A Brit Milah On Yom HaShoah U'Gevurah

Yom HaShoah U'Gevurah began last night and ends at sundown tonight.

I am sure that there was a debate amongst rabbis and leaders in Israel (and around the world), do we add the observance of the Shoah to Tisha B'Av among the other tragedies that have befallen our people?  The answer was no, it was given its own holiday, but given a new name, Yom HaShoah U'Gevurah - not just a day to remember those that were lost, but to remember the heroes of the resistance to the Nazis.  This day was instituted in 1953 by Prime Minister David Ben Gurion (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yom_Hashoah)

There are many ways that we observe the holiday.  In Israel, melancholy music is played on the radio, television programs are dedicated to the Holocaust, and people gather together to mourn at public Holocaust tekasim (programs).  In the U.S., the most common way has been to hear testimony from survivors at ceremonies.  On the eve of this Yom HaShoah U'Gevurah, I observed in a different way - I attended the brit milah of my nephew, Zalman Simcha ben Rafael Hersch BenZion v' Yaela Ruth (his English name:  Samuel Emery Baum).  I want to post a facebook status that one of the rabbis, Rabbi Efrem Reis from Temple Beth Israel of Sunrise (my parent's rabbi and a friend and colleague of mine) posted after he attended:

"May I always be fortunate enough to remember Yom HaShoah by going to a bris"

Why was this brit milah different than other britot?  Please read the beautiful words of my brother and sister in law, Richie and Julie Baum, upon the naming of their son.

First we would like to thank everyone for coming to Sammy's bris today.  Richie and I feel very fortunate to have such incredible family and friends to help us through this new cycle in our lives.  Specifically, we would like to thank our parents for helping us plan today and in particular, our mothers who have helped us take care of Sammy this week.

Samuel Emery Baum is first named for my grandfather, Stanley Chaney, who passed away 3 years ago.  Stanley was a really special part of my life.  He was   not only light hearted and good-natured, he was kind and had a great sense of humor.  He always knew how to look on the bright side of things (like when we played cards and the whole point was to have the lowest score, he would have the highest score and brag to everyone how he was the big winner).   He loved my grandmother and his family ferociously and made life long friends (some of whom are here today).  I hope that Sammy will emulate many of Stanley traits, most importantly the love for his family and friends.

Samuel's middle name, Emery is named after my maternal grandmother, Eva and my paternal grandfather's brother, Emery.  My grandmother Eva helped raise my brother and me while my parents were working.  I remember my grandmother being one of the kindest people in the world.  She would pick us up from school everyday and would make Shabbat dinner from scratch.  She was kind, nurturing, and family oriented.  I cannot recall a time when she raised her voice in anger, which knowing my family must have been a momentous task.  I would like Sammy to follow in my grandmothers' footsteps by being positive at all times and good-natured.

I have never personally met Samuel’s other namesake Emery, but growing up, my grandfather told me stories about Emery's heroics in hungry during WWII as a partisan fighter and his genius as an engineer.  I want our son to not only be smart but also take action and stand up for what he believes in.

It seems appropriate to have Sammy's bris on Yom HaShoah because we realize all three of the people Sammy is named after are connected to the Holocaust in some way.  Stanley was in the Air Force and flew bombing missions over Germany during the war.  Eva was a 5-year survivor of Auschwitz concentration camp, and Emery fought in the resistance against the Nazi’s.  While we remember Yom hashish and the family members we have lost, we welcome our son, the next generation who will forever be connected to their legacies.

Here my brother gave three examples of the heroes of the Shoah:  those who toe the line between fighters and survivors.

Stanley and Emery are who we would typically call 'fighters'.  Stanley flew bombing missions over occupied Europe, and Emery fought as a partisan in occupied Europe.  One survived, and one did not.  Fighters are also survivors - they must dig down deep within the fight to fight again the next day, to never give up hope.  In this way, they fight to survive selflessly so others can live.

My grandmother Eva was a 'survivor' of five years of captivity in Auschwitz, literally hell on earth.  She worked in ammunition factories near Auschwitz, and was starved and beaten everyday of those five horrific years.  It would have been so easy for her to give up, to throw herself on the electrified wire.  I do not blame anyone who took that path, but because she did not, we are here today.  She was a survivor, but she fought to survive every single day of her captivity 

And so, on this Yom HaShoah U'Gevurah, we remember the fighters and survivors, because both instincts were needed to destroy the evil that was the Nazi ethos.  It is because of them that this ethos met its end (although there are still too many adherents).  They might have lost many battles, but they won the war.

There are many different ways to observe Yom HaShoah, and as a people, we haven't quite figured out the best way to do it.  I have often been frustrated by this, but perhaps it is the way it should be.  For me, growing up as a grandson of four Shoah survivors, I was reminded of the Shoah almost everyday of my life.  We heard stories of those who were lost and how our grandparents suffered during those years.  Growing up in my grandparents house, we saw the constant reminder tattooed on their arms (you can see the tattooed numbers on the pictures below).

(My grandfather Abe, my mother Rachel, and my grandmother Eva bathing me)

(from the left to the right - my grandmother Eva holding me, my mother Rachel, my grandmother Eta; top from left to right, my uncle Abe, my cousin Elliott being held our grandfather Frank).

I am fortunate enough to have a grandfather who is still with us and quite healthy.  I usually observe Yom HaShoah U'Gevurah with him, listening to his stories of survival through those years, to the stories of his brother Emery, his father Alexander and mother Rosalie, and of others who he lost; and stories of his brother Bundy and sister Magda who survived and created their own families.

(A picture of my grandfather and his brothers, including Emery, and sister taken shortly before they were separated in 1943)

A picture of my grandfather, Frank Baum, taken at the Brit Milah on Sunday

Although I could not attend our communal commemoration of Yom HaShoah U'Gevruah at Temple Beth Shalom, I was honored to have attended another type of Yom HaShoah U'Gevurah commemoration - the brit milah of my nephew, named for fighters and surivivors, and new hope for our people.

I would like to end with the blessing that I gave to my nephew Zalman Simcha.

To my dear nephew, Zalman Simcha:
Zalman is Yiddish for Shlmo, a name you and I share.  King Soloman was known for his wisdom.  Soloman was a builder who built the Beit HaMikdash bringing our people together for one purpose, to worship and rejoice before God, and they did this through, Simcha, which means happiness.  You have already fulfilled the promise of part of your name - you have made our entire family so happy and we know you will continue to do so for your whole life.
Zalman Simcha, may you fight for our people as your namesakes have done before you, may you bring your people together in happiness where ever you go, may you carry on the legacy of our family and our people, may your voice be a new voice in Israel of peace and happiness.  May you take your last name seriously, Baum which means tree.  May you take hold of the living tree that is our Torah, and may it surround you in everything you do.

My parents, my brother and sister, my children, and now my brother's child are here because of the survival and heroism of those whom we honor today.  May we remember all those lost, and may we never forget their lives, no matter how short they were and how horribly they were taken.  May we in turn give life anew to the next generation so that they will live on forever.  Amen.

"And so I will give them within My house and My walls a place and a name -- יד ושם, Yad Vashem -- better even than sons and daughters. I will give them an everlasting name that will never be cut off."

Isaiah 56:5


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