The Picture in my Office

The second photograph I put up in my office when I arrived in Westchester to serve as the community’s shaliach (Israel emissary), after the photo with my wife, was of my grandfather. The picture was taken in 1967. In it he is standing at the Kotel, the ancient stones behind him, wearing a tallis and teffilin, and looking up from his siddur towards the camera. The time, place and person in the frame all combine to form a powerful trifecta of symbolism.There is also a professional reason for having my Zeida in my office. He inspires me.

There is also a professional reason for having my Zeida in my office. He inspires me.

He grew up in the tiny town of Subate, Latvia, and knew that an anti-Semitic storm was brewing. Along with his brothers, he left to find a new life in South Africa, arriving with only the clothes on his back and petty cash in his pockets. On July 21st 1941 the relatives that remained in Subate were massacred by the Latvian SS. His answer to European Jewry’s devastation was to rebuild. He worked tirelessly to support a family, his two sons growing up to be successful themselves, with their own families and careers.

Along with his personal pride, he had a fervent love for Israel. He was a proud Zionist, making purposely timed trips to indulge in Israel’s euphoria in 1948 and 1967. He died in his 70s, then b’seiva tova (in ripe old age), but unfortunately well before his grandchildren were born. Originally buried in South Africa, he now rests in Israel reunited with my grandmother.

Throughout his life, he instilled the love for Israel in his sons, and without witnessing it, in his grandchildren. I may never have met him, but I knew him well.

Collectively as a nation we hold a library of memories from the generation that overcame, struggled, survived and fought. My grandfather’s life story is just one from the era when the Jewish people went from persecution and ashes to independence and pride. Every story is different in content but similar in magnitude and consequence.

Just weeks ago we read: “In each and every generation, a person is obligated to regard himself as though he actually left Egypt”. We recall the Pesach story so that the next generations will set their seder tables and relive the story once again.

And so it should be on Yom Haatzmaut. Our generation and those after must be obligated to regard themselves as if they actually created the State of Israel.

It would be impracticable to try to write one narrative, a Haggadah, about Israel’s independence, and we do not need to. For certain parts of Jewish education, we should instead draw inspiration and learn from the pre-written curriculum in stories, diaries, photos and objects that have been passed down to us. These are tangible, genuine pieces of Jewish history. They are personal in their teachings and powerful in their message.

I know. I use one every day.

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