Moshe Nechamia ben Yehoshua, Dr. Moshe Avital, passed away shortly after Yom Kippur 2020 at the age of 92 and was buried on Har HaMenuchot in Yerushalayim, which he had often referred to as “the only place in the world where I will find true menucha.”
Dr. Avital was beautifully eulogized by his wife of 60 blessed years, Anita (Chana), and his three adoring daughters, Leora Abramowitz of Israel, Sheara Arbit of New Jersey and Reva Slasky of New York, as well as his son-in-law Ilan Slasky. Present and on Zoom were several of his 11 beloved grandchildren whom he called “yaldei hanisim,” children of the miracles. He referred to his two precious great-grandchildren as “nekama,” revenge, and “nechama,” comfort. His levaya was broadcast on Zoom to allow his thousands of friends and followers to pay him a final shalom.
Dr. Avital was short in stature, but a towering figure in life. He was known to share his courageous journey from the little Czech town of Bilka to the fires of the Holocaust, the firing lines of the IDF through the War of Independence and the Sinai War. He eventually earned a doctorate from Yeshiva University, and served as an educator and communal leader in the U.S. for over 50 years. It was while studying at Yeshiva University that he changed his last name officially to Avital, to honor the memory of his father.
After retirement, he took upon himself what was his most meaningful mission in life—a witness to and spokesman about the atrocities of the Holocaust. For 25 years he traveled far and wide, across the U.S. and even to Japan, to tell the saga of the results of “Man’s Inhumanity to Man.” He spoke to hundreds of Jewish audiences for whom he was in high demand as well as to Catholic audiences. The Teaneck community was fortunate to host him at the annual Teaneck Holocaust Commemoration in 2018, when he spoke to the students of Teaneck High School as well. He was the key speaker at the 2018 TABC Yom HaShoah commemoration and participated in “Names, Not Numbers©” for Yeshiva University’s Stern College in 2018. He was a frequent guest in multi-episode interviews on JBS.
Dr. Avital split his time during his later years between New Rochelle and Katamon, in his cherished Yerushalayim. He told his story to all he met. Throughout his career, he authored 16 books dealings not only with the Holocaust but also with Israel, Zionism, Jewish Education, American Jewry and Women in Judaism as well as commentaries on Bible, tefillah, Jewish personalities and Jewish holidays. During the last 12 years of his professional career, he served as the director of education and culture at the Jewish Agency for Israel, American section. He was the recipient of the Abraham Friedman Memorial Prize in Hebrew Literature in October 2001 by the Histadrut Ivrit of America for his advancement of Hebrew language and culture in America.
Born in July, 1928 in Bilka, Czechoslovakia, Dr. Avital was the youngest of 11 siblings. His carefree childhood included a Czech as well as a significant Jewish education, and memorable years along with his brothers accompanying their father in his role of chazan. This love of chazanut remained with him throughout his life as he often served as chazan and passed down his classic niggunim to the next generation. When Czechoslovakia was torn apart by the German Reich, Bilka was ceded to Hungary. Shortly afterwards, the Dorf family was deported to Auschwitz, and subsequently to five more notorious camps including Plaszow, Gross Rosen, Bolkenheim, Reichenau and finally Buchenwald, from where Avital was liberated. From his nuclear family of 13, only three siblings survived.
After recuperating in France, the Aliyah Bet Movement transported him and other young survivors to Israel on a ship re-named Yaldei Buchenwald, the children of Buchenwald. Unfortunately, the ship was intercepted by the British Navy and was ordered to Haifa Port, from which their young passengers were transported to Atlit, the British detention camp near Haifa. One night, Avital was secretly liberated from the camp and inducted into the Haganah, the precursor to the IDF, with which he fought during the War of Independence from 1947-50 and again in 1956. For Avital, witnessing his grandchildren serving in the IDF was one of his greatest joys.
In eulogizing Dr. Avital on Zoom, Rabbi Reuven Fink, morah d’asrah of the Young Israel of New Rochelle, was confident that “our Moshe’s soul left this world totally pure after Yom Kippur, as it had been his entire life. His mission in Heaven is to tell the avot, as well as his own parents, grandparents and extended family, that like Moshe Rabbeinu, he is returning after fulfilling his mission on earth of memorializing the korbanot of the Shoah, of the the IDF, of the victims of terror and Jews worldwide who died al kiddush Hashem.”
By Pearl Markovitz