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February 15, 2013

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, FEBRUARY 15, 2013 By Chaya Glasner Jewish Ideas Daily United Nations Secre- tary General Ban Ki-Moon dedicated this year's Inter- national Holocaust Remem- brance Day to rescuers of Nazi victims who were not famous heroes but little- known people living "ordi- nary" lives. Yet some of those little-known rescuers--like Berta Davidovitz Rubinsz- tejn-- lived anything but ordinary lives. When Berta celebrated her 90th birthday in New York this summer, one guest-- Meir Brand, a white-haired grandfather of eight--made the trip from Israel. Berta calls Meir her son. He is, but not in any ordinary sense. In 1941, when Berta was 18, her family of five fled Poland and crossed the Carpathian Mountains into still-unoccupied Hungary, where Jews were being per- secuted but not yet hunted down. One night the family was hiding in a sheep stall when Berta's father, fearing his children would be killed, cried, "For what did I bring you into the world?" From her father's desperation Berta took the conviction that sustained her for the next five years: "Better to be killed than to hide!" . Berta made her way to Budapest in 1942, where she began working for the Zion- ist underground through the youth movement Dror Habonim. She assumed a gentile identity and the name Bigota Ilona and wore a crucifix around her neck. She would meet in a park with other Dror Habonim members living as gentiles to plan operations and smuggle weapons. Jewish parents in more dangerous places were then bribing Gentiles and using other means to smuggle their children into Budapest. The underground worked to find them, and any other Jewish. children they could Not ordinary at all discover, and get them to safety. An indirect participant in many of their operations was Rudolf Kasztner, a Hungar- ian Jew who was head of Hungary's Zionist Aid and Rescue Committee. In May 1944, Kasztner made a dar- ing deal to provide trucks to Adolf Eichmann in exchange for the safe passage of Jews out of Hungary by train to neutral Spain and ultimately to Palestine. The goal of Dror Habonim became get- ting Jewish children onto Kasztner's train. Meir Brand was one of those children. He was born in 1936 in Bochnia, Poland, and his family was forced into the Jewish ghetto there in 1942. After the 1943 War- saw Ghetto uprising, Meir remembered, "Everyone knew the whole ghetto"--in Bochnia--"was going to Auschwitz." Soon after, "the whole family," three sets of parents, "convened to decide what to do." They determined that one child of each set of parents would escape. The family paid a Polish gentile to smuggle Meir and two of his cousins, Itek and Miriam, to the Slovakian border. There they were met by Itek's aunt, who ac- companied them by train to Budapest. Itek's aunt was living on a false passport that said she had two children. With one child of her own, she could claim Itek as the other, but not Meir. The family had found an adoptive family for Miriam, but not Meir. "So," Meir remembered, "in the middle of September, a child of 8 years old stands by himself in the Budapest train station." Meir, homeless like hundreds of other Budapest refugees, took shelter under the city's bridges. Be'ta found him there after seven months--alone, frozen and covered in blis- ters. Berta put approxi- mately 10 Jewish children on Kasztner's train, but she was especially attached to Meir. When the train left Budapest, Berta brought Meir on board with her. The train ride was initially a "very happy time," he re- called. "We were sure we were going straight to safety." But by the time they stopped, "everyone understood that we weren't going to continue as planned. We knew some- thing very wrong and bad had happened." What had happened was that Kasztner's precarious negotiations were collaps- ing: Eichmann wanted more in ransom than Kasztner could gather. The train car- rying Berta and Meir, with 1,684 passengers in all, was diverted to Bergen-Belsen. There, Berta recalled, "I was with the halutzim," while Meir was in a barrack with the other children. Still very weak, he couldn't clean himself or eat properly. Berta devoted herself to his care and nursed him back to health. American-born Orthodox rabbi PAGE 17A Kasztner finally negoti- ated his passengers' release. The train made its way to Switzerland, where Berta met Kasztner. "I thanked him," she re- called. "He kissed me, and I kissed him." This was their first and last meeting. But in 1954, during a libel trial in Jerusalem based on an accusation that Kaszt- ner had collaborated with the Nazis, Berta appeared in court to support her hero. By then, Berta and Meir had made aliyah together, in 1946. In Israel, Meir was adopted by family members, but remained close to Berta. At her 90th birthday party, Meir saidofher, "She isabravewoman. Shewas never frightened." Berta said of Meir simply, "He is my son." Chaga Glasner is a mar- keting associate at the Tikvah Fund. This article was first published by Jew- ish Ideas Daily lwww.jew-] and is reprinted with permission. By Alex Traiman The surprise of Israel's 2013 election was the rapid ascen- dance of the new Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party, led by former television celebrity Yair Lapid, at the expense of Israel's known political enti- ties. The party surpassed all polling estimates to be come the nation's second-most powerful party in Israel's 19th Knesset. With 19 out of 120 parlia- mentary seats, Yesh Atid is in prime position to dictate many of the terms of Israel's next ruling coalition, to be led by re-elected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The surprising rise of a fresh party is highly indicative of a disenfranchised elector- ate searching for leaders that are better in touch with the issues important to the general popplous. One of the new leaders emerging from the election is incoming Yesh Atid Member of Knesset (MK) Rabbi Dov Lipman, an Ameri- can-born Orthodox rabbi and longtime Jewish educator living in Beit Shemesh. "For the last decade, sec- toral divisions within our population have been fighting against one another and divid- ing our country," Lipman, 41, said in an interview with JNS. org. "We've been fighting be- tween right and left, between religious and secular, and .we've kind of lost our way." Netanyahu's Likud party, running together with the Russian-centric Yisrael Be- itenu (Israel Our Home) party, won 31 seats to secure re-election. The total of those two parties, however, was 11 seats lower than the 42 seats the two parties held in the outgoing Knesset. Similarly, the once-ruling Kadima party, which had 28 seats in the outgoing parlia- ment, plummeted to near non-existence, and barely crossed the minimum elec- tion threshold with only two mandates. Many of the votes went among surprising faces of Israel's future instead to Yesh Atid, despite the fact that the party is unproven. All 19 incoming Yesh Atid Knesset members are new to the parliamentary ranks, an anomaly in Israeli politics. MK Lipman rose to promi- nence this past summer while leading protests against ultra- Orthodox intimidation. That attracted Lapid, known to be a staunch secularist. "When I first learned about the party, I heard that Yair must be anti-this and anti- that, particularly with re- gards to religion," Lipman said. "But here is a secular individual who is willing to work together with religious communities to set aside sectarian concerns." Atop the Yesh Atid platform are socioeconomic issues, which include reducing the soaring prices of housing- . particularly for young fami- lies, first time homeowners and IDF veterans--breaking entrenched monopolies that. dominate Israel's economy, and creating an equal burden of military service for all Is- raeli citizens including Israeli Arabs and Ultra-Orthodox groups. "It is clear that the old politics, based on sectarian Rabbi Dov Lipman gives a lecture. self-interests are failing the country," Lipman said. "We believe our party can be a unifier. The unity we will generate will bring Israel to a whole new place." Many credit Yesh Atid's social agenda and middle- of-the-road image with at- tracting new voters, even as security threats and diplo- matic challenges sit atop PM Netanyahu's priorities. The challenge now will be for the party to meet the na- tion's newly granted expecta- tions, by effectively working to effect change from within the nation's primary legislative body--the Knesset--where not a single party member has any experience. "We are capitalists with a proud connection to the land," Lipman said. "We be- lieve we can forge a very good partnership with the Prime Minister, who generally seems to be on the right track." With the likely inclusion of Yesh Atid in Netanyahu's ruling coalition, the govern- ment may shift further toward the left than many pollsters had predicted prior to the election. On the security front, Yesh Atid is in favor of restarting negotiations with the Palestinians toward a two-state solution. And the Yesh Atid wants at least one other left-wing party to sit in the government. Yet Lapid's approach to peacemaking is met with a dose of reality. Lapid has been quoted as seating that Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas "is a fraud," and that any negotiations could be carried out"in a state of total mistrust." The party's platform calls for Jerusalem to always re- main united as the capital of Israel, allows for natural expansion of settlements, for retaining settlement blocs in any negotiated settlement, and for Israel to fight terror as necessary, even during ne- gotiations-all caveats that the Palestinian Authority is unlikely to accept. "Before joining the party, I wanted to know where Lapid stood on a host of issues," Lipman said. "From the first time I met him, we were able to speak openly on a host of issues." "I wanted to know where he stood on religion, on God and on the Land of Israel," he said. "And I saw that we would be able to work together." Lipman is one of two rabbis on the Yesh Atid parliamen- tary list. Lapid is the son of the staunchly secular Tommy Lapid--also a television celebrity--who guided the anti-religious Shinui party from zero to 15 mandates in 2003. Three years later, the Shinui party failed to cross the Knesset threshold. The elder Lapid passed away in 2008, and his son Yair shares many of his father's principles. While the Yesh Atid party seeks to be much more inclu- sive of all societal elements than the Shinui party, the challenge is whether the younger Lapid can have sus- tained parliamentary success unlike his father. Incoming Knesset mem- bers like Lipman hope to help Lapid bridge social divides, and to ultimately strengthen Israeli society. "My personal agenda is to restore core Jewish values, and Jewish pride to Israel including more Zionism on the secular side, increased Aliyah (immigration) to Is- rael, to help with absorption, to distance politics from corruption, to bring Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God's name) into govern- ment, to bring God into our political and social discourse, and to loyally serve the people of Israel," Lipman said. "Most of all, I just want to stay the same old Dov," he said. - Lipman said his own per- sonal story "is the biggest proof that Israel is a land of miracles." "I made aliyah from the United States eight years ago, and now I am entering the Knesset," he said. "I am playing a role in shaping the future of our country." "Israel is the future of the Jewish people," Lipman added. "To anybody who ever considered making aljyah, even if you think you can't make it, you can. You can be part of it, and you can make a difference."  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