August 13, 2016 was the 9th of Av, or Tisha B’Av 5776. Since nothing is to mar the joy of Shabbat, it was observed on the 14th of August.
I realize, that’s yesterday, but I can’t let it go without sharing a couple things.
The first is something wonderful I got from my teammate, Y.B. a wonderful true story honoring the spirit and commitment of Rabbi Yekusiel Yehudah Halberstam.
Defiance on a Death March
The Klausenberger Rebbe z’tl on 9 Av
Rabbi Yekusiel Yehudah Halberstam became one of the youngest rebbes in Europe, leading thousands of followers in the town of Klausenburg, Romania, before World War II. His wife, eleven children and most of his followers were murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust.
In the summer of 1944 the Russian Army moved west and pushed the Nazis further and further back across Poland into Germany. The Germans, in an effort to cover their crimes forced thousands of slave labourers on death marches across Poland. The Rebbe had previously spent time in Auschwitz and on a work detail in Warsaw, sifting through the rubble of the now vacant Warsaw ghetto on his hands and knees, forced to look for anything that might be of value for the Nazi war effort.
As the Russians moved closer the Rebbe along with 6000 other prisoners were forced to march for twenty miles a day, in the scorching Polish summer. The death camp of Dachau in Germany was to be their final destination of which just 2000 made it.
On the march, the prisoners were starved of food and water and any stragglers were shot immediately. On the day of Tisha B’Av (9th of the Jewish month of Av), Jews mourn the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem as well as many other disasters that have happened on this painful day. One of the signs of mourning of Tisha B’Av is that Jews remove their leather shoes (leather shoes being an inappropriate sign of comfort and luxury on this solemn day).
On this day and on this march, the Rebbe removed his shoes. Despite all that had happened to him, he refused to give up on the Jewish observances that made him who he was. The Nazis saw this as a sign of rebellion and decided to have some fun at the Rebbe’s expense. They made him march alongside the column on broken stones and gravel. They joked as his feet became bloodied and bruised.
At one point they thought he was trying to escape down the embankment so they shot him. He was hit in the arm and tumbled down the embankment. In an effort to stem the bleeding, he took bark and leaves from a tree and wrapped it around the wound. It was at that point in his life, when faced with such unimaginable pain, hatred and adversity that the Rebbe demonstrated forever that there is no depth from which the human spirit cannot rise.
It was at that point that he swore to God that should he survive he would build an institution based on the Jewish values of love, peace, equality and tolerance, all of the values the Nazis despised. He swore that he would build a hospital in the land of Israel that would epitomise everything the Nazis tried to destroy.
Today, that hospital is Laniado in Netanya.The hospital was built in 1974. After the maternity unit was opened, the Rebbe asked the nurses and staff to call him immediately when the first baby was born. A few days later he received the call with the good news. Upon hearing, the Rebbe said in a broken voice, ‘zeh ha nekama sheli’, ‘this is my revenge’. This is my revenge – life will defeat death, hope will defeat pain, compassion will overcome hatred.
May this Tisha B’Av be the last before our mourning is turned into joy and celebration.
And this one I have for you.
And now if you’ll excuse me, I seem to have some dust in my eye.