Drexel President John Fry congratulates Ann Weiss on being chosen for “Service to the Community” Award, May 4, 2012
I have just returned from Israel where I was lucky enough to be in the country for three significant events, which take place in quick succession: Yom Hashoah (commemorating the Holocaust), Yom HaZikaron (commemorating fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism) and Yom Ha’atzmaut (celebrating Israel’s statehood 63 years ago). Add to that, a fourth significant event–the birth of my first daughter’s first baby! And as if that isn’t enough, just a ten weeks earlier, we celebrated the birth of my younger daughter’s first baby! Both Rebecca and Julia had little boys and both named their sons after my father, of blessed memory.
Leo in Chicago with his dad, Brian
Yehuda Leib in Jerusalem with his dad, Chaim Dovid
This is a time of both joy and sorrow, absence and presence. In Israel, the formal ceremony commemorating the Holocaust began at dusk, with speeches by Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu, and with flames punctuating the darkness lit by survivors whose moving stories were told in video format. The huge opening flame was lit by Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, Reb Israel Meir Lau, himself a child during the Holocaust, whose miraculous story is as remarkable as his life. His father, who died in Treblinka, was the last Chief Rabbi of their Polish town; and Rabbi Lau is the 38th generation of rabbis in his family, with his sons following the tradition, making it now the 39th!
Next we marked Yom HaZikaron, which remembers not only soldiers who have fallen in battle, but also those many victims of terrorist attacks who have died. It is extraordinary to witness a whole country stop at the exact moment on the stroke of 11 a.m. as a siren sounds. All traffic stops; taxis screech to a halt, and people throughout the country–I was in Jerusalem at the moment–stand in silent respect for the memory of those who have died. In the United States, it would be as if all traffic on Times Square stopped at the same moment, and every driver got out of the car to stand in the street in silence. This is what I witnessed.
And then, as suddenly as it started, that’s just how suddenly it ended. The siren sounded and the throbbing pace of the city resumed. People got back in their cars; pedestrians walked, merchants went back to business–and life began again.
So too on the personal level. As I hold both little boys–each one so sweet and so wondrous–I cannot help but think what this miracle would have meant to my parents. New life is ALWAYS a miracle, but in the case of Holocaust families where there have been so many family members killed, such new life might have an extra measure of gratitude.
My daughters, Julia and Rebecca, were my parents’ only grandchildren and although geographic miles separated us, the fact is that nothing separated us in our hearts. The sun rose and set by Julia and Rebecca for my parents (If I’m honest, I’d have to admit, the same was true for my sister and me, as well).
I come from a family of many losses–and yet, we are still here. And as I see my daughters who are so wonderful and natural and gentle and loving (their husbands too) with their babies, and I am ever so grateful to witness this cycle of life repeating itself. When I look into the luminescent eyes of both Leo and his cousin, Yehuda, the generations that came before feel almost palpable. And even if my parents never held either baby, I can feel both their absence AND their presence in this time of joy and in this time of creation, and I feel the sense of being blessed, truly blessed.