Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day, and I would like to share my own personal true story of hope and redemption, in memory of the six million Jews who perished:
The year was 1973. I was 16 and living in Haifa, Israel as an 11th grade exchange student. I was not an observant Jew back then, but like so many assimilated Jews I always went to the synagogue on Yom Kippur. Even in non-religious neighborhoods in Israel, there are synagogues in every neighborhood, so I went to the closest one, which was a block from where I was living at the time with my Israeli host family.
When they got to the part of the service that was for Memorial Prayers for the Deceased (Yizkor) , I was there to pay homage to my dear father who had died the year before of colon cancer. He was only 60.
Two women who sat next to me weren’t really into the service; they were chatting instead. From their conversation I learned that one lady lived nearby; the other was visiting from Australia.
The first one sighed. The other asked her which family relative she was there for and the first lady said, “Many. I am a Holocaust survivor.” The other lady, it turns out, was also a Holocaust survivor who had made a new life for herself in Australia after the war, so they discussed at which concentration camps they had been interned, where they were from in Europe, and who they had lost.
“But there is one brother about whom I never found out what happened,” the first lady said. She began to describe him, and the town from whence he came, and the Australian woman across from her grew pale.
“Od Yosef Chai!” she quoted from the Bible, which means “Joseph yet lives!” referring to the story about Joseph’s elderly father Jacob finding out the news that his son, having been sold into slavery by his brothers, was now a viceroy and alive and well in Egypt. The Australian woman had a friend and neighbor, a male Holocaust survivor named Joseph with red hair, and he was from the very town that the woman with the lost brother had mentioned, and had the very same large number of siblings that the woman had mentioned. He, too, had been unable to track his lost sister….
The women embraced, screaming madly with joy, which was seemingly out of place in the middle of a melancholy Memorial service on the holiest Jewish holiday of the year. But once the reason for the disruption was made known to the congregants, the tears of sorrow became tears of joy and yearning for all those present who witnessed this great and miraculous event of Divine Providence.
I will never forget it.