A Bissel Torah – 05/08/2020

This week, in Parashat Emor, in chapter 23 of the Book of Leviticus, we have a calendar of annual festivities. This calendar starts by teaching us about Shabbat.

In the Book of Leviticus, chapter 23, we read:
“1. And God spoke to Moses, saying,

  1. Speak to the people of Israel, and say to them:
    These are My fixed times, the fixed times of the Eternal, which you shall proclaim as sacred occasions.
  2. On six days work may be done; but on the seventh day there shall be a Sabbath of complete rest, a holy gathering; you shall do no melakha in it; it is the Sabbath of God in all your dwellings.”

You notice that I did not translate the word melacha. It is usually translated as “work”. The rabbis understood the word melacha to define the 39 specific categories of work delineated in the Mishnah that were necessary for the creation of the Tabernacle, the moving structure that accompanied the Israelites in the desert for 40 years. The rabbis of the Talmud understood that on Shabbat we were supposed to cease from manual labor so we could dedicate that time to work on a spiritual relationship with God. The traditional Jewish understanding of Shabbat is not that it is a time of relaxation, when we do nothing that we consider part of our work life. It is actually a time when we cease doing certain categories of work so we can focus our attention on other kinds of work. By starting the calendar of sacred time with Shabbat, the rabbis aimed at establishing Shabbat at the center of Jewish living.

Shabbat is important to me because it is a weekly reminder of the need to take time for my own spiritual restoration.
The Rashbam (Rabbi Samuel Ben Meir, 1085-1174, Ramerupt, Northern France) explains that when the Biblical text says “the fixed times of the Eternal, which you shall proclaim as sacred occasions”, it means “the times which you shall set aside are sacred times.” In other words, when the Torah mentions the word “proclaim” in relation to Holy Days, it means determining or consciously setting aside time.

That is exactly what Shabbat is to me. Shabbat is the time I set aside to read, to think, to meditate. It is a day I spend with friends and family, savoring the gifts of life and loved ones. This special time is the greatest gift I can give to myself. I am reminded, on a weekly basis, that human beings need time for themselves so they can be productive members of the society on the remaining six days of the week. Abraham Joshua Heschel, in his book “God In Search Of Man”, writes about the Jewish contribution of sanctifying time:
“Unless we learn how to appreciate and distinguish moments of time as we do things of space, unless we become sensitive to the uniqueness of individual events, the meaning of revelation will remain obscure. Indeed, uniqueness is a category that belongs more to the realm of time than to the realm of space. Two stones, two things in space may be alike; two hours in a person’s life or two ages in human history are never alike. What happened once will never happen again in the same sense. (…) It was the glory of Greece to have discovered the idea of cosmos, the world of space; it was the achievement of Israel to have experienced the world of time. Judaism claims that time is exceedingly relevant. Elusive as it may be, it is pregnant with the seeds of eternity. “

Shabbat and holidays are a reminder that we cannot let time pass without reflection. Every minute counts, and we must make an effort to not let opportunity pass us by. It is so easy to take time for granted… Unless we make an effort, we let the awareness of beauty slip from our lives, being so boggled down by the things we believe we must do. Shabbat comes to tell us that once a week we must stop and enjoy people and things instead of working. We use time to build better relationships with our family and our friends.

This year, when time is so fluid and we lose touch with how days are passing, I suggest we make an effort to enjoy the gift of time. I hope you will take Shabbat as an opportunity to set aside time (on a weekly basis) to strengthen your relationship with God and with your friends and family, and to increase your ability to love and be loved. Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Lia Bass

A Bissel Torah – 05/07/2020

We have been starting Shabbat together every week with a Kabbalat Shabbat service that can be found on our Facebook page, followed by a Pirkei Avot discussion. I hope you join us for the service, and then tune in for a discussion of one of the mishnayot of Pirkei Avot.

Pirkei Avot, the Teachings of Our Sages, is a collection that is found in the Mishnah. The teachings focus mostly on ethical principles, and they open a window for us into the different philosophies animating the rabbis that lived in the first two centuries of the Common Era. The Pirkei Avot starts with a Mishnah that describes the transmission of intellectual authority from Moses to the members of the Great Assembly. With this opening Mishnah, we are invited to participate in the transmission of our tradition, ready to add our opinions and our thinking to the thoughts of the sages. In the many years in which we have been discussing these passages, we have had hearty discussions, sometimes agreeing with mishnayot, sometimes disagreeing with them, all the time engaging and bringing our creativity to the interpretation of these passages. We are now on chapter 5, a chapter that organizes experiences through numbers. The first number is 10. We learned that the world was created with ten utterances, that there were ten generations between Adam and Noah, ten generations between Noah and Abraham, ten trials for Abraham, ten miracles and plagues in Egypt, and ten times when the Israelites tried God’s patience. Tomorrow we will study Mishnah 7, which text you will find below. I hope you will join us for Kabbalat Shabbat, and after it, around 6:45pm, you will join us for a discussion!

Pirkei Avot, 5:7
Ten miracles were performed for our ancestors in the (Jerusalem) Temple:
no woman miscarried from the smell of the sacrificial meat; the sacrificial meat never became putrid; no fly was ever seen in the slaughterhouse; the High Priest never became ritually impure on Yom Kippur; the rains never extinguished the fires of the woodpile; no wind dispersed the column of smoke; no defect was found in the omer, the two loaves, or the showbread; the people stood pressed together, yet knelt in ease; no scorpion or serpent ever injured anyone in Jerusalem; no one complained, “It is too crowded for me to lodge overnight in Jerusalem.”

Zoom link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89787639907?pwd=SkJxbUpzYlE0OUllaWVGRGV1UEVudz09
Meeting ID: 897 8763 9907
Password: 027012

Rabbi Lia Bass

A Bissel Torah – 05/06/2020

As you look out your window, what do you see?
I look out of my window and see some differences in the world outside. All cars are parked, in their driveways, or on the street. There is very little traffic. Nature, however, seems to be doing what it is supposed to do at this time of the year. Bunnies hop, squirrels rush to and from, and birds are flying and nesting. Leaves are sprouting back on trees, flowers are blooming, and grass should be cut. Nowadays, when I step onto my porch, I get to say hi to my neighbors, catch up on what is happening in their lives, and marvel at the children who are changing and growing every day. At home, I talk to people, I write, learn, and teach, I daven, meditate, prepare for services in the same way I always did, yet I cook and I clean like never before.

This is my new routine. Like many of you, I have changed some of my habits and daily schedules. And there is a lot that remains the same. Other than cooking and cleaning without a break, a lot of my activities did not change. They take a different format yet, fundamentally, I am as busy as I have always been. I suspect that for many of you, the same is true – lots of work, lots of rushing around, and trying to keep sane as days pass and we try to adapt our old routines to these new times.

I am also getting a lot of recommendations for books, TV series, and movies. As I said to you before, our member Laura Hill recommended a beautiful Italian movie called Facing Windows. In Italian, the name of the movie is La Finestra di Fronte. Since we are spending so much time in our homes and seeing the world from our windows right now, I thought this would be a great movie for us to discuss together. On May 20, at 8:00pm, bring your favorite drink to our zoom conversation, and let’s unpack the many themes of this movie. By the way, the movie is not suitable for children. The explorations of loyalty, love, sexuality, and purpose in life are beautiful, and I look forward to exploring some of the Jewish themes in this movie. I hope you will join me!

Link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83210703260
Meeting ID: 832 1070 3260

Rabbi Lia Bass

A Bissel Torah – 05/04/2020

This past Friday evening I went to the Synagogue to lead Kabbalat Shabbat. I like leading it from the bimah, where I feel connected to all of you. I got into the building, washed my hands, picked up my laptop and turned it on, brought it to the sanctuary, connected it to the power, and noticed that it was updating. I sighed with resignation, knowing that it would be taking more time than I wanted, and started with my routine: rubbed my hands with sanitizer, turned on the lights above the bimah, turned on the sanctuary lights, went to my office, washed my hands, picked up my tallit, the marked siddur, a cup of water, rubbed my hands with sanitizer and went back to the sanctuary. When I looked at the computer, it was still updating. The time was now 6:10pm, and I was upset it was taking so long. I let some time pass and looked at my watch again. It was 6:15pm. The computer seemed ready to start at 6:21pm. I typed my password and watched it slowly come alive, only to get a message there were some updates that needed to be installed. I panicked – for so many of us the Kabbalat Shabbat service is a great time to connect with each other and our synagogue. The technology on which I have relied for connection during this pandemic was failing me. So many thoughts were racing in my mind, and I finally saw that the computer was ready. I tried to start the Facebook app and it would not let me go live. Finally, after a few deep breaths and completely resigning to the fact that time was not on my side, I tried again, and I managed to go live – 30 minutes after I started my computer saga.

While I was waiting for the technology to work, one thing became clear. I have been heavily relying on technology so I could feel connected to people, and when I couldn’t connect, I felt lonely. The Hebrew word for connection is kesher, from the root kuf-shin-reish, which also means to bind, or to tie. Connection is at the center of the Jewish communal enterprise. In the brief moments when I could not connect, I understood that one of the hardest aspects of this pandemic is the imposed physical distance that has the potential to become social distancing. I can deal with physical distancing. I cannot deal with being disconnected from the community. As the Hebrew root reveals, connection is a result of the maintenance of the ties that bind. At Congregation Etz Hayim, there are many ties that bind us together during this pandemic: there are Religious School events and preschool events; there are classes, meeting times, online discussions, and religious services. Join us for some or all of the events. Let’s strengthen the ties that bind us together with our community, even this (fallible) technological connection. Join me for Happy Hour (Tuesday, 5:00pm, meeting ID: 482 246 462 password: 012402), for the class on the Book of Judges (every first and third Thursday of the month, 12:00pm, (meeting ID: 848 6388 7012 password: 018942), for Facebook Kabbalat Shabbat at 6:15pm on Friday, for the Pirkei Avot discussion (Friday after Kabbalat Shabbat, meeting ID: 897 8763 9907 password: 027012), and for Havdalah (Saturday night, 9:10 pm this week, meeting ID: 416 319 894 password: shalom123).
On Wednesday, May 20, we will have an evening discussion on the movie “Facing Windows” (La Finestra di Fronte), a lovely Italian movie that our member Laura Hill pointed out to me and it will surely spark much discussion (link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83210703260)

Rabbi Lia Bass

A Bissel Torah – 05/01/2020

Acharei Mot – Kedoshim

This week we have a double Torah portion, Acharei Mot and Kedoshim. Parashat Acharei Mot is familiar to us since it is the designated reading for Yom Kippur. The parashah begins with a detailed description of the Yom Kippur ritual conducted by the High Priest. The sanctuary is purified and the High Priest conducts rituals of expiation for himself, his family, and the whole people. We read about the central ritual of the day, the ritual of the scapegoat. This portion also describes the prohibition against the consumption of blood and carrion and the centralization of the sacrificial cult, and the punishment for violating them.  Acharei Mot ends with a list of forbidden sexual practices.  Parashat Kedoshim opens with the global commandment that gives the Torah portion its name: “You shall be holy, for I, the Eternal your God, am Holy.” Kedoshim revisits many of the commandments given in the Asseret HaDibrot, popularly known as The Ten Commandments. The portion also brings laws about some sacrifices and the obligation to leave gleanings and areas of the fields for the poor.  There are many laws in this portion, many of them protecting the poor and the more vulnerable segments of society.

In Parashat Kedoshim, we have a very peculiar commandment. We read in the Book of Leviticus, chapter 19, verse 19:

You shall observe My laws. you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seeds; you shall not put on cloth from a mixture of two kinds of source materials.

There are no explanations for these laws. They are Hukim, laws that are to be followed but have no explicit reasoning. Torah commentators throughout the ages have many ideas that spark from these laws. Here are a few of them:

1.  You shall not cause your cattle mate with a different kind;

a. Nahmanides (Rabbi Moshe ben Nahman, 13th century, Spain

With regard to the forbidden mixing of species, the Eternal created all species in the world, both plant and animal, and gave them the power to reproduce so that they would each continue to exist as long as God wishes the world to exist. (…) But one who interbreeds two different species changes, and thereby challenges, God’s work of creation. It is as if the person would think that the Holy One did not completely finish the work of creation, and wishes to help out by adding additional creatures to the world.

b. Bekhor Shor (Yosseph ben Yitzchak, 12th century, France)

You shall not cause your cattle mate with a different kind – Thereby arrogating to yourself the position of Creator.

What are the issues that motivate these commentators? What is the problem they see with mating animals of different species?

2. you shall not put on cloth from a mixture of two kinds of source materials.

a. Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, 11th century, France)

Since Deuteronomy 22:11 says, “you shall not wear a combination of wool and linen”, why is the statement here also necessary? That verse might be understood to mean that one could not even wear wool shearings and flax at the same time. Our verse, therefore, explains that the rule apply only when they are combined in a single piece of cloth. We learn this from the word shaatnez, which is translated as “mixture”, and is an acronym for shua tavuy va-nuz, “carded, spun, and woven”.

Rashi compares two Biblical commandments and learn from one about the other. How does his interpretation limit the prohibition? Why would this be important for the ancient Israelite, and for the modern Jew?

b. Nahmanides

The wool and linen specifically prohibited in Deuteronomy 22:11 are simply the most common combination from which cloth is in fact made. Maimonides says in the Guide for the Perplexed 3:37 that the prohibition was due to the fact that in those days it was widely known that priests of witchcraft performed their rituals using this specific kind of cloth. Since this was such an important thing for them and their idolatrous rituals, the Torah wished to keep people far from it. For the Torah comes to nullify their deeds and wipe out all remembrance of them.

Nahmanides thinks that every mixture created by people and not found in nature is a challenge to God, as we saw in his previous comment. What troubles him by this specific mixture? What are the consequences of his reasoning in understanding this ruling as a modern Jew?

Rabbi Lia Bass

A Bissel Torah – 04/30/2020

In the Kabbalat Shabbat Siddur used by the Congregation I grew up in Rio de Janeiro there was a meditation after the Amidah that I used to love. It paraphrased a passage from Abraham Joshua Heschel’s “Man’s Quest for God”. The passage reads: 

“The divine symbolism of human beings is not in what they have – such as reason or the power of speech – but in what they are potentially: a person is able to be holy as God is holy. To imitate God, to act as God acts in mercy and love, is the way of enhancing our likeness. Human beings become what they worship. “Says the Holy One, blessed be God: A person who acts like Me shall be like Me.” Says Rabbi Levi ben Hama: “Idolaters resemble their idols (Psalms 115:8); now how much more must the servants of God resemble God.” 

I remember being a young teenager the first time I actually paid attention to that meditation. I was so moved by it that I asked my rabbi if he could help me find that book. My rabbi at the time was both surprised and delighted that I wanted to read Heschel, and shared Man’s Quest for God with me. Truth be told, I am not sure I understood most of what I was reading at the time. The passage from the Siddur, however, always stayed with me. I am struck by the power of the idea that to be created in Tzelem Elohim, in the image of God, means that I have to act like God, in holiness, mercy and love. The power of speech, reason, or any other characteristic that differentiates human beings from animals is not what made us be made in the likeness of God. It is our actions, the way that we behave in the world. More than anything, the sentence “Human beings become what they worship” continues to be a guiding light for me. This sentence makes me think about myself and the people around me, and the way that the “gods” we worship have a tendency of stamping their likeness unto our faces. As a Jew, I have in my possession the tools to always follow in God’s ways, and to live in this world with God’s likeness reflected in my whole being. 

The tools I possess as a Jew are numerous. They are delineated in the Torah, the Talmud, the Responsa literature and the honest discussions among rabbis and teachers in our own time. They all stem from that moment of Revelation that we, as a people, experienced at Mount Sinai. That is the moment of Matan Torah, of the Revelation at Sinai, where we all heard and interpreted God’s message. On May 28, in the evening, we will start our celebration of Shavuot, a holiday that among other things honors that moment of encounter between God and the Jewish people. It is a fantastic opportunity to rededicate ourselves to acting like God, to imitate God in God’s actions and holiness. This year, let us take Heschel’s words into our hearts and make Shavuot the beginning of a journey in which we remember that we represent God in this world. We represent God when we study our texts and in the way we act in our world. When we study and participate in services we are renewing our covenant with God, linking ourselves to our ancestors by learning our texts. When we stand for the rights of the oppressed, when we make sure that all segments of our society are cared for, we act with hessed, with loyalty to the covenant we made with God at Sinai and renew each year. When we respect our fellow human beings, also created in the image of God, as the Tzelem Elohim that they are, we are truly acting in the likeness of God. In the first chapter of Pirkey Avot, the Ethics of our Ancestors, we read that the sage Shammai used to teach: “Make the study of the Torah a matter of established regularity; speak little, but do much; and receive all people with a cheerful face.” If we follow Shammai’s words, we will definitely become true worshipers of God, worthy of the honor of being created in God’s image. 

This year, we will not be physically together to study in preparation for Shavuot. We will be gathering to study together through zoom. We will study passages from Abraham Joshua Heschel’s books that explore the themes of Torah, Law, and Revelation. The zoom information is found at the end of this email. I hope you will join me for study. Unfortunately, you will need to get your own cheesecake or ice cream…

Tikun Leil Shavuot – Thursday, May 28 at 6:00pm:Link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82969096440?pwd=THdiNmxQSDhZTEpmTDRsZXF1TElTUT09

Meeting ID: 829 6909 6440
Password: 025053

Rabbi Lia Bass

A Bissel Torah – 04/29/2020

Today is Yom HaAtzma’ut, Israel’s independence day. This day comes during the Omer period. Sefirat HaOmer (the counting of the Omer) is the period of 7 weeks between the second night of Pessah and the eve of Shavuot. I have explained previously that the omer  was a measure of the first harvest of barley to be brought, in ancient times, to the Temple as an offering of gratitude.  In an agricultural society, so dependent on the productivity of the land, counting and bringing the omer was a clear expression of understanding that a productive soil was the ultimate gift God could give the people. It was also an acknowledgement that prosperity is only possible when God’s blessings and people’s ingenuity coalesce. Traditionally, this is considered a period of mourning. According to the Talmud, twelve thousand students of Rabbi Akivah died of a plague in one year during this period. Nowadays, we refrain from cutting the hair, going to parties, and dancing during this time of the year. Another reason for the somber mood of the omer period relates to the agricultural aspect of both holidays. Pessah is the festival of spring, and Shavuot is a festival of harvest. This time was filled with uncertainty. How will the crops fare? Will we have enough food, enough sustenance, for the year to come? When so much is in the balance, people’s moods would definitely be somber. Yet, not all of us feel that this long mourning period has to be observed in its entirety. The Conservative Movement has ruled that after Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, it is acceptable to resume all normal activities. After all, we have reason to rejoice as we celebrate the Land of Israel! And while spring can raise the fears of an agricultural society about the availability of food, it is also a time when our mood is naturally considerably uplifted. The temperatures (usually) rise a little bit; we enjoy the beauty of nature.

Mourning and joy are jumbled together at this time of the year. Yesterday I talked about the way that Israeli society deals with the happiness and sadness present in their lives. Our tradition also wants us to pay attention to the many feelings that we have at this time of our lives. We are happy as we celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut and enjoy the weather, balancing the euphoria with the reminders that there are still many things to be done. The world is still not a peaceful place, we are living through a pandemic and the uncertainty of what the future will bring.  I think this combination is designed to push us into action. All of reality, together, has the power to make us appreciate the world and renew our partnership with God. We have to enjoy the good moments, drawing spiritual and emotional sustenance from them in order to do the work of making this world a better place.

Rabbi Lia Bass

A Bissel Torah – 04/28/2020

In 1981, I spent a year in Israel at Machon Greenberg, a school in Jerusalem that trained teachers of Hebrew as a second language. I had finished the course to be an elementary school teacher in conjunction with high school, in the Jewish Day School I attended.  We started in South American time, in February, and were experiencing the changing of seasons and the rhythms of Israeli life.  Then the 4th day of the Hebrew month of Yiar came, and Jerusalem was quiet. The eerie silence that followed the 8:00pm siren and the atmosphere full of sadness was quite disturbing to all of us who were from the diaspora. We then learned the meaning of Yom HaZikaron, Memorial Day, in Israel. Everyone in Israel, to this day, is affected by a loss during one of the wars or through terrorist attacks. We heard testimonies from soldiers and family members who shared memories of their loved ones that perished in one of the wars. It felt like the whole country had an enormous collective wound that could only be adequately expressed through collective mourning. The air was filled with the longing and the fallen tears of a country that had experienced unimaginable grief and sorrow. By the time the 2 minute siren happened at 11:00am, I understood what was happening and stood outside of our campus looking, with a heavy heart, at the Old City.

As the sun started to set and the day was ending, my classmates and I started walking to the downtown area. The mood was beginning to lighten. When it was dark, and the 5th of Yiar came, the city erupted in a wild celebration. Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, was beginning, and people were celebrating and enjoying a great time. I was used to Carnaval celebrations in Rio de Janeiro, so I recognized the joy and gayety I was experiencing. There was music, dancing, drinking, it was a great party. I remember vividly the confetti and the little plastic hammers which squeaked as people (gently, in my experience) hit each other, laughing, inviting one another to share in the joy and the pride of a people collectively savoring their achievements. It was an absolute delight, an unforgettable moment.

I since have experienced Yom HaAtzmaut in Israel once more, yet that experience was unique. Going from a palpable deep sorrow to an equally tangible elation is still a mysterious process for me, yet sharpened my understanding that for Israel, and for all of us who love her deeply, the feelings are always intermingled – joy that follows sorrow, pride in accomplishments that come at a huge emotional cost, opposing feelings that create a multi-dimensional country and people.

As I share this recollection to you, we are in the midst of the 4th day of the month of Yiar. As evening falls and we get to the 5th of Yiar, we will be celebrating Yom HaAtzmaut.  The pattern of intermingled joy and sorrow is repeating itself in Israel, even as people will not have visited the homes of their fallen companions, and will not be dancing in the streets, during this pandemic. We, who will not be joining in person to commemorate and celebrate, can follow the example of Israel and embrace the multi-dimensional nature of the nation and the people we love. The complexity of feelings helps us see the world beyond sharp contrasts, and hold in our hearts the pride and the costs, the joy and the sorrow, all the things that makes our relationship with Israel complex and rewarding.

Rabbi Lia Bass

Quarantine Seder by Debbie Ainspan

Like everyone else, we needed to rethink our plans for Pesach this year. We originally planned to host a seder at my father’s house, but by mid-March it became clear that the lamb bone Dad had gamely saved for the seder plate would remain in his freezer. Luckily, a friend from Etz Hayim invited us to his Zoom seder.

Finding groceries posed a challenge, but I found a caterer delivering Passover meal kits. We were able to get everything we needed except a shank bone – a plastic dog bone had to fill in. Isaac had plenty of time to put together a Lego diorama of Moses in the bullrushes as a centerpiece. An iPad on a tripod took its place at the foot of our table, and we logged on to join the seder.

At a time when everything seems new, unsettled, and dangerous, it was a comfort to read the familiar words of the haggadah, sing the Passover songs (even if Zoom audio lags made our rousing rendition of Dayenu a bit disjointed), and taste the ritual foods. Most importantly, we had the chance to connect Jewishly with friends from the congregation. This year, in addition to “next year in Jerusalem,” we fervently added “next year, together.”

A Bissel Torah – 04/27/2020

Today’s Bissel Torah was written by Ellie Fried.

Dr. Al Munzer’s story is a remarkable one. With the addition of excellent quality pictures, Dr. Munzer shared his family’s experience during the Holocaust.

His parents, Simcha and Gisele, were from small communities. His mother moved to Berlin at the time that Hitler’s book Mein Kampf was published and Nazism on the rise. But she was not too concerned with Hitler, since she had met her husband, Simcha, and they were going to start a family in the Hague, Netherlands. His mother birthed two girls, his older sisters, as the growing anti-Semitism became apparent in her community. Munzer, the third child, was born on November 23, 1941. As the Nazis came to power, his father and mother went into hiding as patients in a hospital. His two older sisters, Eva and Leah, were placed under the care of a Catholic woman who was sympathetic to the Jewish people. Unfortunately, the Catholic woman was outed and his sisters, ages eight and six, were sent to Auschwitz and killed. Munzer’s uncle was also deported to Auschwitz on the same day. Munzer believes that his uncle learned that his nieces were being sent to Auschwitz and he turned himself in so that they would not be alone on their journey.

Munzer was an infant when his parents put him under the care of Annie Madna, a friend, but he was passed on to her ex-husband when she became too nervous to keep him. The ex-husband was an Indonesian man named Tolé, who was sympathetic to the Jewish people. (There were many Indonesians who moved to the Netherlands during the colonial period.) Munzer was cared for by the family’s housemaid, Mima, who was also Indonesian. She could only speak her native language but she cared for the new baby as if he was her own. In fact, she held a knife while she slept, swearing that she would kill anyone who tried to hurt him. Despite being sheltered from most of the outside world so his Jewish identity would not be discovered, Dr. Munzer had a happy childhood. He was given a new name, Robby. His foster siblings cared for him like he was their own little brother. Only two other children, who had Jewish sympathizing parents, were allowed to come play with him.

Munzer’s mother survived Auschwitz and many other concentration camps, ending up in Ravensbrück just before the Swedish Red Cross evacuated the camp. His father died in one of the most torturous concentration camps, Mauthausen-Gusen, located where the Sound of Music was filmed.

After she was liberated, his mother came to see him. He didn’t recognize her at first. It took him awhile to get comfortable around his mother, and even so, the plan was for him to continue living with Mima, who he regarded as his mother. But Mima passed away suddenly, so he went to live with his mother.
Dr. Munzer recently (2020) received a photograph from the boy he played with as a child during the war. The photograph is of Dr. Munzer and his mother after the Holocaust, which he had never seen before.

To this day, he is very close with Tolé’s family. Tolé passed away recently. His last words to Dr. Munzer were, “Take care of yourself.”

The lessons learned from Dr. Munzer’s story have applications for any time period, but especially in these times of crisis, when kindness and bravery are desperately needed. The selflessness of the Indonesian family that took him in, knowing they were likely to be killed if anyone found out, is an amazing example for us to stand up for what is right, especially when the consequences are extreme. It was extremely important for us to hear this story from the Holocaust. Even though it is only one story, it gives us insight into the plight of millions of Jews in World War II.

Ellie Fried