This is my children’s great grandfather. We call him Papa.
He is 94 years old and a Holocaust survivor. When we moved to Israel in 2003, my husband’s grandfather, our Papa, danced with us at the airport. He was sad to see us go, but he was thrilled that we were fulfilling a national dream.
Papa was one of thirteen brothers and sisters. When the Nazi regime came into power in Czechoslovakia during the Second World War, his parents were murdered. His younger brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, friends and family were murdered. Papa was 15 when he entered the concentration camps. Through strength and miracles, he survived, along with 6 of his older brothers and sisters. When he was liberated at age 16, he wanted nothing more than to immigrate immediately to Israel, to fight for a homeland he believed the Jews needed.
His doting older sisters had other plans for him though. They brought their baby brother to America, where he eventually made a life for himself, marrying and raising three children and many grandchildren.
Today, Papa is mourning the death of his 99 year old brother, who was fortunate enough to live a long, good life. The two of them survived the atrocities of the Holocaust, of brutality against Jews, together.
And today, my son, Papa’s great grandson has been deployed to fight for our nation against the brutal Jew haters of modern times in Gaza. In a surprising twist of fate, my son’s second cousin (another of Papa’s great grandsons) has been deployed in the very same unit, ready together to defend our people and our nation in a way that we, historically, haven’t been able to – for 2000 years since the destruction of the last Jewish State.
This Shmini Atzeret, was an unspeakably horrible day, the bloodiest day for the Jews since the Holocaust. So many of our people were killed in such a horrific way. It seems like the darkest of times for our nation.
But there is a light shining bright in the darkness: a light of hope.
Through the grace of God, we Jews now have our own land, self-governance, strong borders, arms and weaponry, and cutting-edge technology. We can actually defend ourselves for the very first time in our history of exile. Part of this is thanks to the fact that for the past 75 years millions of Jews have poured into Israel from all over the world, from places of persecution and peace. In addition to our faith, we now have additional strength in the form of manpower and our unity as a people in our own land. My son and his second cousin will fight together.
Last Shabbat was a heart-wrenching reminder of the shocking anti-semitism that still exists. But it can also serve as a reminder that we Jews have a country, a safe haven, and it belongs to each and every one of us, to build up and defend. It is our right and responsibility to do so.
For Papa, and for so many Jews throughout history, this is what we have desperately wanted for so very long.