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What Would My Grandfather Say?

Blog.jpgWhen my mother was 16 years old, she discovered a paper in her father's Talmud which read, “In memory of my wife Chana, and my daughters Esti and Zlata.” Shocked, she asked her father to explain. His face lost all color and he froze, completely unable to answer.

My grandfather never spoke about his experiences at Auschwitz. Never! He took the horrors he witnessed and pain he experienced to the grave.

I know the memories stayed with him–vividly, because I used to hear him scream in his sleep. The suffering he experienced is indescribable, his misery unimaginable. Today, it is clear that he almost certainly suffered from severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

My mother was able to find out from her uncle that her father had previously been married, and his wife and both daughters were murdered by the Nazis. On May 18th 1944, my grandfather was deported from Hungary with his wife and two daughters, Esti, 4, and Zlata, 7. Pushed out of the cattle cars at Auschwitz, Dr. Joseph Mengele immediately sent the children to the left and their parents to the right. Their mother refused to part with her children and within hours the three of them had been gassed and cremated. May G-d avenge their deaths.

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Last weekend I attended a Belev Echad reunion in Jerusalem, with all the participants from all our past trips. What a pleasure to catch up with these heroes and witness the remarkable amount of progress they have made in their mental and physical recovery!

On Friday we visited the kotel, driven in style on 30 motorcycles. One of the soldiers with us was my dear friend Ohad Ben Ishay, who came to New York on the 2015 Belev Echad trip. Ohad was one of the most severely wounded soldiers of the past war, Operation Protective Edge. He suffered major injuries to head and to his body, and he lost the ability to speak. On his trip in 2015 he put on tefillin but was unable to say the shema.

Well, fast forward to 2017 and I asked him if he'd like to put on tefillin at the kotel, which he did, and lo and behold he was able to say the shema! These are the first words I have heard him say since his injury. I was incredulous at his progress; he is able to speak a little, and to hear him say the shema was deeply moving.

I wondered, if he were alive, what my grandfather might say.

Most certainly he would say Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokenu Hashem Echad!

I feel certain he would look with pride and gratitude at our incredible and courageous IDF soldiers who put their own lives on the line on a daily basis to keep us all safe and to ensure that "never again!" actually means "never again!"

He would say the shema, expressing his gratitude to the Almighty for the transformation that has occurred since that fateful day in 1944. He would thank G-d for the super power that Israel has become.

And he would look with wonder upon the many living, healthy descendants he has from his second marriage, something that at one point surely seemed unimaginable.

Kicked Off Our Flight!

Blog.jpgI love traveling, but I hate flying. The lines are long, the airlines charge for everything that was once free, seats have become narrower, and flights are more packed than ever. Certainly, the average flight is far from a comfortable experience! I just disembarked a flight from JFK to Israel, where I am spending the weekend at a Belev Echad reunion with a number of the soldiers we have hosted over the years. While in the air, I couldn’t stop thinking about the horrific treatment Dr. David Dao was subjected to on his flight last week, when he was dragged, bloodied and screaming, off a United Airlines airplane after refusing to give up his seat for a commuting crew member. He was mistreated, physically violated, and grossly disrespected, all because the airline overbooked the flight. He suffered a concussion, a broken nose, a sinus injury, and two broken teeth from the incident. Video footage ignited a firestorm of anger and outrage against United. United has lost several hundred million dollars since the incident, but the real danger is the outraged customers. Polls from Morning Consult revealed that 60% of potential fliers would prefer to take a longer flight with a stop-over on a different airline, than take a direct, quicker flight with United. ~~~~~~~~~ We are all currently on a journey, on an airplane heading towards our destination. We just marked the beautiful holiday of Passover and began the countdown towards Shavuot. It is a mitzvah to count each day in anticipation, until we reach the destination, Shavuot, which marks the day we received the Torah. There are precisely 49 days between these two holidays, and it is a mitzvah to count each and every one. But it’s not just about the counting. The counting period is a time of personal spiritual refinement, a time to work on ourselves and become better people. We may find that just as we’ve settled down, ready to fulfill our mission, we are “kicked off our flight” — i.e., the evil inclination tries to derail us. He wants to kick us out of our seats and off the plane. Instead of focusing on spending quality time with our loved ones, the evil inclination pulls us towards our smart phones which make it all too compelling to ignore everything and everyone nearby. Instead of focusing on helping others and feeling grateful for everything we have, our evil inclination ensures that all we care about is obtaining more and living more luxuriously. Instead of allowing us to cultivate selflessness, he tempts us with self-gratification. Instead of conducting business honestly and morally, he convinces us that it’s ok to lie and cheat. Let’s be conscious of the evil inclination’s attempts to derail us, and stand firm in our decision to stick to the journey, so that we can march forth, unobstructed, to the holiday of Shavuot, and receive the Torah with great joy and excitement.

Brand New Car

Blog.jpgThis week I took our car to a car wash, and not just any car wash. Because I needed to make sure no remnant of chametz remains before Pesach, I chose the VIP wash.

With five kids, trust me, the back of that car was well beyond dirty. In fact, I wondered how in the world they could make that much of a mess!

How would they take my messy car and transform it in a shiny, good-as-new car?

First, the car was cleaned externally. A pressure sprayer covered the car with soap, and together with strong, foam brushes and power-sprayed water, all the layers of dirt on the outside of the car were stripped away.

Next, four attendants worked on the inside of the car. They went through the entire car, vacuuming the floors, wiping down the dashboard, steering wheel, and windows. Nothing was left untouched.

Lastly, three coats of wax were applied to the car, making it as shiny as a brand-new penny.

In just an hour they had completely changed my car. It looked and felt as good as the day I got it.  

This is what Pesach is all about.

Chametz represents the ego and our poor character traits—our bad moods, addictions, etc. When we are commanded to remove all chametz from our possession, it includes this internal chametz too.

It’s time for a major overhaul—internal and external—just like my car. We need to remove every piece of dirt that tarnishes our souls, but unlike a car, we can’t just drive up to a car wash and let the attendants do the work. The only person who can do the deep inner work to remove the blemishes from our souls is us.

So what are we waiting for? Pesach starts in just a few days. Let’s get to work!

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