This week, the fourth of my children visited Poland. Though the immediate threats to
Jewish life in Poland today are not what they were 75 years ago, I can’t escape the
need to protect her from Poland, our history, and its horrors. I don’t fear for her physical
safety, but I do fear her loss of innocence as she will be exposed to the horrors to which
our people, and specifically dozens of our relatives, were subject and murdered.
I’ve been to Poland and I’ve witnessed concentration camps, death camps, the gas
chambers, and the crematoria. I’ve been to cities and small towns that once thrived with
Jewish life, and in which now not a single Jew lives. I’ve been to synagogues whose
walls remain scarred with the marks of bullets shot at Jewish worshipers, and I’ve been
to towns where entire Jewish communities were rounded up and locked in their
synagogues, in some cases to be burned down with the entire community inside.
I’ve never been to the towns from which my grandparents were lucky to escape as
young adults along with some of their siblings. However, their stories resonate in my
DNA as to what their parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews, and friends and neighbors
suffered, and the anti-Semitism to which they literally became victims.
My daughter’s visit to Poland this week is particularly meaningful considering that we
also celebrate my youngest son’s bar mitzvah. He is our sixth child. The only one born
in Israel. His birth alone fulfills the dreams of our relatives before us who could only pray
for, and possibly never truly imagine, the life we are blessed to have in Israel.
He is named for my great-grandfather, Shalom Yakov, who foresaw life for Jews in
Poland getting dangerous and more precarious and was able to get four of his children
out before it was too late. In the end, however, he along with my great grandmother and
their many other children and grandchildren were murdered by the Nazis and their
My son is also named for my father‘s first cousin, Yosef, who was a little boy of four or
five at the time my other great grandfather left him and his wife behind in hiding while
seeking help and a place of refuge along with his older son, Shlomo. When my great
grandfather and Shlomo went back to find their family, they learned that they had been
rounded up and murdered.
I often put myself in the place of my two great-grandfathers, who only lived a few miles
apart but may have never known one another. I am awestruck that in both cases, while
my great grandfathers couldn’t do anything to change their circumstances, they also
didn’t simply fall victim to the Nazi horrors in Poland. One survived with one son, but
lost his wife and younger son. The other was able to save four children, but despite
seeing the writing on the wall, had no escape for himself or the rest of his family.
In both cases, they were driven to save as many of their children as possible. It’s
impossible to imagine fully what was going through their mind: their thoughts, fears, and
But as a parent I do know the absolute imperative to save their children must have
driven and weighed heavily upon them. They probably prayed to God fervently, and lost
sleep and were fearful much of the time. One great-grandfather was murdered along
with his children and grandchildren. The other left behind his wife and youngest child to
find a place of sanctuary in which they could be safe, and must have regretted until the
day he died that he was not able to save them.
At least in part due to the miracle of the survival of the few who were lucky enough to
escape, our family thrives in Israel today.
My daughter visited the towns and cities in which Jewish lives thrived, and the death
camps where Jewish life was snuffed out. I wish she didn’t have to go there, to bear
witness, and carry our history with her for the generations that will come from her. But
it’s part of us. As much as I’d like to protect her from this, I realize I can’t and shouldn’t.
Someone once said ‘that which doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.’ I pray that she
will be stronger for this experience.
I spoke to my daughter just before boarding her flight along with dozens of classmates
who she grew up with. As emotional as I was, I wondered what my great-grandparents
thought in departing from their loved ones. When they said goodbye, did they know or
think it would be their final goodbye? Did they have hope of seeing one another again?
Did they imagine that their sacrifice would enable future generations like us to thrive?
Or were they just too sad and fearful to have any of these thoughts?
My daughter will come home physically and emotionally drained. Two days later we will
celebrate her little brother becoming a bar mitzvah. God willing, we will continue to
have many future family celebrations. But always, we will carry this baggage of our
past. As her father, I just want to try to make the burden lighter.
When I speak to my son at his bar mitzvah, I will remind him that he carries the names
and memories of two relatives who we never knew, and as the only Israeli born child in
our family has a unique responsibility to carry with him the obligation to live for them.
They could never imagine that 75 years after their murder, a child with their DNA and
name would be thriving in the Judean Mountains.
With every soccer ball he blocks at the goal, as he reads from the Torah affirming God’s
Oneness, as he grows and excels in school, and one day joins the IDF, he will carry
forward the responsibility to never forget, and to be part of ensuring that we as a people
will never be in the same position that we were generations ago.
With God’s help and each of my children understanding their responsibility, and despite
my feeling of a need to protect them, they will be part of building a bright future for us
and all of Israel.
Jonathan Feldstein was born and educated in the U.S. and immigrated to Israel in 2004. He is married and the father of six. Throughout his life and career, he has been blessed by the calling to fellowship with Christian supporters of Israel and shares experiences of living as an Orthodox Jew in Israel. He writes a regular column for Standing With Israel at charismanews.com. He is also President of RunforZion.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.