Editor’s Note: This blog entry about a shofar blown in Auschwitz is adapted from an entry on the Ramaz School website. Ramaz School is a co-educational, Modern Orthodox Day School located on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, and is affiliated with Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun.
It’s impossible to imagine that anything more could have been added to further enhance one of the greatest moments the Ramaz ninth graders could experience, and yet the kolot—the the voices of several guests—succeeded in doing just that.
On Friday morning, freshmen students, after saying slichot, walked to the Chapel in Kehilath Jeshurun, to say Tefilat Shacharit, and to learn about the shofar from Auschwitz. The story of this shofar has been written about by Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz in his opinion piece published by the Washington Post: “On Rosh Hashanah, a Note Blown on This Ram’s Horn Will Echo All the Way from Auschwitz“. The Rabbi spoke to the students and shared the history of the shofar, and the honor that was given to Kehilath Jeshurun to have the shofar blown for this first Yom Tov in the United States.
Rabbi Kenneth Schiowitz, Chair of the Talmud Department, took on the challenge of engaging a generation of students who, understandably, learn about the Shoah mainly from films or stories.
Rabbi Schiowitz began:
Every day, you have the opportunity to learn Jewish history and Jewish tradition, in order to learn the roots of our religious identity. However, it is very rare that we get the chance to touch, to feel, or to hear our history through our own senses. In a moment we will have that opportunity through the survivors who are in this room, both the people and the shofar from Auschwitz.
And that’s exactly what made this shofar’s sound all the more powerful—namely, the people who joined this program, and added their kolot.
Mr. William Bernheim is 97, and a Holocaust survivor. Mr. William Bernheim is 97, and a Holocaust survivor. Willy was separated from his mother and sent to the Lodz Ghetto where he wrote poetry and created drawings that depicted his environment. He went on to survive Buchenwald Concentration Camp and then to build a thriving family after the war. His grandchildren David and Taylor, and his four year old great grandson were by his side. Mr. Bernheim called upon our students to raise their voices against evil, and sadly acknowledged that 75 years later, blatant antisemitism is on the rise again.
Sophomore Clemi’s words resounded with emotion and passion. Clemi sat close to her grandma Rachel Roth, a 94 year old Holocaust survivor, and it was apparent that their connection is a deeply rooted one. Without hesitation, facing 90 of her peers, Clemi read aloud a short excerpt from her Grandma Rachel Roth’s book HERE, There Is No Why. She chose to read the paragraph that told of the last time that her grandmother heard the shofar during the Holocaust on Yom Kippur, 1939.
“On this Day of Atonement the synagogue is overflowing with people. The men, wrapped in their white robes and prayer shawls, pray fervently. Women are sobbing, asking God to take pity on us. The children are whining in fear. As we pray, the Germans press their attack on the Jewish Quarter. Evening falls, and the prayers and fasting come to a close. I hear the wail of the Shofar. Outside, the shooting continues. Houses are collapsing, burying victims alive. A few days later all of Poland was in German hands.”
In conclusion, Clemi remarked: My grandmother promised a stranger that she would survive to tell her story. Similarly, the person who gave Mr. Tydur the shofar for safekeeping also gave him the obligation to share the story of the shofar and the story of the Jewish people in Auschwitz. As the Shofar blows its message, I too will continue to tell my grandmother’s story.”
And then all stood as the shofar blast sounded. Tekiyah!