Dear WJC Family,
On Wednesday I heard one of the most emotional renditions of Hatikvah, the Israeli National Anthem, of my life. And that’s saying something, as I have been known to get teary when hearing Hatikvah at Israeli Independence Hall, Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball game openings or even when watching on television as Linoy Ashram and Artem Dolgopyat stood atop the podium at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. But this was another level.
We were at the Leffell School for the Senior Sendoff Tekes (ceremony). The students were there, grades 8-11, along with the seniors and their families. After an emotional 25 minutes or so of presentations and rituals, we rose for the Hatikvah before escorting our seniors to the buses that would take them to the airport for their flight to Poland. Elijah and his classmates, including two other seniors from WJC, left for a two-month educational experience called “Lev v’Nefesh” – one week in Poland and seven in Israel.
So, what was I thinking about as tears streamed down my face in the school gym while three students led us in the Hatikvah accompanied by another student on the violin? First I was thinking how excited, and nervous, I am for Elijah to have a powerful experience that I have never had. That is a moment that must be named in parenthood – when a child’s experiences outstrip those of the parent – what we all dream of and also pretty scary. Then I was thinking that the next time Elijah sings these words, he will likely be on the grounds of Auschwitz. Then the next time will likely be in Jerusalem. Not only was I amazed by the intensity of a week like that and the different valences of the song in those different places; I was also amazed by how that journey parallels one taken by Tami’s grandparents and father 73-years ago.
After surviving The Shoah as refugees in Russia, they returned to Poland to find any surviving family members. They found none. After five frustrating years living as strangers in the land of their nativity, they got visas to immigrate to Israel. They arrived there as refugees in 1950. Miraculously they found four of Tami’s grandmother’s siblings had survived and were living in New Jersey. And so they moved one last time, in 1957, to Paterson, NJ. As I listened to the last chords of Hatikvah (L’hiyot Ahm Chofshi b’Artzenu, Eretz Tzion v’Yerushalayim) I was struck by how Elijah, a proud and fortunate American-Jew, was about to walk in the footsteps of his great-grandparents and saba, from Poland to Israel and then coming back to America, but he is able to do so without the fear and uncertainty that accompanied them as refugees and pioneers.
This is not only the story of our family. It is the story of so many families, Jewish and otherwise. It is one of the reasons immigration and refugee support are such important Jewish values. It goes back to our flight from Egypt in this week’s parsha all the way to the present. That’s why we are proud to continue our participation in HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) Shabbat. On Saturday morning we will hear from a Ukrainian refugee who came to our area with her son at the start of the war in Ukraine (her husband was required to stay in Ukraine). She has been supported by The Welcoming Circle, an extraordinary group of volunteers from WJC and Larchmont Temple, will share some of her experiences. She has a translator that helps her so that we will all be able to understand her powerful talk. We will also share more information about HIAS, the Westchester Jewish Coalition for Immigration and The Welcoming Circle.
I hope you will join us for what should be an interesting and moving Shabbat, along with services on Friday and Saturday evenings at 5pm.
See you in shul,