(New York Jewish Week) — The last time Michael Epstein, 87, and Abe Rosenberg, 83, were in the same room, they were in Germany, studying in a classroom in a displaced person’s camp in Bavaria after the Holocaust.
On Sunday, March 19, the two men — along with Rosenberg’s older sister, Ada Gracin, who was also in the DP camp — reunited after 76 years. This time around, it was in the social hall of Young Israel of New Hyde Park, New York, where the pair embraced, said the Shehecheyanu prayer to mark their reunion and shared their survival stories with an in-person audience of about 100.
The reunion came together quickly, just a few weeks after the two men learned they lived less than 40 miles from one another — Rosenberg in New Hyde Park, on the eastern border of Queens, and Epstein in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. Originally intended to be an intimate meeting between the two families, the reunion soon broadened to a festive brunch and celebration open to the public.
“The Torah says it’s a mitzvah to relate what happened to us,” Rosenberg said. “Hitler’s goal was to destroy Yiddishkeit, Judaism. When we gather here, we are involved in a victory over him.”
The two were brought together by a sharp-eyed videographer. In February, Epstein participated in an interview at a Jewish day school in Edison, New Jersey as part of the “Names Not Numbers” oral history project, which is dedicated to preserving the memories of Holocaust survivors and ensuring their legacies live on in future generations. As part of the project, high school students interview survivors about their experiences, which are filmed and made into mini-documentaries.
During the interview, Epstein presented a photograph of himself as a 7-year-old in “cheder” or elementary school at Feldafing, an all-Jewish displaced person’s camp near Munich, where he lived from 1945 to 1949.
As it happens, the videographer that day recognized the photograph. He had seen the same one during an interview he had filmed the prior year with another survivor — Rosenberg — who was living in Queens. When Epstein and his two daughters learned this, they knew they had to arrange a meeting.
“This is the first time I know of a reunion happening between survivors as a result of our program,” Daniel Mayer, a Names Not Numbers board member, told the New York Jewish Week.
As for Rosenberg, when he got the call from Epstein, “it just concretized the fact that the whole experience [of Feldafing] wasn’t a dream,” he said.
Though the two men did not specifically remember each other — Rosenberg was 8 and Epstein and Gracin were 11 at the time of the picture, taken in 1947 — at the event, they acutely recalled their lives at the DP camp.
Rosenberg, for example, remembers living in Barrack Nine with his sister and parents. During the war, the Nazis used Feldafing as a training ground for Hitler Youth. In Feldafing, like at other Jewish DP camps, survivors waiting for a country that would taken them in opened Jewish schools, started newspapers, composed music and began to rebuild their identities.
“We were hoping to go to Palestine, to Eretz Yisroel — that was our dream,” Rosenberg said. “It was not available to us” under the British Mandate. “Unfortunately, the doors of the whole world were closed to us.”
“So what did we do?” he continued. “We started to build on Jewish life again.”
On Sunday, as the assembled crowd noshed on bagels, lox and egg salad — and other participants joined via Zoom from California, Florida, New Jersey and Canada — Epstein, Rosenberg and Gracin shared their experiences with those in attendance.
First to speak was Epstein, who brought with him a scrapbook of pictures from his childhood. Epstein was born in Łódź, Poland, in 1935, which his family was forced to flee when Germany invaded in 1939. They went to Bialystok, which soon fell under the control of the Russians, who transported Poles and Jews to labor camps in Siberia via cattle cars. After spending time at a gulag camp in Siberia, Epstein and his family were moved to another in Uzbekistan.
When the war ended, Epstein and his parents returned to Łódź, only to find that their entire extended family had been killed and a Polish family was living in their apartment. With nothing left for them in Poland, they left for Feldafing. They lived there until they could find a way to get to the United States, where they eventually arrived in 1945.
Epstein, who is known as Zayde to his 11 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren — many of whom were in the room — left the crowd with a message to invest in Jewish education, and to work to uphold democracy. “We live in ‘di Goldene Medine’ (the Golden Land),” he said. “We thought, in Europe, that meant there was gold on the street. There’s no gold on the street but there is gold on paper in our Constitution, and in our Constitution there is still mining to do. There is still work to be done to make our Constitution’s morals realistic.”
Rosenberg and Gracin, who spoke next, were also from Łódź. Gracin, born Ada Rosen in 1935, recalled wearing the mandated yellow Jewish star patch on her clothing as a 4-year-old. Her mother was pregnant with her brother when they left Poland for Soviet Georgia, a journey she said was “fraught with peril,” as they were stopped multiple times by the Gestapo. The family lived in Georgia for six years and “fear was a constant.”
When the war ended, the family also returned to Łódź to look for surviving family members — there were none. They connected with the Jewish Agency and HIAS, which helped them get to Feldafing in 1945.
There, “we were referred to as ‘she’arit hapletah,’ the surviving remnants,” Gracin said. “I refer to this period in my life as ‘life reborn,’ as I lost my childhood prior to this. Although we lacked many things, I never felt deprived. The survivors cherished each child as if it were their own. We were precious jewels to them, as they had lost their own children.”
“For the first time in my life, I went to school, made friends, played and laughed,” she added. “I was a happy 9 year old.”
Gracin, her brother and her parents arrived in New York Harbor on April 6, 1949. “At last we were free of fear, free to live and practice our religion and thrive,” she said. “I feel blessed to have been given this chapter in my life and my revenge to Hitler is that I was blessed with three children and six grandchildren.” Two of Gracin’s children and four of her grandchildren were at the event.
In his remarks, Rosenberg recalled the heroism of the parents, teachers and rabbis in Feldafing, many of whom had lost their entire families but made it their mission to educate the few children who made it to the camp. “They were the heroes,” Rosenberg said. “They deserve the accolades — we were kids.” It is in their honor and memory that Rosenberg continued to share his story throughout his life, he said.
Though Epstein and Rosenberg did not stay in touch upon their respective arrivals to the United States, their lives continued to follow similar paths. Both went on to study engineering at the City College of New York and for a time both worked at Bendix Corporation, though in different departments — Epstein in the space program and Rosenberg on the supersonic transport team.
Chuck Waxman, a docent at the Museum of Jewish Heritage who moderated the discussion, told the New York Jewish Week he was “blown away” by the event — he said he expected less than half the room to be filled.
But full it was, with family, friends, community members and other survivors who wanted to be a part of the miracle — both the miracle that happened in Feldafing and the miracle of the reunion in Queens.
The event also included speeches from Mayer Waxman, executive director of Queens JCC and Torah commentaries from Lawrence Teitelman, the rabbi of Young Israel of New Hyde Park, where Rosenberg is a member, and Benjamin Yudin, the rabbi of Congregation Shomrei Torah in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, where Epstein is a member.
At the close of the event, the lyrics of “Zog nit keynmol,” the “Song of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising” — which was sung by Jewish partisan groups around Eastern Europe — were passed in sheets around the room. Rosenberg heartily led everyone in Yiddish.
“We plan to meet again in another 76 years,” Rosenberg joked to the New York Jewish Week. “Everyone is invited.”
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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