Given my time spent in Warsaw, I want to share a few thoughts I found about Irena Sendler
Last year was the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The few survivors of that revolt are, if still alive, in their 80s and 90s but today there is more interest than ever in the different aspects of the historical episode. Today the Polish Jewish Historical Institute offers tours of the site, hidden archives have been discovered and their materials published and Holocaust museums such as the United States Holocaust Museum and Yad Vashem continue to conduct research and uncover new information about life in the ghetto, the individuals who lived in the ghetto and the uprising itself. Some of the information has come from unlikely sources.
In 1999 a group of non-Jewish schoolgirls embarked on a social studies project in which they were assigned to research the Holocaust. The girls became intrigued by a chance remark that they heard regarding a non-Jewish Polish woman, Irena Sendler, who had successfully saved over 2500 children from the ghetto. The girls began to investigate the story and were soon caught up in the saga of how Sendler smuggled hundreds of children out of the ghetto and ensured their survival. The girls' project was published and has since become a book, a website and a performance which, over the last 10 years, has been viewed by audiences throughout the world. The project also spawned the Lowell Milken Center where student projects of unsung heroes are displayed.
Irena Sendler was a Polish social worker when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939. When the Nazis built the Warsaw ghetto in 1940 they interned almost half a million Jews within the ghetto walls . Sendler, who had joined the Zagota Polish underground, procured papers which allowed her to enter the ghetto as an expert in infectious diseases.
At first Sendler tried to bring food and medicines into the ghetto but as time went by she realized that she could save more lives if she concentrated to bringing people out of the ghetto. She decided to put her efforts into removing children from the ghetto because, she realized, it was easier to remove them and easier to hide them once they were on the Aryan side of the ghetto walls. Sendler began to smuggle children out of the ghetto, sedating them and hiding them under her tram seat, in a workman's toolbox or even in carts under garbage or barking dogs. Zagota members helped Sendler lead the older children out of the ghetto through the sewers that ran underneath the city or through a hidden passageway that was located in the Old Courthouse at the edge of the ghetto.
Sendler's early efforts were aimed at the street children who were left orphans after their parents died or were deported. After a few weeks she began to approach parents and ask them to allow her to take their children out of the ghetto. These were heart wrenching moments for both Sendler and the parents. The parents had to decide whether their children would have the best chance of survival in the ghetto with their families or on their own among Polish non-Jews. "I talked the mothers out of their children" Sendler later said of the scenes in which she tried to convince families to allow her to rescue their children.
The second part of the operation involved securing hiding places for the children. Sendler carefully recorded the names and hiding places of each child on pieces of tissue paper which she then hid in glass jars that were buried in her yard, hoping to reunite them with their families after the war. The children were hidden in convents and orphanages throughout Poland as well as with sympathetic Polish families.
Sendler was captured by the Gestapo in October 1943. The Germans imprisoned and tortured her but she didn't reveal any information about the children's whereabouts. The Germans signed a death decree against her but her Zagota comrades were able to secure her release and she lived out the rest of the war in hiding.
Sendler was still alive in 2003 as the Kansas schoolgirls were completing their project. They traveled to Warsaw and met with Sendler. Media outlets got wind of the story and began to publicize the story which has now reached millions of people around the world.
When I first entered Yeshiva, black or blue velvet tefillin bags, with 770, Crowns or (oddly) Sheaves of Wheat were the standard for teffilin bag art. These bags were then shoved with a chitas and a pushka into a plastic vinyl bag.
Suddenly, though, double bags - like mini-tallis bags that could hold both Rashis and Rabeinu Tams - came on to the scene. At first they were velvet, but soon leather bags became the standard.
I desperately wanted one - but for whatever reason, it never came to be.
|Holding my original, velvet, tefillin bag.|
Flash forward to the time before my wedding. Now, at last, I could get real double bag. This one would be for my tallis of course . . .
At first my shiny, black new bag was very exciting. Soon, however, I began to notice various flaws in its design. As anyone who followed me on Twitter may recall, the shoulder strap for the bag was attached by a snap. One wrong turn or the like, and the snap would come undone - leaving the tallis bag to fall to the ground. What was more, the leather was of poor quality. It felt stiff and the suede on the side quickly tore.
When Chana surprised me with a new Tallis bag as an anniversary present last year, I was more than ready to switch.
The bag, designed by Aliza Judaica Creations
, was worlds beyond the previous one.
The shoulder strap attaches to the side with swivel snap hooks - so no worries about it falling.
As to the bag itself, made with soft Corinthian leather
, it still looks remarkable after a year of use. The custom embroidering on the bag still looks sharp as well. While this bag doesn't fall, thanks to an actual working shoulder strap, it still gets considerable millage between all the trips to shul, in the car and on the plane. The fact that it's held up so well is truly a testament to its remarkable craftsmanship.
This is the second product we've gotten from Aliza (the first being the gorgeous challah cover I gave Chana for her birthday) and we can't recommend her work more highly.
|My Grandparent's wedding at the East London Synagogue|
I wonder some times about the passing of time. At times it feels like a never-ending continuous loop, day in day out, a winter's night and a summers day . . . and suddenly - moments there are clarifying moments . . . When the house is silent, and I sit by my computer, awake as I procrastinate on some random assignment . . . I wonder when things came to this moment.
When did the baby that was born yesterday learn to walk and (begin to)talk? When did Poland suddenly become 6 years ago - or my first day in Yeshivah a decade ago?
When a gigabyte go from an awe inspiring amount of storage capacity on the computer I got for my Bar Mitzvah become virtually negligible space on a storage card the size of a coffee bean?
|My sister and me - on the set of The Net, 1994|
I look at the cars from my youth, and they look like shoe boxes . . .
And I realize this is all only a blip. Suddenly the Sixties went from being in the past . . . to an era closer to my own birth than to the present.
|My father on the set of Echoes of a Summer. This photo was taken 10 years before I was born. My father is younger than I am now in this photo.|
I think to the youth of my parents.
I think back to my grandfathers - the world they were born in and the questions I never asked. My paternal grandfather fought in WWII. My maternal, stationed on a US base as a dental technician during the Korean War.
So many questions I never asked.
How the different the world was then . . .
My maternal grandfather was born in Williamsburg, before anyone outside the working class would ever call it home. He grew up in the Village where his fathers sold Yiddish Newspapers near Washington square. Here he grew up in the greatest city in the world . . . and we never spoke about it. Did he root for the Yankees or the Dodgers? (My guess? The Bronx Bombers) What is it like to visit Cooney Island when it was the
place to visit on a hot summers day?
What will my children think of me? Of my writings and experiences? Will my grandchildren look at my birth at the turn of the century with the same wonder that has always made 1895 seem so much further back in our past than 1902?
My only solace is the eternity of Torah. When nothing else is a constant . . . when culture changes by the hour and looks so foreign by the end of the day . . .
Continuing on our Mexican Pesach, we journeyed to La Paz from Todos Santos
After spending an evening at the lovely Club El Moro
, we set off for Playa Balandra. A narrow bay, the water is perfectly clear, calm and current-less. Through out most of the bay it was only knee deep - and hip deep at its deepest points.
Click on the link to enjoy the photos!
|Boo says NO! NO! That's our kayak!|
Back at La Paz, we walked down the Malecón boardwalk.
As our time in Baja drew to a close, Chana and I decided to travel to neighboring cities Todos los Santos on the Pacific coast, and La Paz on the Sea of Cortes.
Click on the link to enjoy Todos Santos - the magical city . . .
While Cabo has become something of a massive tourist sink-hole, catering more to Americans more interested in Corona and golf, Todos Santos retains much of its original charm.
|The murals seem to be dated to the 1930s|
|Tefilin with Velvel|
Next up? La Paz, the city of John Steinbeck.
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