Hanukkah in Auschwitz

Dec. 18 2020

In 1969, the Forverts, then still one of America’s leading Jewish newspapers, published a story by Elie Wiesel about celebrating the Festival of Lights in the darkness of the Holocaust. The story concerns the author’s bunkmate, formerly the head of a small yeshivah, who one winter tried desperately to obtain a few potatoes and some oil. Herewith, an excerpt from a new translation by Myra Mniewski and Chana Pollack:

If it was impossible to get eight [potatoes], four would do. The four could be cut in half to kindle eight Hanukkah lights. I thought he had lost his mind. He had to be crazy to attempt such a thing in the harrowing hell of Auschwitz. But he was strong willed: one mustn’t leave a mitzvah unfulfilled, especially in Auschwitz. Once we neglect observing one, even a small one, there will soon be a second even bigger one. So don’t even start.

The teacher in him explained his approach. Doesn’t Hanukkah symbolize Jewish sacrifice? For the past twenty generations, haven’t Jews lit candles to remember the heroism of Judah Maccabee, who was ready to die rather than betray the Torah? Was this really the moment to abandon those teachings? No, no! A thousand times no! It was especially important in our current circumstances to follow their path—to kindle the Jewish people’s flames of faith.

In vain I pleaded with him—lighting Hanukkah candles was not a mitzvah for which you needed to sacrifice your life. But he kept to his response: these times require us to sacrifice ourselves for every mitzvah. Later, quietly, on our pallet, before falling asleep, he said: I’m convinced my point of view is correct. Especially since we don’t have any prospects of remaining alive. If I thought that any one of us would survive this enemy, I might have a different opinion. Unfortunately we can’t believe in that. So my question is simple: if we’re going to die anyway, why not die for a mitzvah, and not just because the murderer wants us to? . . .

If Jews had the fortitude to believe in victory over the Greeks, then we could not now surrender our trust in defeating our enemy. Whether my bunkmate lasted till the end, till liberation—I do not know. I lost sight of him during the January evacuation.

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Read more at Forward

More about: Auschwitz, Elie Wiesel, Hanukkah, Holocaust, Yiddish literature

Will Costco Go to Israel?

Social-media users have mocked this week new Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich for a poorly translated letter. But far more interesting than the finance minister’s use of Google Translate (or some such technology) is what the letter reveals about the Jewish state. In it, Smotrich asks none other than Costco to consider opening stores in Israel.

Why?

Israel, reports Sharon Wrobel, has one of the highest costs of living of any country in the 38-member Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

This

has been generally attributed to a lack of competition among local importers and manufacturers. The top three local supermarket chains account for over half of the food retail market, limiting competition and putting upward pressure on prices. Meanwhile, import tariffs, value-added tax costs and kosher restrictions have been keeping out international retail chains.

Is the move likely to happen?

“We do see a recent trend of international retailers entering the Israeli market as some barriers to food imports from abroad have been eased,” Chen Herzog, chief economist at BDO Israel accounting firm, told The Times of Israel. “The purchasing power and technology used by big global retailers for logistics and in the area of online sales where Israel has been lagging behind could lead to a potential shift in the market and more competitive prices.”

Still, the same economist noted that in Israel “the cost of real estate and other costs such as the VAT on fruit and vegetables means that big retailers such as Costco may not be able to offer the same competitive prices than in other places.”

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Costco, Israel & Zionism