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November 10, 2002

A Letter to My Children - From Hell To Heaven

By J. Philip Rosen

Dear Children,

I start this letter by reminding you how much I love you and that you and your Mother are my world. In all respects - it starts and ends with you.

I´m writing this letter to teach you a lesson and to convey to you, in my way, a message: What it means to be a Jew.

I know that parts of this letter will be hard to read, while other parts will be hard to comprehend, but please try.

Last Monday I left on a business trip to Munich, Germany. Kids, I have avoided going to Germany my whole life , but for various reasons, I felt I had to go - in fact, something was drawing me there. As you know, my father´s, your Zayde´s, family was murdered by the Germans in 1939. In fact, murdered is too mild a word - my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins were humiliated, degraded and tortured, then shot, gassed and burned to death by the German people (I say German people, not simply “Nazis”, for a reason you´ll understand in a minute).

I spent a day in meetings, at a conference, together with a couple of my law partners, listening the whole time to Germans conducting business as I´m sure they did in 1939. I´m used to the German language and expressions - as you know, Grandma was from Germany and spoke German at home. So, I was almost comfortable, except in two cases.

First, when I saw old Germans walking on the avenues, crossing the street, eating a piece of cake at a cafe, living their lives as if nothing had happened in the 1930’s and 40’s. What did they do during the war? What did he see? What did she hear? Did he object? Did she scream out? I doubt it. Very few did.

And the second was when I visited Dachau. Dachau is a concentration camp that was preserved almost intact. It was the first such camp, built in 1933, and most of the Jews killed there were tortured to death or died of starvation. I had not planned on visiting Dachau; but when my cabdriver told me Dachau was only 15 minutes away, I changed my plans, got up early the next day and went there. As we approached the camp, my heart started beating as fast as possible, my hands started shaking and, despite the cool air, I started to sweat profusely.

We (my cabdriver and I) got there way before it opened so we drove from the barracks to the torture chambers, to the crematoria, to the gallows, to the bunker, to the memorials. I should not have been surprised by anything I saw; in fact, having practically majored in the study of the Holocaust, I was obsessed with the topic.

Why, I aked when I was young, why was I the only child in my class without grandparents? Why does my father spend hours at night staring at the pictures of his majestic father and beautiful mother that hung on our living room wall? Why is he sometimes so sad? But nothing prepared me for the feeling of walking on the earth where so many of my brothers and sisters were systematically treated in inhumane fashion, were tortured, beaten and starved to death.

But what upset me the most was when I saw how close Dachau was to the towns, to the cities, to Munich; so close that the monsters could perform these acts of torture, degradation and murder and be home in time for dinner with their families.

And nothing prepared me for the voices I heard as I sat on the floor of the camp - the sounds of babies crying just outside the walls of the camp, the sounds of teenagers teasing each other; and the knowledge that just as I heard the sounds outside, the German people heard the sounds inside - the sound of constant screaming from torture, the sound of people, young and old, starving to death, pleading for a single morsel of food.

The Nazis may have been the torturers, but the German people heard and saw it all. My 40 year old driver, after seeing and hearing all this, sat on the ground and cried. And he just kept repeating, "I´m so sorry, I´m so sorry."

At that point I couldn´t wait to get to the airport and take the first flight out to Israel. Israel, my children, is the clear, absolute response to the Holocaust - a homeland where, it was hoped, a Jew could live in peace and security.

But when I arrived, I was greeted with the news of the terrorist murder of two 14 year old girls, the same age my uncle Reuven Noach was when he was murdered by the Nazis, killed once again just for living as Jews. How could this still be happening? And in our Homeland!

No, the story doesn´t end here. And the comparison to Dachau is a faulty one. In our country, in our Israel, the Jews can and should fight back. And they do. After meeting some friends at the airport we went to visit those Jews on the front lines of the battle in defense of the Jewish people - the Jews of the towns and villages of Yesha - Judea, Samaria and Gaza, the so-called "settlers". We paid a shiva visit to the parents of a young soldier who fell on a suicide/homicide bomber just as he was blowing himself up, and thereby saved dozens of lives. We visited other families victimized by the Arab murderers.

But the highlight was our Shabbat in the Holy City of Hevron - the resting place of our Forefathers. I repeat - our Holy City. The world portrays the city of Hevron as 700 "crazy" or "eccentric" Jews living among 100,000 hostile Arabs. The actual current numbers may be correct, but the portrayal couldn´t be farther from the truth.

The people who live in Hevron, men, women and children, are modern day Maccabees, Jewish heroes. They understand that G-d gave the Land of Israel to the Jewish people and, whether this government or that government, decides to put the lives of these people in more or less danger, these heroes will continue to settle the Land of Israel, the Holy Land of Israel, the Holy City of Hevron.

Kids, remember when I told you the interpretation of why the Torah begins with “Braishit Barah Elokim” (“In the beginning G-d created the heavens and the earth”)? I told you that Rashi explains that G-d wanted to remind the Jewish people that He created the world and He gave the Land of Israel to the Jewish people. And no one, not Rabin, not Barak, not Clinton, no one has the right to take it away from the Jews.

A past week´s Torah reading goes one step further - it tells the story of how Abraham bought the cave where he buried his wife Sarah, and where he, along with our forefathers Isaac and Jacob and Rivkah and Leah, are buried.

That weekend was true heaven - we danced in the streets, we prayed in the Ma’arat Hamachpelah, our Forefathers’ burial cave. We sang praise to G-d; we sang our thanks to G-d for giving us the Land of Israel and the Holy City of Hevron. And we prayed that someday the rest of the Jewish world would understand the significance of our holy city.

There were tens of thousands of Jews in Hevron - men, women and children, families, young couples, but so many kids - thousands of them, who understood much better than me the significance of Hevron. Yes, there are 100,000 Arabs in Hevron, many of whom are descendants of the Arabs who butchered the Jews of Hevron in 1929. But Hevron is our holy city and if they can´t live in peace, they must leave.

Children, I end this letter with a message:

G-d gave us the Land of Israel and don´t ever forget that our job is to help support, protect and save our brethren in Israel - and ultimately to join them. Only that can assure us that Dachau will never happen again.

Last week I went from hell to heaven, as the Jewish people have. Let´s save our heaven.