A Ḥasidic Leader’s Tale of Holocaust Survival

When the SS murdered Benzion Halberstam in a forest in eastern Poland in 1941, his son Shlomo had already been groomed to succeed him as rebbe of the Bobover Ḥasidim. Shlomo, immediately recognized by his father’s followers as their new leader, set about trying to provide aid and comfort to his flock while attempting to escape with as many of his family members and fellow Ḥasidim as possible. Samuel Heilman tells his harrowing story:

[In 1941, Shlomo and his own son and presumptive successor Naftali] were hustled to Bochnia in southern Poland, where they hoped to “disappear” in the ghetto there. In January 1942, Shlomo’s wife, younger children, and mother-in-law joined more than 8,000 Jews who flooded into what would become a large labor camp in Bochnia. . . .

Through the skills of one or two of his Ḥasidim with a talent for forging documents, Shlomo acquired false papers as a Hungarian. Identified thus as what Germans called an Ausländer (foreigner), he was able to escape the restrictive boundaries of the Bochnia ghetto, as well as to help others flee by providing them with forged papers or with food. . . .

From outside the ghetto, [thanks to] his forged papers, Shlomo would slip into the ghetto to spend some time with the remaining Bobover Ḥasidim. In secret gatherings at Sabbath’s end, after curfew, when the Ḥasidim would gather together, hold hands, and form a silent circle, as if dancing and singing, he would offer hushed words of Torah, ḥasidic teaching, and spiritual encouragement. At times he stole Naftali, who was eleven years old at the time, in with him, taking the risk that if he were caught on the streets after curfew they would both be punished, if not shot. He wanted the boy to see how a rebbe had to act.

Shlomo . . . argued that the best method to prepare for the imminent coming of the messiah (whose arrival would surely end Jewish suffering, a belief that roared through the hearts of many of those whose belief in God’s redemption rose in the face of horror) was to pave his way by saving Jewish children from death or abandonment at the hands of non-Jews.

Read more at Moment

More about: Hasidism, History & Ideas, Holocaust, Polish Jewry

To Defeat the Legacy of Islamic State, Start Rebuilding the Communities It Destroyed

Now that the borders of Islamic State (IS) are slowly contracting, argues Alberto Fernandez, there is a moral and strategic imperative to reconstruct some of the non-Muslim communities that it has destroyed—and the U.S. should encourage local government to help:

Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate is crumbling, if all too slowly. Sadly, though, its ultimate collapse will not be the end of the story. It will leave behind a still-lethal insurgency that will almost certainly attempt to stage terrorist attacks around the world as well as a wide swath of physical destruction and devastated lives stretching from Aleppo to Ramadi.

And yet, even while the Islamic State is “losing,” there is no denying that it has also “won” some things. It has created grim facts on the ground. It has wiped out communities that will never rise again. Many Yazidi villages and towns within its orbit are destined to remain permanently empty because of slaughter and the flight of despairing survivors. IS jihadists also succeeded in destroying the ancient Christian community of Mosul, whose surviving members were robbed of everything they had when they were expelled from the city in July 2014. Many of the survivors of these same minority groups remain scattered around the region, and some still haven’t decided whether they should stay, with all the risks that it would entail, or leave forever. Islamic State has torn a hole in the fabric of the region’s millennia-old diversity that can never be fully repaired. . . .

But we should consider fresh ways for Muslim leaders to show concrete support for restoring what IS sought to exterminate. Even the resurrection of a single community would be a powerful message of solidarity and diversity in a Middle East that is becoming increasingly monochrome. . . .

In . . . Israel, one kibbutz incorporated and commemorated survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and other Jewish partisans. Imagine the resurrection of a non-Muslim community that the Islamic State sought to exterminate. What a powerful message that would send. And the message would resonate even more strongly if the work were to be done with the support of Muslim states.

Read more at Washington Post

More about: ISIS, Middle East Christianity, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy, Yazidis