This Sunday in Jerusalem….

For those in Jerualem or for those who have friends who can get to Jerusalem this Sunday, Jan. 28 (9b’Shvat). I described the launching of a most unusual Holocaust project in my Jerusalem Post article Thursday 6 b’Shvat (25 Jan) titled The Day the Rabbi Ate Grass,

I describe a new collection of Holocaust memoirs that give us an unmediated glimpse into the world of rabbinic scholars who wrote about their experiences during the Hurban. These autobiographies appear not qua autobiography in the traditional sense, but in prefaces to the scholars’ rabbinic works.

I wrote:

Whereas a rabbinic scholar will write in a more guarded manner in the body of a work, in the preface he can “let his hair down.”
Take for example the preface to an important book by Rabbi Yitzhak Yaakov Weiss, who was well known after the war as a fierce opponent of Zionism. When he comes to write the preface, he drops his political persona.

There is not even a whisper of politics in what he writes here.

This treasure trove was ignored by Holocaust historians because the actual books, in contrast to the prefaces, often have nothing to do with the Shoah. But in printing or reissuing a book a rabbi has a chance to tell his own story discreetly in the preface.

The collection is being launched on Sunday in the format of a CD Rom containing hundreds of pages of these biographical prefaces. The CD can be obtained from the Michlalah College Jerusalem (Bayit vGan). It is the brainchild of historian Esther Farbstein who will present it in Binyanei HaOoma this Sunday at 7pm in an event for women and girls. Former Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, who as a 6 year-old survived Buchenwald with G-d’s help and the wits of his 15 year-old brother, will address the audience.

There is a question in my mind. Now that there are at least 3 Holocaust remembrance days, how do we relate to them? They are: the U.N. Holocuast Day this Saturday commemorating the Jan.27 liberation of Auschwitz; Asarah bTeves observed by religious Jews as Yom Hakaddish Haklali; and there is the Israeli Holocaust & Heroes Remembrance Day a week after Pesah, commemorating the Warsaw ghetto uprising.

Shira Schmidt

Shira Leibowitz Schmidt was raised in an assimilated Jewish home in New York, and became observant while studying at Stanford University in California. In June 1967 she told her engineering school professor she would miss the final exam because she was going to Israel to volunteer during the Six Day War. “That’s the most original excuse I have ever been offered,” he responded. She arrived during the war and stayed, receiving her BSc in absentia. She subsequently met and married the late Elhanan Leibowitz, and they raised their six children in Beersheba. Mrs. Leibowitz acquired a Masters in Urban & Regional Planning from the Technion, and an MSc in Civil Engineering from University of Waterloo. Today she lives with her husband, Dr. Baruch Schmidt, in Netanya. She co-authored, with Nobel prize-winning chemist Roald Hoffmann, Old Wine New Flasks. She has co-translated from Hebrew to English (with Jessica Setbon) From the Depths (the autobiography of Rabbi Israel Meir Lau); The Forgotten Memoirs (memoirs of Rabbis who survived the Shoah, edited by Esther Farbstein); and Rest of the Dove (Parashat Hashavua by Rabbi Haim Sabato). She and her husband appear in the documentary film about the Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe, “Hidden Face.” She is available to lecture in Israel and in the US and can be contacted via

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4 Responses

  1. Toby Katz says:

    Maybe you can quote two or three of these prefaces to give us the flavor?

  2. Sarah says:

    I believe Rav Lau was 5 when liberated from Buchenwald, and his brother was 17 or 18. Otherwise, good article.

  3. Steve Brizel says:

    I think that as a community, despite that noone has the abilities of a R Elazar Ben Kalir as a Paytan, that we should start by reciting the kinos that were composed by R Schwalb ZTL and other Gdolim as part of incorporating the Shoah into the Jewish historical view of Tisha Bav. FWIW, Yom HaShoah strikes me as wholly secular and dismissive of spiritual resistance. As long as it sponsored on that day and rooted in the secular themes that mark it, it will never and should not be marked in the Torah world as having any significance. We can remember and think about the events that led to the Shoah, how we as a community reacted and dealt with the events but the current format of Yom HaShoah and much of what is called Holocaust studies that emanates from Yad VaShem is an ersatz form of Judaism that cannot be a subsitute for Torah Judaism. As far as Asarah BTeves, its designation as a Yom HaKaddish HaKlali seems fine.

    With respect to the UN designated day, I have major reservations. First of all, the UN is salving its conscience as a home and residue for anti Semitism by remembering the Holocaust-which is a typically PC thing to do-cry over dead Jews, but bash live Jews and Israel. WADR, it would be a mockery for the survivors and their descendants to rmemember the Holocaust on a day sponsored by an organization that seemingly lives to perpetrate anti Semitism more than anything else in its organizational routine.

  4. Ahron says:

    >“First of all, the UN is salving its conscience as a home and residue for anti Semitism by remembering the Holocaust-which is a typically PC thing to do-cry over dead Jews, but bash live Jews and Israel.”

    The UN doesn’t only cry over dead Jews (these days it resists doing even that)–it cries over the dead victims of all manner of manmade massacre and murder as it facilitates or produces the conditions that lead to more victims at the very same time. Happy political symbolism aside (e.g. “Oh! All of humanity weeps over the Holocaust!…” etc. etc.) the UN’s “Holocaust Day” is an item of logical deception and moral parody. It is of no greater moral worth than a Jewish Persecution Memorial Day sponsored by Saudi Arabia or the former USSR.

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