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Rabbi's Blog: Elul & Commemoration

09/04/2022 12:31:01 PM



Dear OZ family,


The month of Elul is a time when Jews look back and make evaluations. This is in preparation for Rosh Hashana, and it coincides with a time that we turn towards a new school year as well. Labor Day Weekend turns the corner on a summer of relaxation and recreation for many people, as our society in general considers this to be a time for new beginnings. We end and start the Torah on the same day, because we consider any ending to be part of a new beginning. As such, Elul is a month that calls together the past with the present.


Even as my family had three children born who bear memory of my father z”l, I am reminded that 80 years ago to this very day, the 8th of Elul, the ghetto where my father’s family lived in unspeakable squalor for close to a year, was liquidated. He never saw his mother, six siblings and two nephews again. His father survived, and was killed before my father’s eyes a few weeks later, and my father learned about 40 years later, that his brother-in-law, Kessil Einvoiner had survived. He saw the name on a list of survivors compiled by Yad Vashem, and the unusual name turned out to be him. He had been living in Russia all that time, and it took about 2 years, but we brought him over to the US to live out his life with some degree of Nachas. My father got him an apartment, a job and a wife, and he lived in the Bukharan community of Forest Hills for over 10 years.


I say all these things as matters of fact that all happened to my father as a teenager. The liquidation of the ghetto could hardly prepare him for the next 2 years that he would spend with nothing but the rags on his back, fending his way through two Polish (now Ukranian) winters. He was never caught, although he had many close calls. He once told me that if he had had a minyan, he would have had to Bench Gomel every day for 2 years. I remember when Uncle Kessil died and I went to Parkside chapels on Queens Blvd. to arrange the funeral. I went through all the preparations with the funeral director, and was ready to make out the check, when the director asked my relationship to the deceased. I said I was his nephew. I was told that since he had no will, my uncle could only be buried by a blood relative. I protested that the Germans did a very efficient job of assuring that Kessil Einvoiner had no blood relatives (the wife my father found for him, had already died). The director stood his ground and said that the NY Public Administrator would have to take care of the burial and that it would take up to a week.


I couldn’t let that happen, so I went to another funeral home across Queens Blvd. and made all the same preparations, and when I was asked about my relationship to the deceased, I quickly thought of the Gemara that allows one to change around some facts in the interest of peace. I considered this to be such a case, and I said he was my grandfather. Job done. No questions asked. ( By the way, the second chapel was Schwartz bros.). Kessil lost his first wife, My father’s older sister, and two children on this day 80 years ago. The two children would have been my first cousins. My family has named children after every one of my father’s lost family members, and he lived to see the grandchild of a grandchild. We look back and forward simultaneously, and that is how we have survived.


Today is also the 5th yahrzeit of Rivkah Goli. I have written about her many times and I spoke about her yesterday at Seudah Shlishit. Rivkah was a Jew by choice, from the Ivory Coast, and she was a fiercely proud Jew who defended her people around the globe in her capacity as a peace-keeper for the United Nations. She is buried on Har Menuchos, and may her legacy of pride and love for the Jews live on in all who remember her this day.    


Stay well and healthy.

Rabbi Allen Schwartz

Rabbi Allen Schwartz

Congregation Ohab Zedek

118 West 95th Street | New York, NY  10025-6604

Phone 212.749-5150, ext 200 | Fax 212.663-3635





Mon, December 4 2023 21 Kislev 5784