This is the letter that I would have written before the main event in Yerushalaim.
I arrived in New York and from there, after a week of shiurim in various places, I began the process of meeting the Neve girls where they are-in four different cities.
Each place was a journey. When the girls saw the posters of themselves and of their “foremothers”, the girls who were in Neve decades before them, something happened. They were able to look at themselves, and chart their progress. Usually you are so involved with the moment that there isn’t the headspace to look at who you were, and how many miles you travelled. One of the girls found herself asking, “was that me?” not because she actually looked so different (I, on the other hand, am totally unrecognizable as Myself Of The 70’s). She saw the curiosity, innocence, willingness to learn morphing into achievement and a certain sort of spiritual stability for herself and her family (who didn’t exist, of course, when the picture was taken). I found myself floating into the world of “what if”.
What if Rabbi Refson would have never put the original ad in the Jerusalem Post. What if he would have said, “I was looking for young men”, and politely told the original 6 that he really doesn’t have a program for them after all.? What would have happened if he would have turned his back on Neve after the first crisis? What would have happened to half of the girls if they would have let their love of comfort outshout their love of truth? What would have happened if Hashem didn’t help us and guide us all along?
I encounter the former Neve girls vicariously. I meet their daughters in Bnos Avigail, in Bnos Sarah, and in the other sems when they end up eating in my house because my number is on their Shabbos list. I meet the second and third generations in Kiryat Sefer, and Beitar, and in every place in the Great World where you find Shomrei Torah.
When I was growing up, my friends in Bais Yaakov by and large were the children of survivors. There were many exceptions, but that was the rule. They often didn’t have many relatives, and certainly not grandparents. Because they were the majority, their empty places, numerous yahrzeit candles, and acceptance of the horrors of the holocaust seemed absolutely normal. The spiritual holocaust that is taking place in America has already taken more victims than the physical one in Europe. It too seems normal. There are two critical differences. The first and most obvious one is that the indescribable torment of the holocaust’s early days when the impossible began to happen, and the agony of the seemingly endless days until it played itself out has no parallel in the American experience. Jews disappear into the bottomless pit of assimilation in an inviting and tolerant society and never re-surface. The second is that the survivors understood what had happened, it was (often times literally) engraved upon them. Those who lose their connection to Judaism, Torah, and any awareness of Hashem, usually don’t regret the loss because they never had anything more. One of the ways that people dealt with their holocaust reality was through bonding with other survivors. If you lived through it, and were still frum, you were almost like a relative. What I saw in America was that the Neve girls (who are now women, some of the grandmothers) still relate to each other as “lager shvesters” sisters of the camps. They all know what it is to have to write their own stories from chapter one, without the support of relatives. They know how to put up with living in a society in which they are not always understood. But they survived, and if you were there, and now here, you remember
Each trip to the Kotel
Each deep talk with a new “sister”
Each class that shook your assumptions
Each encounter with families that you wish were you in the future
Each holiday that suddenly had meaning
Each walk down HaPisga
Led you to new inner realizations
Those of you who were There and those of you who were not, but are reading this letter anyway (although it might be a bit tedious, like going to someone else’s class reunion is bound to be) can let yourself be moved.
Soon it will be Chanukah, the celebration of miraculous light in the midst of the darkness. The Leviim whose job it was to maintain the Bais HaMikdash were very well organized. Each group were called a “Shaar”. The group who had to face the Kohein Gadol, Matisyahu, who had to tell him (initially) that there was no pure oil left , may have expected him to give up. Even after the vial of pure oil was found (there are those who say that Matisyahu himself had preserved a vial while the temple had not yet been desecrated. Although he was not in charge of seeing that there was oil for the menorah, one of his duties included doing specific offerings. The “minchah” didn’t require the extremely pure oil used for the menorah, but he wanted to do things with the maximum, level of perfection, a therefore had put aside some very pure oil with his own seal). Finding it in the total chaos of the desecrated Bais HaMikdash was another matter. The Leviim had to scrape away images, clear out every vestige of idol worship, put aside the stones that were defiled, and finding a small vial of oil wasn’t a simple task. If I was there, I can picture myself thinking that there would have to be some sort of compromise. Even after the vial was found, there was clearly not enough. Why even begin? Perhaps they realized that one day, there would be light so bright that it would last thousands of years, so that it could be seen…
When two girls share their thoughts in the dorm
And let the light of Torah shake their assumptions
About family, and about building
And about Hashem’s presence in our lives On Pisga or on Kablan Streets.
The Charidy campaign is still happening today and tomorrow.
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