Lee Bender has Died

Editor’s Note: The synagogue was packed for Lee Bender’s funeral Friday morning September 13th, at Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El. Lee contributed numerous articles to the Philadelphia Jewish Voice.

Lee Bender. Photo: ZOA

It is with profound sadness that the Zionist Organization of America announces the passing of its longtime Philadelphia co-president, Lee Bender, Esq.

Lee was an unabashed Zionist and a prolific writer who was committed to advocacy and activism. Lee was Philadelphia’s co-president from 2012 to 2019. His activities with ZOA and for the cause of ZOA, Zionism, Israel and the Jewish community knew no bounds. From giving presentations throughout the region with co-author Jerry Verlin, to helping to manage the chapter, to high-level meetings with communal leaders and other officials, to stuffing envelopes – Lee did it all and with passion.

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Reenactment of the Battle of Hattin

By Aviva Shwartz

The reenactment of one of the most significant battles of the Crusader period, the Battle of Hattin, took place in Israel on July 3-5, its 832nd anniversary. It consisted of a two-day journey culminating in the reenactment of the battle itself.

Every year, the Regnum Hierosolymitanum group for history reenactment along with other groups from Israel, Germany, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Cyprus and the United States, reconstruct the events surrounding the Battle of Hattin in the actual landscape and in conditions similar to those prevailing at the time. This project is based on significant academic and archaeological research carried out on the battle itself and the location. The Regnum Hierosolymitanum group carries out historical reenactments of significant events that occurred in the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, focusing on the second and third quarters of the 12th century, before the destruction of the Kingdom, which followed its defeat at the Battle of Hattin in 1187. The project organizer Genadiy Nizhnik, is an expert in medieval and biblical archeology and heads the “Kingdom of Jerusalem” club.

The Horns of Hattin march is a living historical event. All attendees actively participate in the reenactment and are assigned to one of two opposing armies. One side of the conflict is led by the King of Jerusalem Guy de Lusignan and the other by Salah ad-Din. Characters include knights, professional mercenaries, members of the military order, horseback riders, Mamelukes, pilgrims, countrymen, city dwellers, Bedouins, musicians, and others.

The Druze: the Brothers of the Jews

By Liav Peretz

The Druze community in Israel are the brothers of the Jews. For those who do not know this amazing community, these people are incredibly committed to the State of Israel and its values. They are Zionist, patriotic, and human loving. This community signed a “blood pact” with the State of Israel in 1948, their children serve in the IDF, and the percentage of young people who enlist in the army is very high, And due to their relatively low numbers in the general Israeli population (about 1.5%), and their contribution is not always known to the general Israeli public.

The Druze Association promotes foreign relations, education, and culture. It presents the community’s contribution and its uncompromising commitment to the State of Israel. The association was established in 1989 and since then thousands of members of the Israeli community have joined it. As part of the association’s activities in the field of education, the organization sends about 180 doctoral students every year to countries in Eastern Europe and Spain. Another prominent activity of the association is the establishment of an electronic library that is open to the public in order to make education and access to electronic devices available to the poor people of the community. Enrichment and empowerment courses are offered to women in order to promote gender equality.

Liav Peretz,the director of the overseas project of the Druze Association,is working to establish a “triangular relationship” between the Druze community, the Jewish people in Israel, and American Jewry. He founded an academic research institute for the association that will deal with Zionist values, volunteerism in the community, Jewishness in the United States, and integrating women into public works. These values will create the infrastructure for the future generation and ensure its future in the State of Israel with security, prosperity, and hope for the future.

Calculated, Caricature, and Cliché: A review of Paula Vogel’s Indecent

By Robert Margolis

Paula Vogel’s play Indecent, currently in performance at The Arden Theatre Company, is a play about a play, Got fun nekome (God of Vengeance) written originally in Yiddish, in Warsaw in 1906, and about its author Sholem Asch and some of the actors and actresses who performed this play, whether in its original language or in various translations, throughout Europe, in Russia, and in the United States. “Got fun nekome was the first Yiddish play to be translated and staged throughout Europe,” writes David Mazower (editorial director of the Yiddish Book Center) in his article “10 Things You Need to Know about God of Vengeance,” and thus has its own variegated cultural and performance history (including incidents of censorship and, in the United States, in 1923, an arrest of the Broadway cast for obscenity, which, for some reason, overly fascinates Vogel, as does everything else that is obvious about Asch’s original play).

Mazower also writes that, because of its subject, characters, and language, “[o]ver the last twenty years or so, Got fun nekome has been updated, revised, adapted, and reworked almost as many times as it’s been staged in the original.” And he is generous in his regard for Vogel’s play when he summarizes it as using “fragments of Asch’s original in a much broader exploration of authorship, the power of theatre in general, and the lost world of Yiddish theatre in particular.”

This is what Vogel’s play maybe had the potential to do and to be about. But this description of Indecent, it turns out, and though there are many eager to share it, is an unfulfilled ideal; rather, the actual play makes of it merely a recitation of received ideas. Vogel’s play does no more than exploit, but does not explore, the sentimentality and assumptions of its own received ideas.

For everything Indecent purports to be about is even more what it is not about. Why? Because what primarily is missing is what seems to be most present: Asch’s play, its author and its performers. Instead, there are caricatures and not characters, the sensationalized aspects of the play––or of the character’s personalities, but not the play.

Sex, prostitution, lesbianism, a kiss between two woman lovers, and the desecration of a Torah scroll. So, nu? These are already in the Hebrew Bible. And so? All that’s needed is for us to find out all the women characters are really played by “Mrs. Maisel,” wearing ‘the Jewish star,’ and who steals each scene with a musical tableau. Of all the stories Vogel could have found to tell in her play about a play, she chooses the obvious and easily commercialized; and she does so with a vengeance, so insistent is her script on homogenizing the then and now, the past and present––just as mass media does it by leveling everything into the ‘contemporary,’ and requiring just as little of our imaginations. The characters, one feels, are written to vehicle and support this sentimentality and sensationalism, and thus are reduced more to caricatures of that which the author intends and want us to imagine them to be.

Yiddish, as others have observed, is the language through which the Jewish people entered modernity, and entered especially through Yiddish literary art and culture. As Mazower writes: “The former yeshiva student [Asch] had absorbed the latest trends in Polish, German, and Russian modernism and was now a cosmopolitan European writer.” Here is the story we should find within Got fun nekome, of its author Sholem Asch and its actors–the rupture and ‘leap,’ the transformation and metamorphosis in and through literature and literary culture, that Indecent completely ignores (if its author is even aware of it). Here, precisely, is the vital, essential story left unimagined, unwritten, undramatized.

Here too is the matrix from which emerge the struggles, the polemics over what Yiddish literature should include, what should be its purpose(s), and about what effect it had, or was imagined to have, on the views and attitudes about Jews held by the dominant host societies into which many Jews hoped to integrate if not assimilate and thus be more or less fully accepted as equal citizens. Presenting the latter, as the play does, through a few perfunctory declamations and shouts about “anti-Semitism,” whether that of the audiences or, as some accused, in the play itself, just doesn’t cut it.

There is little if any sense, in Vogel’s attempted characters, that these are Yiddish artists––multilingual and multicultural (as its now called) writers, dramaturgs, actors/actresses, natives of a complex and sophisticated Yiddish literary culture developing at a highly-accelerated, unprecedented pace. Of which Sholem Asch and his play is representative and openly exploring. Vogel’s script assumes we audiences know the culture, the thinking, the traversals through Jewish tradition to modernity, the artistic sensibilities from which, in which, Asch could write his play, and why it was then, and still is now, so compelling and accomplished, while also allowing, even inviting, transposition and interpretation.

But we, most of us anyway, do not know. And therein, as well, lies an untold story about which, through Indecent, Sholem Asch, his original play, Yiddish theatre and literature could have spoken, but do not.

With its ‘made-for-TV Jews’ (including most odiously, at the play’s end, its ‘Holocaust Ghetto Jews’), Indecent’s characters feel and its script reads like a Wikipedia entry that has been dramatized. Vogel does not have a command of the complexity and subtlety her subject and characters need here. Which is to be regretted. Because Rebecca Wright, the director of this production (the play’s regional premiere), along with its very able and honed cast members, clearly love and are dedicated to both Vogel’s play and to the language(s), meaning(s), and histories of Asch’s original. Regrettably again, Wright’s direction and the cast’s performances–however good, nuanced, and sensitive they can be, cannot provide or substitute for what Vogel the writer could not give her story and its characters.

Indecent is thus (something of) an idea for a play that waits to be written, with characters, not paint-by-number Jewish caricatures, with much more awareness and nuanced understanding and imagination of its subject(s). Indecent ends up–and surely this is not its author’s intention, doing to Sholem Asch’s play and to Asch himself what Fiddler on the Roof did to Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye der milkhiker (Tevye the Dairyman). Which is: simplistically caricature the complexities and ambiguities of the story and its characters, and more broadly of Yiddishkeit and Yiddish literary culture.

The fine production and performances of the Arden Theatre Company’s staging of Indecent, precisely because of their excellent quality, unfortunately, serve to reveal how full of self-congratulation are the comments (in the playbill) about the play’s alleged ‘insights’ and the overestimation of the script’s content and craft.

Franz Kafka (for whose writings Yiddish theatre infused vital possibilities), in one of his journals, refers to “a kind of congenital indifference to received ideas” that is his own. It is this indifference precisely that one needs when presented with the play Indecent, which attempts to use Yiddish artists, and Yiddish literature and literary culture, for sentimental effect, social statement and ideological purpose. An indifference to received ideas which is all the more necessary to a critical assessment of this play, whose merit is in inverse proportion to the extolment and acclaim it has largely received.

Indecent by Paula Vogel, directed by Rebecca Wright, and starring Doug Hara, Michaela Shuchman, Jaime Masada, Leah Walton, Ross Benchley, MB Scallen, and David Ingram, is currently running through June 23, 2019 at the Arden Theatre Company, 40 N. 2nd Street, Philadelphia, PA. For tickets and information, call: (215) 922-1122.

Does Temple University Condone Historical Revisionism?

By Melissa Landa, Ph.D.

Temple University professor Marc Lamont-Hill has spent the last three weeks sparring in-person and on-line with a group of Zionists who are no longer willing to sit idly by as he defames the Jewish people and promotes the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) campaign against Israel. On May 4, six members of the organization, Alliance for Israel—including Jews from South Africa and the former Soviet Union— attended and videotaped his participation on a panel at the University of Massachusetts where he refused to denounce the Hamas missiles that were landing in civilian areas in Israel as he spoke. We sat and watched in dismay as an Israeli among us was asked by Vijay Prashad, the moderator, to leave the auditorium after breaking down in tears and shouting that his friend in Israel had been killed in a terror attack, and we continued to listen in disbelief as Lamont-Hill argued that we need to reevaluate what constitutes terrorism.

Despite Lamont-Hill’s 2015 Huffington Post essay called, “Why Every Black Activist Should Stand With Rasmea Odeh,” in which he celebrated the convicted terrorist and murderer of two university students in a grocery store in Israel in1969, watching him condone terrorism was a moment I will not soon forget.

Three days later, when Alliance for Israel alerted the public about his behavior at the University of Massachusetts in a Twitter message, Lamont-Hill issued the unequivocal denial, “I literally did the opposite of everything you just said.”

Undeterred, as if engaging in a hazing process to earn himself a secure position among the leaders of the BDS campaign, on May 20, Lamont-Hill contradicted an autobiographical ethnography written by Hen Mazzig, an Israeli Mizrahi Jew, and an Alliance for Israel Advisory Board member. In response to Mazzig’s article in the Los Angeles Times that described his family’s violent oppression and expulsion from Iraq and their migration to safe haven in Israel, Lamont-Hill challenged Mazzig with the following outrageous claim about the origin of the Mizrahi Jews: “The racial and political project that transformed Palestinian Jews (who lived peacefully with other Palestinians) into the 20th century identity category of ‘Mizrahi’ as a means of detaching them from Palestinian identity.”

At best, Lamont-Hill has exposed his lack of historical and cultural knowledge of the Middle East and of the Jewish people. At worst, he is deliberately engaging in historical revisionism to facilitate his personal crusade against Israel, falsely portraying the Jewish state as a European colonial project, thus, justifying terrorism against innocent Israelis as noble Palestinian “resistance.” Regardless, Lamont-Hill’s actions warrant immediate attention from all Temple University stakeholders.

Temple University administrators should and must take disciplinary action against Lamont-Hill based on his failure to demonstrate intellectual and scholarly honesty and integrity as articulated by the American Association of University Professors. It would also behoove the administration to recall the 2014 incident when a member of Students for Justice (SJP) in Palestine punched a Jewish student in the face on the campus of Temple University and recognize that SJP is the official student arm of the BDS campaign that Lamont-Hill promotes.

If they are unwilling or unable to dismiss Lamont-Hill given their policies on promotion and tenure, the administration certainly should pursue other disciplinary actions, including denying him sabbatical and preventing him from advising doctoral students. In concert, Temple University alumni should begin to exercise their influence by withholding financial donations to their alma mater until the administration acts in accordance with the standards expected of an accredited American institution of higher education. Finally, Jewish students, prospective and current, should give serious thought to whether Temple University is an institution that will ensure their safety or a university that recognizes and respects their history and identity.

With three months before the start of the next academic year, Temple University has ample time to determine the nature of its affiliation with Professor Lamont-Hill and, in turn, with the American Jewish community.

Photo credit:Joe Piette https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/

Unflinching Eye on the Tough Issues of Israel

The twenty-third annual Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia may be the most thought provoking. It covers explosive topics that run the gamut from stolen identity, religious beliefs, cheating spouses, police corruption, the meaning of home, and living with developmental impairment. The festival opens March 16, 2019, at the Lightbox Film Center with The Unorthodox and runs through April 7, 2019, closing at the Perelman Theatre, Kimmel Center with The Other Story. “Every year we try to entertain, educate and evoke discussion on the issues facing our and every community across the country,” said Mindy Chriqui, festival Co-Executive Producer.

Echoing that sentiment and in time for the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, is the film, In Her Footsteps. The movie, screening Saturday, March 30, at Jack Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr, shines a spotlight on the first time a Muslim is asked to be buried in a Jewish town and the controversy surrounding what makes up a community. The film has received multiple awards and the Director Rana Abu Fraiha will be the guest speaker. Marcia Bronstein, Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee, (AJC) an organization committed to building inter-group and inter-religious relations explained, “Films like this make a powerful statement. They open dialogue and can help diametrically opposed groups find common ground. It is a way to combat hate.”

To highlight Autism Awareness Month in April is Shoelaces, playing Sunday, March 31 at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute. It is the touching story about the rights of a developmentally challenged son to donate a kidney to his estranged parent. Director Yankul Goldwasser, himself the father of a child with special needs, will attend the festival and answer questions after the film. Shoelaces is an engaging tale of optimism, warmth and the power of love, in an ever-shifting landscape.

The Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia is known for featuring the best in films from the Middle East. The industry has recently come into prominence with the popularity of such Netflix favorites as Fauda, Mossad and The Heroes Fly. A curated list of 2019 movies will be screened at various locations in both the city at the Ritz East, International House and the Kimmel Center and in the suburbs at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute, Gratz College and Jack Barrack Hebrew Academy.

IsraAID’s Work in Puerto Rico

This year Israel is the only fully-participating foreign country in the annual SOMOS conference for Hispanic leaders of New York.

As part of the conference, Israel’s Consulate General in New York has organized for over 60 participants to tour two specific IsraAID projects in Puerto Rico, as the island continues to recover from Hurricane Maria: the new gravitational sand water filtration system in Barrio Real, and the donation of medical supplies at a school in Caguas.

One year after Hurricane Maria swept across the Caribbean, the Israeli humanitarian aid organization IsraAID, which was one of the earliest international responders to the disaster, has renewed its commitment to the region. In Puerto Rico, where the official number of fatalities was recently raised from 64 to 2,975, IsraAID’s team is working with local partners to provide safe water and develop community resilience. Many of the island’s residents are still without electricity or safe water.

IsraAID’s emergency response team touched down in Puerto Rico in September 2017, only a few days after Hurricane Maria made landfall. The NGO has had a team on the island ever since, providing WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) solutions, emergency medical care, and mental health support. During the initial emergency response phase, IsraAID distributed water filters for 6,000 people in six remote communities, operated six mobile medical clinics, treating hundreds of people from some of Puerto Rico’s most deprived communities in nine different areas, provided direct mental health support in six shelters, and trained the staff of two hospitals in using expressive arts techniques to respond to trauma. Since the initial emergency response phase, IsraAID’s team on-the-ground has focused on developing long-term programs to help accompany Puerto Ricans on the journey towards recovery and a sustainable future.

In early October 2018, IsraAID and the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico will complete construction of a new gravitational sand water filtration system in Barrio Real, a small, rural community, which is not served by the island’s water system. After Hurricane Maria destroyed the community’s main water source, Barrio Real’s residents were left with no access to safe water. It took seven days for bottled water to reach the remote mountain village, during which time only unsafe river water was available. IsraAID distributed temporary household water filters in the initial weeks after the hurricane.

A year later, the residents of Barrio Real are still without a permanent, communal supply of safe water. The new filtration system does not require electricity, ensuring that it can continue to provide a sustainable source of safe water for future generations. Volunteers from San Juan’s Jewish community have been trained by IsraAID to provide door-to-door workshops on safe water and hygiene to the residents of Barrio Real, ensuring that the new water system will be fully utilized. Every currently occupied household has been reached.

The psychological and social effects of the hurricane are still being felt across the island. The recently announced increase in Maria’s death toll is a stark reminder of the disaster’s long-term impact. Since arriving in Puerto Rico, IsraAID’s team has utilized the organization’s long-held expertise in mental health and psychological support to strengthen the island’s capacity to cope with the crisis. As part of its long-term programming, IsraAID’s has partnered with ASPIRA, a local organization providing alternative schooling for 3,400 at-risk young people across the island. IsraAID’s psychosocial support specialists are training ASPIRA’s teachers in how to build their students’ resilience and provide post-trauma support as they recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria.

This Election and the Jews of America

— by Deanne Comer

The horrific, anti-Semitic act of violence that befell members of the Tree of Life synagogue of Pittsburgh brought to the forefront issues of divisiveness in our society and among American Jews.

Like many, I am fearful now for the future of my country that gave me security, opportunity and pride in its democratic principles and just societal values. Jews who are concerned and insecure will question the idea that America is our homeland in fact, and look to Israel as the authentic homeland likely to guarantee our survival as a people.

On Election Day, Jews might have voted for Republican candidates, believing fallaciously that the present Administration has supported Israel more than any other, and negating the reality that all US past administrations have reaffirmed Israel’s legitimacy.

We need to demonstrate our faith in the precepts of an America that absorbed us into its sumptuous landscape and gave us the boundless opportunity to translate the Judaic principles of Tikun Olam (to repair the world) into social action.

Reject the party that immorally urges persecution against “the other,” demonstrates inhumane border policies, urges verbal attacks on political opponents and our free press, spews hateful rhetoric, supports “good people” at white supremacist rallies, and lets political funding blind it to the need for gun control laws.

Say “Enough is enough” by voting for Democratic candidates who are committed to the premise that this undercurrent of hate and overt violence must… and can be stopped!

StandWithUs Israeli Soldiers Tour

By Ferne Hassan
Associate Director
StandWithUs/Mid-Atlantic Region

On October 14 two reservists will reveal their personal experiences in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). They will be in Philadelphia as part of StandWithUs “Israeli Soldiers Tour” (IST). These veterans will share stories from the front lines, not from the headlines. Ilan and Yuval (last names withheld for security purposes) will also share their backgrounds, life in Israel and answer any tough questions members from the audience wish to pose to them.

Ilan was born in Venezuela and moved to Israel in 2010. Ilan’s father is a Christian Venezuelan and his mother is the daughter of a Holocaust refugee. His home, education, and life have always exemplified multiculturalism and coexistence. Ilan served in the Humanitarian and Civil Affairs Unit in the IDF, also known as COGAT, working with Palestinian civilians and representatives in projects focused on improving the lives of Palestinian families. Ilan lives in Ramat Gan, Tel Aviv.

Yuval, 25, studies Law at the College of Management Academic Studies, in Rishon LeZion. At age 17 Yuval’s dance group won first place in a competition in Barcelona. At age 18, Yuval entered mandatory military service in the Israeli Air Force, administering tests both written and in a flight simulator to candidates for an Elite Pilots Course. After service, Yuval traveled by herself through Central and South America. Last year, she volunteered to be part of a humanitarian delegation to Tanzania helping renovate a school and taught children English and Mathematics. Yuval now lives in Kibbutz Palmachim.

Ilan and Yuval will speak at the Lower Merion Area Hebrew High School, Congregation Beth Or in Ambler, and the University of Pennsylvania Hillel.

A Granddaughter’s Holocaust Remembrance

By Rutie Eckdish

Gurs internment camp

Every morning, I get up, walk to my bathroom, turn on the hot water and stand under the shower to get my 60+ year old bones to work, and I think of my grandmother. No, I don’t think of the fake showers of the concentration camps, as you probably thought. When my grandmother, Flora Lotte Paradies, nee Loëwenstein was 60+, she was, indeed, taken from her home, along with most of the Jews of southern Germany, and sent west to one of the many German “holding camps” on the Spanish-French border, known generically as Gurs.
I am now about the same age she was when she was taken away from her home. When she was my age, Flora Lotte had no shower, no hot water, no running water, no food, no paper to write on, no band aid to put on a sore finger, no cream to put on her face. She had no towel, no toilet paper, no toilet to speak of. And in those conditions, she lived for over 4 years.
When she was my age, my grandmother was put on a train with her husband, Julius Paradies, taller than she was by 2 feet and 2 years younger, and sent west to the unknown. The trip took several days, and if she had a place to sit, she probably shared it with him, or with other people. They each had a suitcase, probably, packed with the things you take when going to the unknown. Toiletry? Towels? Toilet paper? Books? What do you take when you don’t know where you are going to nor for how long or what to expect? Do you take slippers? Shoes, I was told by others, was the first thing you lost as you stepped off the train and set foot in the muddy soil of the Pyrenees mountains. Do you take your address book with you? Your favorite fountain pen or a pencil? And what do you do when you ran out of ink? How many clothes can you stuff into one small suitcase, and what happened to the coat you took off in the suffocating, stuffy, airless train ride?
When the train stopped, Omi and Julius and the others on that train arrived in Gurs, or in Récébédou, or in Nexon, or in one of the other satellite camp in the PyreneesMountains. The camps were originally erected as interim housing for 15-20 thousand Spanish refugees after the Spanish civil war by the French government. The Germans took it over in 1940 and housed, by some accounts, over 120,000 people, most of them Jewish, with no upgrades: no baths, no showers, no running water, no food, no shelter from the rain other than leaking roofs, no shelter from the scorching heat other than tar-covers roofs in the long summers, no shelter from the howling winds other than drafty walls in the awful long winters. No place to hide your few valuables you brought along to barter or bribe or maybe save. No where to place your spoon if you brought one or if you found one. No place to hang your towel, if you had one. No closet, no shelf, no cover, no pillow. No safe place to put your glasses when you take them off at night. No soap, once the piece you were smart enough to bring with you was gone, or maybe fell into the mud and you lost it when you walked for the first time to the make-shift sink.
No place of your own.
For over 4 years.
When I was little, I had various nicknames. My favorite was ‘the Little Paradies’, because, so I was told, I looked like her. I could never see it, of course. I recall being about 8 or 10, standing next to her and asking her if I will ever be as tall as she was. In no time, she answered me, though I could not see it. Just a few years later I towered over her 4’-10”, and she reminded me of that conversation. She was protective and she loved me, and she laughed with me. She was all that a grandma should be: loving without reservations, generous, smiling, and above all imbuing in me the sense of worth of my own importance as a person.
I have pictures of my Omi and me as I grew up, and as I age I see the family resemblance. I have pictures at home all around me of both my grandfathers whom I never met and of my Eckdish grandmother who was deported and died in the Piaski Camp, in the east. I have since lost my father, and my mother who died 34 years after him. I come from a line of longevity: My Omi died peacefully at her home in Israel near me and with my mother (her daughter) present, at the age of 92 of heart failure due to old age.
As I grow older, I become more aware of my parents and grandparents. I am less angry at what was not said or not shared; and I understand that much better how they lived, loved, interpreted their realities, what they learned and what they taught me. And what I learned from each. The older I get, the closer I get to the visceral and existential survival of the daily horrors. I get up every morning, gingerly and safely walk to my bathroom, turn on the hot water to the right heat and stand under the shower to rinse my eyes and start the day – and I think of my Omi. I can’t help it: I feel guilty for having the luxuries she was denied for over four year. And I cannot shake the sense that I would not have survived her ordeal. My Omi was not a hero, and I am not a coward. She came out of this imprisonment without ever calling it hardship, imprisonment, captivity, or denial. She put it behind her and never talked about it. My sister and I never asked, fearing of awakening in her nightmares she probably had and never shared. My Omi never told us about it in fear of awakening in us nightmares.
So I have my day-mares.
I feel guilty when I pick up my glasses off the shelf, take out clean underwear from the drawer, pick out another clean shirt I did not wear yesterday, lace my shoes up, and sit down to have a breakfast of champions. Every morning, as I get up and walk to my bathroom, turn on the hot water and stand under the shower to get my 60+ year old bones to work, I think of my warmly smiling grandmother who would probably have the right words to say to sooth my pain of guilt and inadequacy.
Few books were written about the endurance of the concentration camps that were not the crematoria or did not have death march, did not have the horrible factories, the hundreds of camps that were not freed by the Allies, the thousand of people who endured day after day for years in camps that no movie were made for. So, I carry the guilt of mundane forgetfulness, too.
One of my 7th grade students came back from a trip to Europe and asked to share his experience with his the class. No special occasion, no Holocaust day. Steven brought to class 6 x 8 pictures and passed them around. The pictures showed the long benches of the concentration camps, the mounds of shoes and glasses, and the likes. I have to admit I was unmoved by seeing it again. Then, Steven showed a picture of a niche with a bucket and said: this was the bathroom. There were some uncomfortable giggles, and then the questions: where is the door, or a curtain? Water? Sink? And then the giggles became very uncomfortable, when the realization set in: this was not about 6 million, or about the endless rows of torture. This is about the daily humanity stripped. And this bathroom – so to speak – is a universal value, it seems.
The Holocaust is indeed the attempt not only to annihilate the existence of Jewish people, it was an attempt to strip individuals of their humanity and human values. Among the few things Flora Lotte Paradies brought with her from the camp is a piece of brown paper with some colored drawing, a thank-you note from one of her colleagues for the piece of bread she shared on her friend’s birthday. And that is what I think of as I step out of my warm shower into my day.

Rutie Eckdish is currently a full time freelance Hebrew – English court and conference interpreter as well as medical and legal translator. She is a veteran Hebrew teacher and now teaches adults in private setting.