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April 26, 2013

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,W HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, APRIL 26, 2013 By Sara Greenberg Philadelphia Jewish Exponent My grandfather stared out the airplane window, smiling. My mother star.ed at my grandfather, crying. I staved at both of them, overcome by what we.had just experienced together'. A day earlier we had marched'with a group of Israeli officers through the gates of Auschwitz-Birke- nau, the death camp where my grandfather had been a pris'oner 68 years ago. This was notmy family's first visit to Auschwitz. We had isited Poland in 2005 so my grandfather, Joseph Gringlas, could show his children and grandchil- dren where he had come from and what he had been through. But after returning from our trip, he vowed never to return. It was too painful. A few months ago, how- ever, Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yit- zhak Gershon, the national director of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) called to invite my grandfather to accompany a delegation from the IDF to Auschwitz. The soldiers wanted and needed to hear his story. He couldn't say no. The men and women of the IDF were his heroes. They pro- tected the Jewish people all over the world. He wanted them to understand what he had experienced and appreciate why, because of the IDF, the World was different today. "It isdifficult to be here in Auschwitz--a place where I witnessed such c[eath and destruction," my grandfa- ther said while standing on the train tracks at the entrance to the camp, "but it is an honor to be here today, with you, the Israel Defense Forces." My grandfather was born n Ostrowiec, Poland. In 1938, when he was 12, he re- members the Zionist leader, Vladamir Jabotinksy, visit- Witnesses in uniform ing Ostrowiec to warn the 15,000 Jews living there of the threatening Nazi storm. '/The catastrophe is comirg closer," Jabotinsky cautioned in a speech in Warsaw that same year, and each person must "save his life while there is still time." There may have still been time, but my grandfather and his family did not have any place to go. As Chaim Weizmann wrote in 1936, "The world seemed to be di- vided into two parts--those places where the Jews could not live and those where they could not enter." Today, there are no re- maining Jews in Ostrowiec. My grandfather lost his entire family--except for one brother--to the Nazi gas chambers. "I will never forget the day I arrived here," my grandfather continued, describing the day in 1944 that he was transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau after time in a labor camp. "When I got off the train, I could see that the sky was red. The permanent smell of burning bodies is something I will never forget. It is a miracle I survived." After the war, my grand- father almost migrated to Eretz Yisrael. As a bricha, a volunteer helping Jewish refugees get to the land of Israel, he was chosen to go to British-controlled Pales- tine. But his one surviviflg family member, his brother, was not awarded a visa and so instead, they both went to America. Nevertheless, my grand- father's love, support and gratitude for the state of Israel and the IDF have always remained strong. "If there had been a Jewish nation state and an army to defend the Jewish people in the 1930s," my grandfather proclaimed, "my family and millions of Jews could have left Europe and lived freely." I have heard and told my grandfather's story numer- ous times. I have vowed to Civil marriage in Israek The time has come By Susie Gelman Washington Jewish Week communities. This arrangement, which dates back to the Ottoman Empire, was continued- during the British Mandate (1918-1948). In June, 1947, David Ben Gurion, then chairman of the executive of the Jewish Agency (the quasi-government of Israel before it became a state), offered a set of guarantees preserving the "status quo" regarding marriage and other matters of personal statusto two religious par- ties, Agudath Israel and Mizrahi (later the National Religious Party), so that they would join the first elected government of Israel in 1949, thus entrusting to the Orthodox Rabbinate the authority to determine all such matters according to the laws of halacha. This accommodation became problematic almost immediately, when the Law of Returnwas passed in 1950 guaranteeing to all Jews the right to make aliyah, there- fore inviting the question of "Who is a Jew?"--an issue that remains controversial to this day. Moreover, by failing to separate religion and state at the inception of Israel's existence, Israel has con- tinuously had to contend with challenging issues concerning religious iden- tity, citizenship, marriage, divorce (including the sta- tus of thousands of agunot (women deserted by hus- bands who will not divorce them'and who are therefore unable to remarry) and burial. The situation was further exacerbated by the aliyah of more than a mil- Lion Jews from the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Today, approximately 300,000 Israelis who oth- erwise fully participate in Israeli society, including serving in the army, are not considered Jewish ac- cording to halacha (since the "Jewishness" of their mother or grandmother is in question) and are there- fore not eligible to marry in Israel (orbe buried in Jewish cemeteries). Other catego- ries of Israelis who cannot be married in modern-day Israel include: a kohen who wishes to marry a divorcee; a kohen and a convert; same-sex couples; Israelis who wish to be married in a non-Orthodox ceremony; and those who wish to marry a "person of no religion" or of "questionable halchic background." Increasingly, Israelis are voting with their feet in response to such unten- able restrictions and to a religious authority that is perceived as irrelevant at best to their daily lives and to their Jewish identity. Approximately 20 percent of Israelis choose to marry outside of Israel (including the son of Michael Oren, the current ambassador to the U.S.) to avoid marriage under the authority of the Orthodox Rabbinate. Cyprus is the venue of Choice for most, due to its proximity; in fact, there is a booming "marriage busi- ness" for Israelis, with great package deals. (Ironically, Israelis who marry in civil marriages outside of Israel can be registered by the Miflistry of the Interior as a married couple; how- ever, such couples must go through the Orthodox Rabbinate if they wish to obtain a divorce.) Moreover, a growing number of Israelis are choosing not to marry at all, rather than subject themselves to the require- ments of the Rabbinate, which include intrusive questions about personal religious observance that many secular Israelis would prefer to avoid. Why does this matter to those of us who live outside of Israel? First and fore- most, Israel presents itself (and many of us regard it) as the nation-state of-the Jewish people. If Israel is With all of the many is- sues confronting the state of Israel--the Iranian nuclear threat, the challenges of renewing meaningful peace talks with the Ealestin- ians, the increasing social divisions in Israeli society, an unconventional and somewhat precarious coali- tion government, serious deficits in the educational system, insufficient em- ployment opportunities for Israelis with advanced degrees and an increasingly turbulent and unpredict- able neighborhood--one might assume that the Jewish state hasmore than enough on its collective plate. For the first time since 1977, there are no ultra- Orthodox parties in the recently-formed governing coalition. The ascendancy of two new parties, in par- ticular Yesh Atid (There i's a Future), reflects an increasing restiveness in Israeli society, amply dem- onstrated during the Sum- mer of 2011, when hundreds of thousands of Israelis literally took to the streets to protest the growing unaffordability )f Israeli life and the unfairness of not requiring all Israelis to share in protecting the country. But there'is an additional critical issue facing Israel today--civil marriage. Is- rael shares the lack of a civil marriage option with the following countries: Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jor- dan, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Libyamas well as Mau- ritania, Indonesia and Iran. In Israel, only religious authorities, specifically, the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate and rabbinical courts, and the Islamic and Christian authorities have the power to officiate at marriages in their respective religious "Never Forget" his story. But watching my grand- father address a group of Israeli soldiers, his heroesl in a place where over a mil- lion Jews were annihilated, his story suddenly took on a new meaning. My grandfather's story is a reminder of what the IDF protects and defends. His story is a reminder that the existence of Israel and the IDF is what allows us to stand in a place like Aus- chwitz and say and mean, "Never Again." A female naval officer in" the IDFwho participated in the trip told me she wished more people could experi- ence walking through the gates of Auschwitz with a survivor.."I afn returning to Israel with a higher sense of purpose, a better understanding of what it means to be a defender of the Jewish people." "The state of Israel does not exist because of the Ho- locaust," President Obama said a few weeks ago during his trip to Israel, "but with to represent the entire Jew- ish people, then it cannot discount 85 percent of Di- aspora Jews who subscribe to a different interpretation of Jewish tradition than the traditional Orthodox ver. sion. By rejecting Reform, Conservative and Recon- structionist marriages in Israel (and conversions by all three streams outside of israel), Israel is rejecting the majority of Diaspora Jews who follow a different Jewish path. Moreover, the "status quo" regarding marriage has a direct effect upon aliyah. As long as Jews who emigrate to Israel have their authenticity as Jews questioned or even denied (sometimes years after such individuals have made aliyah, married and raised a family), then fewer Jews will be encouraged to align their future with that ofthe Jewish state. For American Jews who have depended upon. the separation of. religion and state as the keystone to our acceptance and pros- perity in this qountry, the stranglehold that the Orthodox Rabbinate has on our Israeli brethren is simply untenable. Fortunately, the grow- ing sentiment in .Israel is trending towards civil mar- riage. Hopefully, Israelis will take advantage of the current political situation to liberate themselves and set a course of inclusiveness for all Jews. Such a move toward freedom of choice in marriage will increase Is- raelis' religious options and strengthen Jewish identity in the Jewish state. Susie Gelman is the im- mediate past president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington- and co-chair of the November, 2013 General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America in Jerusa- lem. She is also part-owner of Washington Jewish Week. PAGE 5A the survival of a strong Jewish state of Israel, such a Holocaust will never hap- pen again." The wheels touched down at Ben Gurion Airport. A young platoon commander, who had marched into Aus- chwitz carrying the Israeli flag in one hand and hold- ing my grandfather's hand in the other, hoisted my grandfather on his shoul- ders. My grandfather waved his hands in the air. He was home, with a new chapter to add to his story. Everyone started danc= ing around them. Gasping for breath, the IDF com- mander leaned over to whisper in my ear: "Your grandfather is my heroY Sara Greenberg, of Glad- wyne, lives in Cambridge, Mass., and is pursuing a joint masters degree in public policy and business administration from the Harvard Kennedy School and the Harvard Business School. Her grandfather, Joseph Gringlas, lives with his wife in Philadelphia. Letters To The Editor HERITAGE welcomes and encourages let- ters to the editor, but they must be typed or printed and include name and phone number. We will withhold your name if you so request. Please limit letters to 250 words. Due to space limitations, we reserve the right to edit letters. Send letters to P.O. Box 300742, Fern Park, FL 32730. Or e-mail to We must stand up to hatred Dear Editor: I was extremely troubled to read the letter to the editor by Sandi Solomon, "Stand strong against Islam," which you published April 12. The misinformation, intol- eranc e and prejudice echoed in the letter was simply epic in proportion. Perhaps what was most troubling wa that the accusations made by Solo- mon that 1) Islam seeks global domination and 2) Muslims are taught to lie and cannot be trusted, are the same false and hateful types of accusa- tions Nazi propagandists made against Jews prior to the Holocaust. We must learn from our history and learn from each other's differences, not hate and fear each other. Hate only begets more hate. Ignorance often can lead to misunder- standing that results in fear, hatred and ultimately even violence. We need more people to stand up to hatred and teach love, compassion and mercy. We should not give the spotlight to those who wish to promote the same types of hateful misinformation, promoted against other mi- norities in the past. Hassan Shibly, Esq. CAIR Florida Tampa Executive Director