goethe. Some of the notes I include here:

1. “He who would act justly, need never condemn, need never consider what perversity is, but most only act well. It is not a question of tearing down, but of building up, what could become a source of joy to humanity.”
2. “The poet loves his country as a man, and a citizen, but the land of his poetic power and his poetic acts is goodness, nobility and beauty, which are bound to no particular region and no particular country. Then what does love of one’s country and patriotism mean? They mean fighting against all harmful prejudices, eliminating narrow-minded views, enlightening the spirit of one’s own nation.”
3. “The only important thing is how one weighs in on the scales of humanity. Everything else is conceit.”

Shofar from the Heavens
By Greer Fay Cashman
Jerusalem Post, October 12, 2005 7:13

Martha and Ernest Schwarcz were Holocaust survivors from Hungary. Dr. Ernest Schwarcz was the founding director of Judaic Studies at the CUNY, City University of New York. Prior to this position, he served as Jewish Studies director at Mount Scopus College in Melbourne, Australia.

Marta Schwarcz related that along with other Holocaust survivors, they had left their native Hungary and were living in Australia. While there, Ernest conducted Jewish educational programs for refugee children waiting to settle in new lands of promise far removed from the traumas they had experienced.

When notified that he would be among some 800 passengers sailing from Italy to Australia, Schwarcz calculated that they would be celebrating the High Holy Days on board. He learned that one elderly man traveling on the ship had a Torah scroll. Now, all they needed was a shofar. Schwarcz wrote ahead to Italy to everyone who might provide a shofar.

When they arrived in Genoa on the day preceding Rosh Hashana, they took a taxi to the synagogue to see if they could get a shofar there. With tears in his eyes, the rabbi told them that the congregation had only one shofar and he could not part with it. Disappointed, the couple went back to the ship, which shortly afterwards, left port. That evening, the captain of the ship told Schwarcz to go up on deck because a helicopter was dropping a package for him. Literally out of the sky came a shofar with the compliments of the chief rabbi of Rome.