Foundation. Roots. Generation within Strength. Discipline. Judgement. Boundaries.
Thursday, May 2
Today, still sick, I saved up all my energy credits so that I could sing tonight at a very special event. I was asked by more than one person if I could call in sick. No way. Here’s why...
Tonight at our community Yom HaShoa - Holocaust Remembrance Day - commemoration, we honored a very special woman in our community. She (and those who share in her experience) is the embodiment of Yesod SheBiG’vurah. Her name is Henia Lewin, and she is a survivor of the Kovno Ghetto of Lithuania. She was smuggled out of the ghetto in a suitcase as a toddler by her courageous mother. Now, nearly 80 years old, she continues to travel wherever she is called to tell her story, to teach potential bystanders to become potential upstanders. She is the Foundation of our Strength.
She also has been a teacher of Hebrew, Yiddish, and Yiddishkeit for many, many years. She teaches people of all ages. She teaches in classrooms, in shul libraries, in living rooms, in sanctuaries. She has taught in elementary schools, universities, and everything in between. I have sat with her for many an hour studying Hebrew and being coached in Yiddish. She was, in fact, my first Hebrew teacher.
So, having been asked by Henny - truly an integral Root of my development over the last however-many-years - to sing at her special evening, I was not going to let one more day of crushing fatigue stop me. It was worth it.
I’ve chosen not to tell much of her story here. Rather, I’ll let her tell you herself. She has told her story numerous times for The Moth Radio Hour. Click here to listen in, and meet this remarkable woman I’m proud to call my friend and teacher.
I would also like to honor my friend Anne Sbarge. Due also to the courage of her parents, help from surprising connections, and a series of moments that can only be described as miracles, she and her parents were able to escape the increasingly hostile environment of the Nazi occupation in 1930’s France, where they lived, and settle in the United States. Perhaps the most astounding connection was with a longtime friend, who married the man who became the chief of German command in France. This connection became their passage out of Paris, which would otherwise have been impossible.
Anne leads a different life than does Henny. Also a voracious leaner and generous teacher - she, too, made her career in teaching - she stays close to home, where she is part of the care team for her infirm husband. She is a bright light in the community in which she lives. She is the glue that holds her larger-than-tiny, smaller-than-large Jewish community together inside the Catholic assisted living facility that she calls home. Anne is open-hearted, and exemplifies the value of machrio l’chaf zechut - Judging others in the best possible light.
Anne is, in an interesting way, also a direct Root of my existence as a Hazzan. You see, had it not been for the survival of Anne’s family, we would not have her younger brother, Hazzan Jack Kessler, who was born some time after the family settled here. Another remarkable and generous spirit, Hazzan Jack has mentored - lovingly and with great Gevurah - a generation of Hazzanim through the Aleph Ordination Program. I am one of the happy recipients of his wisdom, skill, artistry, and love of Hazzanut and Jewish prayer.
Today, may we feel our connection with those who Root us in our Strength.