July 22, 2024
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July 22, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

What I Did (and Learned) Between School and Camp

Many years ago, I had the good fortune to have a meeting with Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky, rosh yeshiva of Talmudical Yeshiva of Philadelphia. As I was pulling up to what I thought was his house, I noticed an American flag at the door. I mentioned to my wife, “Surely this could not be his house.” We rang the doorbell, and b”H, Rav Shmuel’s wife answered the door. My wife commented to her on the nice flag to which she responded, “It’s a medina shel chesed.”

This was one of the feelings I experienced during the reinterment of 1st Lt. Nathan B. Baskind in the hallowed cemetery in Normandy, France. The details of this story are fascinating but beyond the scope of this personal reflection.

Nathan Baskind was a Jewish American soldier wounded shortly after D-Day who died in Nazi German captivity over 80 years ago. Our country’s commitment to this war hero took the form of exhuming him from a mass grave, reinterring his remains in Normandy, and giving him a ceremony with full military honors, including a 21-gun salute and the playing of Taps.

Additionally, this “levaya” and subsequent burial was done k’das u’kedin, all with Rav Asher Weiss’ halachic guidance. Despite all the challenges we as Jews face currently in the U.S., we are still blessed to live in, and should be cognizant and appreciative of, the medina shel chssed in which we dwell.

Another thought I had upon unpacking this experience was of the havtacha (promise) from Hashem of ve’hi she’amda that we recall during the seder. Our first stop on this trip was to the Marigny German War Cemetery. This was where Nathan Baskind had been buried in a mass grave among 50 Nazis YM”S. A member of our group was honored with saying Kel Malei Rachamim, a memorial prayer for the deceased over the balance of Baskind’s remains that were not exhumed from his original burial place. I could not help but be amazed at the irony of hearing this tefillah in what literally is a Nazi cemetery. More incredible than that is the actualization of Hashem’s promise “In every generation they try to destroy us, and Hashem saves us from their hands.” The Nazis tried to rid the world of Jews, yet we are still here AND thriving, ke”h.

The final thought that I would like to share is the awe and esteem I have for Shalom Lamm, Rabbi JJ Schacter, Operation Benjamin, and all its groupies (aka chasidim). You guys are passionate, obstinate and relentless and leave no stone unturned, (pun intended) about giving the final kavod (honor) to those who, for various reasons, were buried under markers incorrectly representing their religion and heritage. Your correction of these mistakes, even many decades later, is a great source of comfort to the families of the fallen and to Jewish people everywhere who care about Jewish identity. All this is done at no cost to the families involved and is testimony to the incredible kavod ha’emet AND kavod ha’chaim you have. The Ribono Shel Olam should bless all of you with the gezunt (and gelt) to continue in this avodat hakodesh and bring these fallen “home” to their families and to their people.

Thanks to Jack Gross and Rebbitzin Rookie Billet for their valuable edits.

Judah Gross
Passaic
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