A few thoughts on Yom Hashoah.
When we speak about Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus, we often point out that we were able to open such an advanced facility in 1939 because brilliant doctors, nurses and students had immigrated. They were, of course, fleeing Nazi Europe, dispossessed from leading laboratories and hospital departments they had headed. Many of their families were unable to follow them as the trap doors of Europe closed. The nearly seventy years that have passed since the full scope of the Holocaust was revealed haven't diminished the horror of debacle. Just the opposite.
When we visit our Youth Villages-Hadassah Neurim, Meir Shfeya, Ramat Hadassah Szold we always recall the first residents: youngsters kicked out of school and jobs because they were Jews. They arrived on their own from Europe. Henrietta Szold met them at the port. They called her "Ima." Many never saw their own parents again. Hadassah was privileged to raise the funds to provide refuge for these young immigrants.
Israel became home to the greatest number of Holocaust survivors. They have made enormous contributions to our country. The Chief of Staff of the Israel army visited Yad Vashem this week to pay tribute to them and to those who didn't survive. Our new Minister of Defense, Moshe Yaalon, is the son of Holocaust survivors. Addressing Hadassah missions in Israel, he has spoken passionately of his commitment to the protection of the Jewish people--helpless no more.
When Israel's pilots scheduled a fly-past over Auschwitz ten years ago, so many were children and grandchildren of survivors that they couldn't all take part.
This Sunday night and Monday we mark Yom Hashoah: Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day. It begins with a solemn ceremony at Mount Herzl and the lowering of the Israeli flag to half mast. At 10 AM,a siren rings throughout the country. All traffic stops. For two minutes we stand still and think.
I'd like to share one story of a Hadassah family that rose from the Holocaust to provide life-saving care for generations.
" My mother was a skilled dressmaker with a boutique salon, and my father a leather merchant. As a toddler, I had dresses and shoes galore," says Hannah Gofrit, 75. She was born in Biala Ravksa,Poland, a town where 4000 Jews lived among Christian neighbors. When Germany conquered Poland in September 1939 the Jews were soon secluded in a Ghetto. Hannah was four years old.
The local women protested that their haute couture seamstress would not be accessible.
Hannah's family remained in their home because of her mother's skill with the needle. Later, her father joined the Partisans and was never heard of again. She and her mother went into hiding in Warsaw. A Polish family gave them shelter in their apartment on the condition that if the Gestapo searched for them, they would jump from the roof to their deaths. "It won't even hurt," Hannah's mother assured her. "I was emotionally prepared to do it.
But when the Gestapo did come, the 12-year old Polish daughter warned them and insisted that instead of jumping they go back into their hiding place in a dark closet. It was there that nature-loving Hannah imagined herself as a butterfly, free to fly away. The internationally heralded children's book *I Wantedto Fly Like a Butterfly * is based on her experience. It's used in classrooms around the world to teach about the Holocaust.
Hannah Gofrit will be speaking on Monday in the Memorial Ceremony at Hadassah Hospital, Ein Kerem. Among those in the audience will be her son Prof Ofer Gofrit, a senior Hadassah urologist, and her granddaughter Shany Gofrit, a fourth year student at Hadassah's military medical school.In Hannah Gofrit's town, 35 of the 4000 adult Jews survived; two of the 1000 children. She was one of them. She made Aliyah with her mother in 1949. "I wanted to be either an actress or a nurse, and chose the latter," she said. "After the Holocaust, I wanted to leave a message to future generations that you shouldn't hurt others." She worked as a public health nurse in the mixed Jewish-Arab tough neighborhood of Ajami in Jaffa, and then for Tipat Halav, the well-baby clinics established by Hadassah. Named for her father, her only son Ofer served as the physician of the IDF's front-line Givati Brigade, before becoming a surgeon at Hadassah. "My mother didn't talk much about the Shoah when I was growing up," he said. "But there was a strong message in the home on the importance of life." Has he as a surgeon inherited his grandmother's sewing ability? "For sure," says Prof. Gofrit. "My grandmother's ability to sew saved her life. I do think of her sometimes when I'm sewing, trying to save other lives."
Granddaughter Shany, 22, on the Dean's List in medical school, says she learned to strive to be her best from her Grandma.
She grew up first hearing her grandmother's story and then reading it. "I took her with me to school and she spoke to our class,"said Shany. Many Hadassah patients are elderly Holocaust survivors, and recently, Shany was taking care of a patient with multiple back problems left over from the concentration camps. "I had a hard time shaking off the horror I felt at what this woman had experienced,"she said. "I'm grateful that my Grandmother didn't undergo such a debilitating injury. She is my role model for optimism." When Shany finishes her studies, she will serve as a physician in the IDF, carrying on the family tradition of healing the world.
*In March, a delegation of 165 students from our Youth Aliyah villages went to Poland on an educational mission sponsored by Hadassah. "How moving it was to see them walking through death camps carrying high the Israeli flag and the Hadassah flag," said Youth Aliyah Chair Benita Ross, who together with National Board Member Roz Rosen and Hadassah Office in Israel Deputy Director Barbara Goldstein took part in the delegation.
On Sunday night, at each of youth village, the students who took part in the mission will lead their peers in the Yom Hashoah memorial ceremony.