Other than the Shema, there is arguably no more universally Jewish prayer than kaddish.
There are Jews who seldom set foot in a synagogue and practice few if any rituals at home. But Jews of every stripe, including secularists, agnostics and atheists, go to funerals where kaddish, the prayer of sanctification, is recited. Although it is known as the mourners’ prayer, there is no reference to mourning in the text, and the prayer, in addition to being recited at funerals and memorial events, is recited three times a day during morning, afternoon and evening services. It was recited on Wednesday by President Reuven Rivlin on the site of what was formerly the Jasenovac extermination camp in Croatia, where tens of thousands of Serbs, Roma, Jews, Croats, Hungarians and Bosnian Muslims were murdered during the Second World War.
The camp was established by the notorious Ustaše regime and functioned from August 1941 to April 1945. Most of the executions of Jews took place prior to August 1942. It has been impossible for historians to arrive at an exact figures of victims murdered at Jasenovac, but a monument that serves as a reminder of man’s cruelty to man has been erected on the site. It was alongside the monument that Rivlin recited kaddish.
Rivlin went to Jasenovac accompanied by Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic. On the eve of the Second World War, there were some 40,000 Jews living in Croatia. The overwhelming majority were murdered in Jasenovac. The Ustaše regime, one of the most bestial collaborators with the Nazis, had its roots in Croatia, Rivlin declared.
Rivlin also referred to those nations which attempt to evade their dark past or to rewrite history and escape their responsibility. He commended Croatia for confronting its past, acknowledging that it took a certain amount of courage to do this, and to honor the memories of those who were murdered.
“We are all obligated to honor their memories and must make every effort to do so,” he said. Garbert-Kitzrovic voiced her deep sorrow and revulsion that such cruelty had been perpetrated in Croatia by the Ustaše and expressed her sincere condolences to relatives of the victims.
Next week, on August 2, relatives of participants in the Treblinka revolt, will mark the 75th anniversary of this desperate act of courage. It is estimated that between 800,000 and 900,000 Jews were murdered in Treblinka. One of the most famous of the survivors of the Treblinka revolt was sculptor Samuel Willenberg, who died in February 2016, three days after his 93rd birthday. After his escape he fought with the Polish resistance forces led by the Armia Krajowa in the Warsaw Uprising that took place in the summer of 1944, a little over a year after the Warsaw Ghetto revolt. The revolt of the Bialystok Ghetto took place on August 16, 1943, exactly two weeks after the Treblinka uprising. Before he died, Willenberg talked about establishing a permanent learning center at Treblinka, a goal that his widow, Ada Willenberg, and daughter, Orit Giladi, are trying to achieve. Not enough is generally known about Jewish heroism during the Holocaust era.
Although Jan Karski was an honorary citizen of Israel, whose heroism and failed mission to persuade world leaders to save the Jews of Poland is a matter of historical record, it is doubtful whether a random survey asking who he was would produce much if any knowledge. This month marked the 75th anniversary of his meeting with President Franklin Roosevelt, whom he entreated to do something to stop the mass murders. But Roosevelt did nothing.
Karski was Catholic, not Jewish, but he had a profound sympathy for the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. The Second World War broke out in 1939, not long after Karski had joined Poland’s Foreign Service. Immediately after the Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939, Karski joined the Polish Army, but was captured by the Red Army. He managed to escape, then was captured again by the Gestapo and severely beaten. He escaped again and found his way to the Polish underground resistance forces. With their help, he was smuggled into the Warsaw Ghetto in order to assess what was happening to the Jewish population. He was subsequently smuggled into the Belzec death camp, from which he also managed to escape, and made his way to England to report first to the Polish government-in-exile and then to British foreign secretary Anthony Eden, who subsequently blocked attempts to take all the Jews out of Bulgaria and bring them to safety. From London, Karski went to America to try to convince Roosevelt.
Karski was unable to return to Poland after the war because the Communists were cracking down on everyone who had been a member of the Polish underground. He remained in Washington, became an American citizen and a member of the faculty at Georgetown University where he taught for 40 years. In June 1982, he was recognized by Yad Vashem as one of the Righteous among the Nations. Only three months prior to his death in July 2000, Karski, who remained a Polish patriot all the days of his life, established the Karski Eagle Award in recognition of humanitarian services to others. The eagle is the national emblem of Poland.
Since his death, the award has been conferred annually by the Jan Karski Foundation, which this year, in recognition of the 70th anniversary of the State of Israel and the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, awarded it to the Ghetto Fighters’ House near Acre that was established in April 1949 by Holocaust survivors who had been partisans, survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto revolt and prisoners in concentration camps.
The award was also conferred posthumously on Gen. Wladyslaw Anders for “his courage to support the fight for an independent Jewish state.” During the Second World War, Anders led the Polish Army out of the Soviet Union through the Middle East to Europe. In Palestine, he allowed Polish-Jewish soldiers to leave the army and join the fight for a sovereign Jewish state – an act that was strongly disapproved of by the British Mandatory authorities. Among the Jewish soldiers in Anders’ Army was a young man who had studied law at the University of Warsaw and subsequently became a leader of one of the Jewish underground movements resisting the British, then a member of the first Knesset, a long-time opposition leader and eventually prime minister and Nobel Prize laureate. His name was Menachem Begin. Although Begin was born on August 13, the Hebrew calendar date of his birth was Shabbat Nachamu – the date on which he celebrated his birthday. This Saturday marks the 105th anniversary of his birth.
■ IT WAS only a three-hour whirlwind visit in September last year, but it was nonetheless historic in that Benjamin Netanyahu became the first sitting prime minister to visit Colombia. Next month he may spend somewhat more time in Bogota, Colombia’s capital, where it is hoped that he will attend the inauguration of President Ivan Duque, 41, the Latin American country’s youngest-ever president who succeeds President Juan Manuel Santos.
This week, Colombia’s Ambassador to Israel Carlos Morales and his wife, Petty, hosted a reception at the Colombian ambassador’s residence to celebrate the 208th anniversary of independence of their long-troubled country, which is finally on the road to peace. Ordinarily, the official part of such receptions takes place approximately half an hour after the starting time listed on the invitation. Sometimes it takes a little longer, but very rarely does it begin within 15 minutes of the time listed. However, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who was representing the government, had another commitment that evening, and agreed to come only on condition that the speeches would be delivered earlier than usual so she could make a quick departure.
Shaked missed out on the electrifying performance by members of Colombia’s colorful Salsa Viva Dance Company, whose fancy footwork, amazing synchronization and breath-taking acrobatics elicited cheers of appreciation and admiration from the onlookers. They danced on a stage at the edge of the serpentine pool, with their movements reflected in the water. It was truly a memorable extravaganza, and after they finished, they came off the stage and began pairing with the guests, some of whom proved to be highly talented salsa dancers themselves. The company is appearing at the Suzanne Dellal Center for Dance and Theater in Neve Zedek from July 28-30. If tickets are still available, it’s a performance that should not be missed.
The usual practice at diplomatic receptions of this kind is for the podium to be occupied by the ambassador, the Israel government representative and the member of the embassy acting as master or mistress of ceremonies. But in this case, Morales had not only Shaked, his wife and his senior staff – including his military attaché – alongside him, but also Colombian Honorary Consul Jaime Aron who happens to be a former Israel ambassador to Colombia, Modi Ephraim, the Foreign Ministry’s deputy director general for Latin America and the Caribbean, and Cabinet Secretary Tzachi Braverman, who seems to be making a habit of joining
ambassadors on stage. Meron Reuben, the Foreign Ministry’s chief of protocol, found that his duties have been extended when, after the toast, the ambassador led everyone off the stage in a hand-shaking parade along the pool. Shaked, who was heading for the front door, instead of shaking hands with Reuben, deposited the stemmed wine glass in his palm. During the speeches, Morales made a point of thanking Aron for all the help that he and his wife have received from Aron and his wife, Maria Meghnagi Aron. Presumably he has also been advised by one of his predecessors, former Colombian ambassador to Israel David de la Rosa. After completing his term, de la Rosa and his wife, Grace, remained in Israel and continue to be on diplomatic guest lists. De la Rosa was actually born in Jerusalem and went to Colombia as a youth to work in a family-owned firm, returning as ambassador some 15 years ago.
Morales, in his address, noted that if Netanyahu attends Duque’s inauguration, it will strengthen the already warm relations between the two countries. The geography between them is distant, he said, but they are united by history and the challenges they face. Shaked congratulated Colombia on its free democratic elections and thanked outgoing President Santos for all he had done to bring peace to his country. She was certain that Duque would carry the peace forward, and emphasized the strategic relations and friendship between the two countries. Israel was proud to have delivered aid to Colombia in a time of crisis, she said, underscoring that Israel and Colombia are partners in the struggle against the agents of terror who threaten the security and stability of the regions in which the two countries are located.