Monday, January 23, 2023

The end of an era

It is with profound sadness that we mark the passing of Harry Frisch. Although Harry lived until he was 99, and his death is not tragic, it is nonetheless a time of sadness for the Etz Chaim community as it's the end of an era.  For those that are relatively newer to the community, it's important to know that our shul campus on San Jose Blvd came to reality with the generous support and dedication of Harry and Lilo Frisch. Harry told me numerous times that he was committed to the shul being relocated to Mandarin and wanted to see Etz Chaim flourish. He also ensured that we could relocate our synagogue to its new campus (in 1986) without a mortgage. There are not too many synagogues out there that have that privilege! The passing of Harry Frisch reinforces another layer of sadness. Harry escaped the Nazi regime in Austria when he was just a teenager. He was able to survive the horrors of the Holocaust by gaining access to place a ship that was traveling to Israel. Along with other Holocaust survivors in Israel and, subsequently, in the United States, Harry rebuilt his life with faith and optimism. Some have referred to that generation as the "Greatest Generation." They did not perceive themselves as victims but rather focused on building the next chapter in a long Jewish history story. It is a painful truth that this chapter is closing before our very eyes. The youngest Holocaust survivors are in their eighties. The day of no living Holocaust survivors in our midst is rapidly approaching. The world will be very different when no one among the living can look someone in the eye and declare, "I was there!"  With that reality that we are confronted with, what are the most effective ways to perpetuate the memory of the Holocaust survivors and those who perished? There is not one perfect answer to this question. Different people and organizations have suggested a variety of approaches.  One method of education in this important area is something we experienced this week here in Jacksonville. Rabbi Joey Hamaoui and the larger Southern NCSY team organized an effort that took careful planning to bring a most enriching program in Holocaust education. The "Hate End Now" program featured a "Cattle Car." All attendees had an immersive 360-degree experience from within a replica, "Cattle Car." In addition, there was a multimedia presentation within the "Cattle Car." educating us about their personal stories of survivors. We were fortunate to host a Holocaust survivor that was featured in the multimedia presentation, and she came especially for this program. Standing in the “Cattle Car”, I tried to envision an actual experience of men, women, and children crammed together in unsanitary conditions for days. The average transport took about four days. I imagined much sadness, pain, and agony as our brethren were taken to be gassed to death. The tour lasted thirty minutes, and I was relieved to walk out of the “Cattle Car” and back into a warm Florida afternoon. I had mixed feelings at that moment. I was relieved to step out and continue with my day. I was also mindful that a few hours earlier, we buried a 99-year-old legendary Holocaust survivor. I now have an increased responsibility with the number of living Holocaust survivors dwindling. It is now up to us to ensure the "Greatest Generation" is not forgotten. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch.

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