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November 9, 2012

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PAGE 8A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, NOVEMBER 9, 2012 Beth Am Care Team honored by U.S. Marines September 11, 2011 was a day that meant a lot of different things to a lot of different people. To Debbie Zelkowitz and the Care Team at Congregation Beth Am in Longwood, it was a day of special recognition that they would never have expected. On that day, the 10th anniversary of the ter- rorist attacks on the World Trade (enter in New York, the United States Marines saluted the Beth Am Care Team in a very special way. The story began in the spring of 2011 when Zel- kowitz and the Care Team she headed decided to col- lect items to ship to our troops overseas in Afghani- stan in gratitude for their service to our country. On the recommendation of Rabbi Josh Sherwin, lieu- tenant, United States Navy Chaplain Corps, they asked the congregants for dona- tions of personal toiletries, novels, puzzle books, snack foods, baby wipes, socks, tissues, hard candies, play- ing cards, pencils, paper and powdered drink mixes. Collection boxes left in the synagogue lobby were quickly filled until there was more than 350 pounds to send overseas. Volun- teers from Beth Am packed and shipped more than 25 packages to Afghanistan; and the first boxes arrived on Memorial Day. Previously stationed in Afghanistan, Rabbi Josh Sherwin reported, "There is nothing as uplifting for our troops than to receive a package or a note from home. It is one thing to receive packages from family members. It is an en- tirely unique thing to have received packages from Debbie Zelkowitz and the Care Team that reminded service members that there are many more out there who care and remain sup- portive. It isamazing how Rabbi Rick Sherwin and Debbie Zelkowitz and the cer- tificate and flag that flew in Afghanistan. far a clean pair of socks, some powdered drink mix to flavor a canteen of wa- ter and some candy can go towards raising spirits and providing that much needed touch of home." In recognition of the work of Zelkowitz and the Beth Am Care Team, the Chaplains and Religious Program Specialists of II MEF Forward purchased an American flag to fly over Camp Leatherneck in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan on September 11, 2011. That flag was presented to Zelkowitz on Yore Kippur. The certificate that accompanied the flag, issued by the United States Marine Corps, reads, "This certifies that the accompa- nying American Flag was flown over Camp Leath- erneck in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan for Debbie Zelkowitz and the Beth Am Care Team on September 11, 2011." The signatures represent the Marine Expeditionary Brigade Task Force, Leath- erneck, Afghanistan, Op- eration Enduring Freedom. In response, Zelkowitz commented, " We were truly blessed to have the support and guidance of Rabbi Rick and Rabbi Josh (Sherwin) to assure that our project was directed in the most effective way as we moved forward. We fer- vently hope that our con- tributions ensured smiles for our troops overseas. We want our servicemen and women to know that there are Americans at home that deeply care about them and their families and we are grateful for their service. Furthermore, the Beth Am Care Team is continuing to work to assist our troops who serve under extremeiy adverse conditions and circumstances." The extended family of Beth Am offers the tradi- tional statement of appre- ciation to Debbie Zelkowitz and the Beth Am Care Team, Y'yasher koch'khem, in gratitude for their dili- gent work on behalf of our troops. The flag can be seen at Beth Am. For more information on the BethAm Care Team and the other activities at Beth Am consult the syna- gogue's web site at www. Son of Nazi hero converts to Judaism and tells his story By Pamela Ruben Rabbi Yanky Majesky of Chabad of North Orlando introduced his guest speaker, Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger, stating, "Dr. Bernd Wollsch- laeger's father was a deco- rated Nazi. The doctor is now a converted Jew." Maje:ky added, "This em- bodies te indomitable spirit of our people. Today there is no Third Reich, but there is a Jewish People, ensuring we pass on the torch to the next generation. The expression" 'against all odds' embodies the story of our peoplehoo6, and now the doctor's story as well." Following a Yizkhor prayer for the six million Jews ex- terminated in the Holocaust, Majesky "passed the torch," as well as the podium, to Dr. Wollschlaeger, who cap- tivated his audience of 80 at the Marriott in Lake Mary on Oct. 28 for more than an hour with the stunning story of transformation from Nazi heir to Israeli citizen. Wollschlaeger began his story with a moment of hu- mility, sharing that when ad- dressing an audience. "It was always hard where to start," as his story of conversion was a "process," rather than the result of one "aha" moment. Bernd Wollschlaeger was raised in the medieval Ger- man city of Bamberg, a city with both a rich Christian and Jewish history. "While a church dotted each hill, there had been a Jewish community in Bam- berg for over a thousand years," Wollschlaeger said. His family had not hailed from Bamberg, and Wolfsh- laeger was discouraged fronl speaking the local dialect. His parents preferred the more "educated" dialect of the big cities, where they originated. Wollschlaeger" was also discouraged from associating with his upstairs neighbor, "The Countess," who lived on the top floor of their rambling, ancient residence. As a young boy, Woilsch- laeger was close to his father, and they would often walk in the woods together. His father was an avid outdoor- sman and hunter, and they shared an authoritarian rela- tionship in which Bernd both "loved and feared him." His father spoke of World War II, in which he was regarded as a hero. His faher shared that he was awarded the honor of the Knight's Cross by his "Fuehrer," Adolf Hitler. Bar Mitzvah Elliott Jordan Layish, son of Dr. Daniel and Nancy Layish of Orlando, will be called to the Torah as a bar mitzvah on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012 at Congregation Ohev Shalom in Maitland. Elliott is in the seventh grade at Lake Mary Prepa- ratory School. His hobbies include art, computer activities, video games and dogs. He is also a member of the Boy Scouts and in- terested in volunteering at Central Florida Pug Rescue. Sharing in the family's simcha will be Elliott's broth- ers Adam and Rafael; grandparents, Irving and Melody Boime and Ari and Yael Layish as well as aunts, uncles and cousins from Israel and across the United States. War "comrades" would visit yearly to reminisce about "the old days," calling the senior Wollschlaeger, "Ar- turo the Hero." When Bernd was as young as 6, he began to question some of the stories passed down on his paternal side. He wondered to himself, "If Germany had won the war, why were 15,000 American soldiers stationed in the area?" Wollschlaeger also wondered why his mother had a completely different experience during the war, which left her family in ruins. His mother was an ethnic Czech whose fam- ily had been left penniless, "with just the clothes on their backs when they ar- rived in Germany." He stated, "For my father the war meant glory, for my mother the war was catas- trophe." Woilschlaeger noted he could not reconcile the differences. Also, there was a painting on the wall of their home that his father referred to as an image of "the traitor:" Bernd noted that the man was adorned in a similar military uniform to his father's, and had similar features. Yet, his father mocked the im- age. A young Wollschlaeger wondered how could two men look so similar, but be so dif- ferent in his father's eyes. This discrepancy added to Bernd's pile of unanswered questions, Later, Wollschlaeger was to discover that the "Count- ess" upstairs (with whom he was not to associate) was wife of Clauss Von Stauffenberg, one of the men executed for his role in the famous as- sassination attempt of Adolf Hitler. Ironically, Nina Von Stauffenberg was equally re- luctant to associate with the Wollschlaeger family, as her husband had been executed by the Nazi Party. However, she rented her home to the WollsChlaegers out of pity for Bernd's mother. The tragic Olympic Games held in Munich in 1972, was a turning point for Bernd Wollshchlaeger. He states, "The Olympics opened with great fanfare, Germany wanted to show its place in Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger (1) the Western World. But when one team with a star on the flag (the Israeli team) ap- peared on the television, my father and his friends looked away, and there was a silence that fell over the room. "Ten days later the team was brutally attacked by the Palestinians, which ul- timately led to the senseless murder of the entire Israeli team." Headlines ran, "Jews Killed Again in Germany." Wollschlaeger shared that this was the first time the Holocaust, the systematic and brutal extermination of the Jews by the Germans "was discussed in the schools and in the newspapers. He heard the names Auschwitz, concentration camps and Mengele for the first time. Bernd's father, a learned man who enjoyed debating the daily headlines, kept uncharacteristically quiet. Wollschlaeger simply stat- ed, "What you are learning in scho61 from your teachers is communist propaganda." Wollschlaeger was hungry for information about the Jews and Judaism and read textbooks in both English and German to find out more. Finally, on one of their walks when his father was drunk (which was not tin- characteristic), the senior Wollschlaeger admitted, "We as humans have to keep everything in balance and take care of unworthy life." His father continued, stating that the Germans visits with Rabbi Yanky Majesky and his wife, Chanshy. had lost the war because transporting the Jews to the concentration camps had clogged up German trains. At this point Bernd Wollschlaeger became alien- ated from his father, whom he calls "a cold man, who was desperate, with no soul." For a time Bernd became "unruly" and felt lost, un- til a local priest took him under his wing. The priest told Bernd, if his family had wronged the Jews, then Ber- nd needed to make amends. The priest introduced him to a member of the small Jewish community left in Bamberg. Wollschlaeger stated, "Yit- zhak Rosenberg agreed to teach me about Judaism, if I would serve as the com- munity's 'shabbes goy', and soa deal was struck." At first Bernd stood in the background of the Jew- ish community, "absorbing everything like a sponge." One day a member of the community passed away, and the Chevra Kodesha (burial society) needed an able-bodied hand. Berndwas asked to assist, but initially refused, stating "I am not a Jew.,' Community members insisted Bernd join their ranks, stating "you are one of us." (They had no rabbi for conversion.) At that time Bernd de- cided to officially convert, and when a court of rabbis ruled in favor of his cause, Wollschlaeger decided to move to Israel. Yitzhak Rosenberg encouraged Ber- nd to honor his parents, and to say "good-bye" before emigrating. ,His mother was distraught, while his father told him, "to get thehell out of my house." Bernd moved to Israel, served in the IDF, married, but kept his past a secret. Years later he emigrated to the U.S. as part of his medi- cal studies. One day, out of the blue, his teen-age son said to him, "Father, who is my grandfather?" Bernd thought if he lied about his past, it made him no better than his own father. Once Bernd had shared his story with his son (which traveled all the way to the principal's office), he was encouraged to pass on his tale for the benefit of others. Dr. Wollschlaeger's hopes are "that his words will make a little dent in the mind of the listener, who will pass on the words (or torch) that will affect someone else. The doctor closed with, "If we make amends in this life, we can learn, and hope the mis- takes will not happen again." "A German Life--Against All Odds Change is Possible" by Bernd Wollschlaeger For more Information: For a Calendar of events at Chabad ofNorth Orlando vis- it: www.jewishnorthorlando. corn or call 407-878-3011. Pamela Ruben is an Or- lando area author, teacher, and wri'ter. She can be reached at: www.peppry-