Sunday, May 18, 2008

Pesach in a land of Jewish Blood

Several years ago, Moshe Mernick of Yeshiva Ateres Shmuel in Waterbury was in Berlin Germany for a Zman as part of a mentorship program that the two Yeshivos have. Yeshivas Beis Zion of Berlin, is a remarkable Yeshiva for Russian Baalei Tshuva in Germany. Germany offers remarkable opportunities for Jewish members of the former Soviet Union. They are offered EU citizenship as well as a slew of benefits should they choose to relocate to Germany. And many Jewish families, who have practically no real knowledge of Torah have chosen to move. The Soviet Union was not a place where Jewish identity or practice thrived, quite the opposite. As a result many of these young men, who are given the opportunity of good education and gainful employment only as a result of the fact that they are Jewish grow quite perplexed as to why. So they look into Torah. The Lauder Yeshurun Foundation has taken upon themselves the giant task of being there for this segment of Hashem’s people who are otherwise on their own. Their base of operations for Germany is Berlin, where they have the successful Yeshiva and Kollel “Beis Zion.” But their influence is felt across Germany. There are frum families living and doing kiruv in Hamburg, and there are Shabbatons and seminars all across Germany.

Moshe Mernick has a big heart, and is a phenomenal speaker. He was incredibly effective in his short time in Berlin in reaching the hearts of the students learning there. Rather than return to America to continue his learning there, he was prevailed upon by Rabbi Spinner of Lauder Yeshurun to move to Hamburg and do kiruv. He went to places where there have been no frum people since Hitler’s men were there. He brought Torah into hearts that had never felt anything Jewish. After spending one year there, he reluctantly, and against the wishes of Lauder Yeshurun returned home to North America.

This Pesach, of his first year back home, he returned along with Eli Zians of Shor Yoshuv to run the sdorim in Hamburg, Germany. Tamar Warburg who spent last semester at a Law School in Hamburg while working as a Madricha for the Lauder girls seminary, also came to work with the girls. Approximately 15 not yet religious Jewish students slept over in Hamburg Germany for the three day Yom Tov! Torah classes and programming were offered by the staff provided by Lauder Yeshrun throughout the Yom Tov. 45 students participated in the Carlebach-style Kabbalas Shabbos and Friday night program. 60 students attended the first Seder, including 6 Israeli soldiers from the submarine unit who were in northern Germany being trained by the German army for a week. They showed up in the Shul for Minchah on Shabbos looking for a Seder!
The First Seder went on until 4 am strong. It was a room full of people with no background in Torah and Hashkafa learning for the first time about what it means to be a Torah Jew. During Maggid, they went around the room and had each student read a small portion of the Haggadah in a language that they felt most comfortable with (i.e. German, Russian, Hebrew, English, etc.) and we were treated to a special rendition of the Mah Nishtanah in Chinese. Students were encouraged to ask questions as we were awarding each question with “American” (!) treats. The two Americans, Moshe and Eli, sang grammen in Russian, relating the theme of Pesach in a very interactive and entertaining way. There was a puppet show performance for the ten makkos. Student who attended said that the highlight of the seder was the 3:30 am singing of “Who Knows One?”
For many, this was the first Pesach they have ever celebrated. And they loved it! They connected in a very personal way. Throughout the night, the staff stressed two of the lesser known Mitzvos of Pesach. The obligation upon each Jew to feel as though they were personally being redeemed from slavery in Egypt, and V’Somachta B’Chagecha, the only Mitzvah that applies to every single moment of Pesach – Happiness.
For the second Seder, the students joined the Hamburg Jewish community, where there were 175 people in total. Although the Rabbi was leading the Seder, the Lauder group infused the hall with youthful energy and spirit. After a nice introduction by the Rabbi of the community, one 18 year old student from Hamburg who has been attending Shabbatons and classes over the last year and half, delivered the following powerful and inspirational speech, “This Pesach is my first proper Pesach celebration and I'm very happy to be here with you all.But before coming here I had a few conflicts to manage. Isn't it ordinary in a Jewish family? My uncle from Moscow is here for two days and I'm not able to see him because I want to have a Seder meal and a proper Yom Tov. But this is much more difficult than it sounds. I mean, how can I leave my family for something I don't know, for something unknown? Who tells me that this Pesach celebration is worth all the arguments with my parents?So I guess the Israelites had to decide between Slavery in Egypt and the desert. On the one hand the bad thing is well known and they were used to it. On the other hand they saw the desert which looks dangerous but promises freedom. Who promises? G-d does. But how can you trust him after all the suffering in Egypt? The Israelites did. And they got the Torah as the reward. I don't say that I've suffered as much as our forefathers did. But for me this question, if to go or not, was also the most existential question I have ever faced… But I took the risk. I trusted G'd and went to Lauder for spending Pesach. And I really don't regret it because I got the chance to spend it with you all.This is my first Pesach celebration. And I thank you for making it such a wonderful one!This student wants to spend the summer studying in Israel. This is indicative of what Avodas Hashem does for a person's life.
As Moshe said, “This students speech also totally drove home the point of how much of an impact we are able to make on another Jewish Neshomah. Regardless of the color of the passport that one holds, if one’s mother is Jewish, than they are just as Jewish as you and I, and they are just as thirsty to learn Torah and spend a genuine Shabbos like you and me. “

Moshe continued, “From the bottom of my heart, I thank the Yeshiva Gedolah of Waterbury, and in particular Rabbi Kaufman, for providing me with the unique opportunity of teaching Torah in Germany. When the Possuk tells us, “V’Ohavta LeRaiacha Kamocha,” Hashem is not only commanding us to love our Jewish brethren in Toronto, New York, Waterbury, and Eretz Yisroel. Rather, He wants us to feel genuine responsibility toward all of His children. It’s not our place to judge these students’ parents who decided to relocate from the former Soviet Union to Germany, a country that is soaked with our grandparents’ blood. Though it is our place to ensure that these young men and women are being offered the same Jewish education we too often take for granted; it is our place to applaud Waterbury and Lauder Yeshurun for the extraordinary work that they both continue to do.”

No comments: