Just down the block from our Jerusalem apartment is a special place, not only because Lifsa and Rabbi Stanley Schachter (Rabbi Emeritus at B’nai Jeshurun Congregation live there, but also because of its name: the Siegfried Moses parents’ home. Among the serene gardens of a renovated 100-plus year villa, live the distinguished “parents” of our neighborhood. Allow me to introduce four of them to you.
Child psychologist Ruth Falk was born in Germany. When she was 3 years old, her family received visas to go to Holland, enroute to the United States. When war broke out, her parents kept her safe by placing her in one Christian home after another 13 times.
Falk remembers the frightening feeling of each separation and change, and of being a refugee. Later, she attended a Christian high school. One day, the school minister realized Falk needed to learn about being Jewish, a difficult issue for young survivors, and so began her Jewish education.
Today, Ruth keeps an observant Jewish home, her Dutch citizenship and her refugee experience well in mind as she advocates for Israel’s asylum seekers.
Born in 1934, Yitzchak Vinkler came from a small Slovakian town of 3,000 Jews. On Pesach eve 1942, his father and others were taken to build a concentration camp; on erev Rosh Hashanah his mother, grandmother and Vinkler were brought to his father; on erev Yom Kippur there was a selection. His family was sent to a camp where Jews had autonomy and worked in a uniform factory.
Every Friday, Vinkler’s father delivered the uniforms to Bratislava and returned with new material and chocolate for the children. After the war, Vinkler’s parents had affidavits to go to the United States. Headstrong-teenaged Vinkler wanted to go to Israel, so while his father slept, he tore up the documents. The family came to Israel on June 22, 1949. Building his life from nothing, Vinkler went to Aliyah Noar and then to Kibbutz Yavne. He became a teacher, chose to teach new immigrants and then for the next 30 years, headed a school in Akko.
Tamar Landau survived the Shoah because her cousin, Helenka, told German officers who were about to send 11-year-old Landau to the gas chambers, that she was 15. Landau made thread in the Sosnowitz work camp, and then walked the death march to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in wooden clogs.
After the war, Landau was one of 300 war orphans prepared for aliyah at the Warburg Children’s Health Home and known as the “Children of Blankenese.” In 1946, she was in the first group of legal immigrants to Israel. Like Schachter, her professional background is in early childhood education.
Warsaw-born artist Ruth Berlinger was a young, skinny child who would not eat. Her physician, the famous Dr. Janusz Korczak, examined her and concluded “there’s nothing wrong with this girl, she’s spoiled.” He assured Berlinger’s parents that if there will be no food, the girl will cry for it. And so she did, months later, when the family was sent to the Warsaw Ghetto, leaving behind her father’s extensive library and her mother’s beloved piano.
Her father’s lumber business connections saved the family when a German officer, remembering his good business friend, sent the family “to life.” Shortly after the 1943 uprising, the family miraculously fled the ghetto. They were hidden for the rest of the war by non-Jews and then made their way to Sweden, where Berlinger met her husband. Several years ago, the couple followed their children to Israel.
On Yom Haatzmaut, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin called Israel the “’March of the Living’” by the Jewish people. Today, more than ever before, there is no doubt that the miracle called the state of Israel exists and thrives.” The lives of these four parents are living testimonies to these words.
Julie Jaslow Auerbach, a Jewish educator who lives part of the year in Jerusalem and part of the year in Shaker Heights, writes regularly about life in Israel for the Cleveland Jewish News.