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Add Meaning to Your Simcha: Link to a Child who Perished in the Holocaust
Families looking to add meaning to their Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrations can now become part of a permanent memorial to the 1.5 million children who perished in the Holocaust.
The recently dedicated B’nai Mitzvah Remembrance Wall, launched by Jewish National Fund and the Levin family of St. Louis in honor of Max Levin’s Bar Mitzvah, allows Diaspora teens to forge a direct link between their lives and the lives of young people who died in the Holocaust.
Located in Jerusalem’s American Independence Park, the stone wall, designed to look like a Torah scroll, is embedded with glass tiles, each available for an $1,800 donation, bearing the name of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah child, his/her hometown and date of Bar/Bat Mitzvah and the name and home country of a child who perished at the hand of the Nazis. Certificates are sent to the Bar/Bat Mitzvah child as well.
Proceeds will go towards developing, maintaining and advancing JNF-KKL’s five Israel campsites, to be used by children for camping experiences.
Just like Max who is now forever linked to Gyorgy Pal, of blessed memory, who was bar mitzvahed in Hungary in 1936, this offers participants linkage to the past and the opportunity to continue the circle of life.
It was Max’s trip to Israel last summer with his parents, Bud and Judy, which got the ball rolling. While at the Jewish National Fund-Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael offices in Jerusalem, Max perused several old Children’s Books of Honor used to record gifts from Germany, Poland, Russia and other European countries during the years of 1901 to 1941.
Thousands were from families honoring their Bar Mitzvah boys during that period. There weren’t many Bat Mitzvahs in those days, but there were recordings of girls who were honored on special occasions as well. Most of the children on the pages of the books had been killed in the Holocaust and Max realized that for many, the only evidence of their lives was in those books.
“I was looking for a project to dedicate for my Bar Mitzvah,” said Max, “and there they were. Thousands upon thousands of names. Some of them could even have been my long lost great cousins who died in the Holocaust. Just try to imagine! Out of the 6 million Jews who were murdered, 1? million of them were children!! That means that at least 150,000 were at the Bar Mitzvah age. There are very few records and very few stories left about these children. Almost all of their families had been killed and almost no trace of them ever has been found. Researchers at Yad Vashem identified most of them as victims of the Holocaust and the only way we can prove that they once lived is from the JNF Books of Honor that are kept in the Jerusalem offices. “I knew that I wanted my Bar Mitzvah project to deal with the destruction of the Holocaust and rebirth of the Jewish People in the Jewish Homeland. When I saw those Books of Honor, I knew at that very moment that I wanted to dedicate my Bar Mitzvah to the kids in those books -- the ‘Lost Children of the Holocaust.’ This is a way to show the world that Jews have a place to come home to. But I want to do more than just remember those names. I hope that those names will inspire kids in America to remember our history. I also want to raise money for JNF projects to help kids in Israel; remembering our history and helping children living in Israel now—what a perfect fit.”
“We just feel great about it,” said Bud, who is JNF’s national vice president for Campaign. “In planning Max’s Bar Mitzvah, we knew we wanted to dedicate it to something. This idea was presented to us and we knew this was what we wanted to do.”
Max became a Bar Mitzvah on March 25, 2006 at Congregation B’nai Amoona in St. Louis. The Bar Mitzvah invitations included a description of the project and a note that he would not accept any personal gifts; all gifts would go to building the Remembrance Wall. To date, $10,000 has been raised. The Levins, who matched the funds, unveiled and dedicated the wall on June 22.
“This special place symbolizes what JNF stands for and what the Jewish People stand for all over the world,” said Ronald Lauder, president of JNF of America at the dedication. “To honor those children who never experienced a full life is a wonderful tribute to them. Thank you Max and Judy and Bud for believing in a place like this.”
Said Cynthia Wroclawski, marketing manager at Yad Vashem: “This is a wonderful example of the connection between the past and the future.”
Information about hundreds of thousands of JNF donors has been preserved in seven Honor Books dating back to 1901, when JNF was created in Basel, Switzerland. These books -- the Golden Book, the Children’s Book, the Bar/Bat Mitzvah Book, the Marriage Book, the Book of Plantings, the Book of Special Gifts and the Aliyah Book -- together constitute an expression of the tie between the Jewish Diaspora and the land of Israel. These volumes reinforce the bond of the Jewish people with the country and make the donors into partners in JNF’s work; through them and what they represent, the homeland is a place to call home.
The books are beautifully bound and preserved in a special climate-controlled room.
In ancient Israel, it was customary to plant a cedar tree when a boy was born and a pine when a girl was born. When the child married, the tree was cut down and the boughs used to construct the wedding canopy. When Jews were exiled to the Diaspora, the tradition fell by the wayside, but was reborn when JNF began planting trees in Israel. The Children’s Book records those tree plantings which commemorate births, birthdays, graduations and accomplishments, as well as a photo of the child. Eighty percent of the 91,000 names inscribed in the Children’s Book by 1933 perished in the Holocaust.
The Bar Mitzvah Books were initiated in 1936 and hold more than 100,000 names and photos commemorating their Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. In the Children’s Book and the Bar/Bat Mitvah Books there is also a place for a photo. For pre-Holocaust Bar/Bat mitzvahs, these may be the only surviving photos available of the individual who perished in the Holocaust.
“We wanted to create a way to memorialize those children who never had anyone say Kaddish for them,” said Bud. “This wall will honor the past and look ahead to the future. It will continue the circle of life.”
“Max, you are bringing the ashes of our people home to our homeland,” said Russell F. Robinson, JNF’s chief executive officer as he spoke at Max’s Bar Mitzvah. “These kids had no such opportunities. The very reason they became ashes was their link to the Jewish people. You have forever forged that link and made a passionate idea into a reality. There is no better way to become a man.”
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful, if some day, someone would find a name on that wall that they had known 70 years ago?” asked Max. “Or better yet, that someone would find their own name and realize that it came from one of the Books of Honor. What a celebration that would be for everybody! A lost child would have been found!”
For information, go to www.jnf.org or call 800-542-TREE.
Additional ways to celebrate your simcha with a mitzvah through JNF!
Jewish National Fund is a non-profit organization founded in 1901 to serve as caretaker of the land of Israel, on behalf of its owners-Jewish people everywhere. Over the past century, JNF has planted over 240 million trees, built over 180 reservoirs and dams, developed over 250,000 acres of land, created more than 1,000 parks, provided the infrastructure for 1,000 communities and educated students around the world about Israel and the environment. Today, JNF is putting its century of experience to work with the Blueprint Negev initiative, supporting Israel’s newest generation of pioneers in developing the Negev Desert - Israel’s last frontier. For more information on JNF or to plant trees in Israel, call 1-800-542-TREE (8733) or visit www.jnf.org. To contact your local office, please call 888-JNF-0099 or visit www.jnf.org.