I wasn’t sure what to write about for my Shabbat message this week.
Obviously, a message about Passover would be timely considering that the first seder is Wednesday night. (How did that happen?)
I could write about ADL’s most recent Audit of Antisemitic Incidents, which recorded a 36% increase in antisemitic incidents between 2021 and 2022. It is “the highest number on record since ADL began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979. This is the third time in the past five years that the year-end total has been the highest number ever recorded.”
Or I could write about the ongoing crisis in Israel that saw a huge part of Israel’s citizenry standing up against the government’s proposed judicial reforms. While Prime Minister Netanyahu called for a pause in the rush to pass the reforms, he also gave his extremist Cabinet Member Ben G’vir control over his own militia. Clearly, the crisis in Israel isn’t close to being over.
Instead, I want to write about the blue sweater 98-year-old Helena Weinstock Weinrauch has worn at every seder for the last 76 years. Described as, “a chic, 1940s number with fluffy angora sleeves, a sparkling metallic blue bodice and a delicate, scalloped V-neck,” the sweater was a gift from a friend who stayed alive while a prisoner in the Lodz Ghetto by knitting coats and other garments for the wives of Nazi officers.
Weinrauch’s own ordeal is hard to imagine. She survived three concentration camps, a three-day interrogation by the Gestapo, and the Death March from Auschwitz to Bergen-Belsen. She survived, but most of her family members did not.
After liberation Weinrauch was nursed back to health in Sweden, and then spent months volunteering to help others and “repay the Swedish people for their efforts.”
She eventually made her way to America, married, and after numerous miscarriages, gave birth to a daughter and together they built a life.
“Weinrauch did not just survive the horrors of the Holocaust,” one article about her noted, “she built a life filled with love and beauty.”
Sadly, Weinrauch’s daughter died some twenty years ago and, a few years later, her husband did as well. But as that same article reported, “Not one to wallow, in 2013, when a flier from a local dance studio landed in her mailbox, Weinrauch, then 88, decided to learn ballroom dance — which enabled her to feel joy in moving to music. These days, her closets overflow with beautiful beaded gowns, and every room in her apartment features photos of her beaming at ballroom dance events.”
Weinrauch’s story is the story of resilience. It is the story of perseverance. It is the story of remembering the past but always looking to the future. And it is the story of being a force that brings goodness and beauty into the world, even though the world has often been harsh and painful to you.
I read about Helena Weinstock Weinrauch a few weeks ago and was moved by her story. “But why,” I initially wondered, “has she worn the blue sweater her friend from the Lodz Ghetto knit for her to the Seder for the past 75 years?”
Perhaps it is because the story we will tell this Wednesday contains all the same lessons of Weinrauch’s story. Much like the Passover story itself, perhaps the sweater is a reminder that we must recall the challenges of the past if we are to “use our redemption” to become a force of goodness and beauty.
Wishing you all a Zissen Pesach,
Rabbi Daniel Cohen
A Post Script from Cantor Moses
When Rabbi Cohen sent me his Shabbat message I immediately recognized the story of the sweater. I first read it a few years ago and was touched by the special heirloom for a holiday that is celebrated with the telling of stories passed down through the generations. Many of you know that I am an avid knitter and so, of course, I wanted to know if there was a way for me to knit my own blue sweater . . . and there is! For others who are knitters, here is a link to the pattern. Part of the proceeds from the pattern go to an organization helping to care for Holocaust survivors struggling with daily needs. I haven’t knit mine yet, but I will continue to be inspired by this incredible story of friendship. Chag Sameach.