Tag Archives: Refugees

Jew of the Week: Yitta Schwartz

The Woman With 2000 Children

A rare photo of Yitta Schwartz from the 1980s

A rare photo of Yitta Schwartz from the 1980s

Yitta Schwartz (1916-2010) was born in Kalev, Hungary to a Chassidic family. During the Holocaust, her entire family was taken to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where two of her six children died. A strong and pious woman, Schwartz persevered, and took care of many other people in the camp, often at great personal risk. One Holocaust survivor recalls how Schwartz took care of the deceased, carefully cleaning their bodies, digging graves, and burying them. Following the war, Schwartz’s family started to rebuild in Belgium, and helped countless refugees in the process, giving them shelter in their own tiny apartment. In 1953, the family (now with 11 children) moved to the US, where Schwartz had 5 more kids. Schwartz’s husband sold furniture, while she took care of their 16 children, and then the many grandchildren that followed. By the time of her passing at the age of 93, Schwartz had over 200 grandchildren, many more great-grandchildren, and nearly 2000 descendants altogether. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of her time was spent going from one family event to the next. When arriving at these gatherings, people would say she resembled the Prophet Elijah, her presence filling the room with light, and everyone clambering for a bit of the great matriarch’s attention and blessings. A very modest woman, she avoided being photographed or filmed. She is remembered as having an infectious smile, a thirst for life, and an excellent memory. Knowing that she would always live on in the doting hearts of her descents, she once said, “If you leave a child or grandchild, you live forever.”

Words of the Week

So said God: ‘Let a wise man not glory in his wisdom, nor let the strong one glory in his strength, nor let the wealthy glory in his wealth. Only in this may one glorify himself: in discerning and knowing Me, for I am God, Who performs kindness, justice, and righteousness – for these are what I desire…’
– Jeremiah 9:22-23

Jew of the Week: Frank Lautenberg

Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg

Frank Raleigh Lautenberg (1924-2013) was born in New Jersey to a poor family of Jewish immigrants from Poland and Russia. His father died young from cancer, leaving his mother to support the family by selling sandwiches. After high school, Lautenberg fought in World War II, serving in the army until 1946. At the time, returning war veterans had their education financed by the government, so Lautenberg got an economics degree from Columbia Business School. He first worked for an insurance company, then as a salesman, eventually rising to the rank of CEO. In 1978 he became New York’s Port Authority, managing the area’s vast transportation infrastructure. That brought him closer to politics, and in 1982 he ran for the Senate as a democrat. One of his first major moves as senator was bringing into effect a minimum drinking age, set at 21 years since 1984. In 1990 his ‘Lautenberg Amendment’ passed into law, making it easier for refugees to immigrate to the US, thus opening the doors to thousands of Jews fleeing the collapsing Soviet Union. Since then, countless refugees from around the world have been able to find asylum in the US due to this law. Lautenberg’s second famous amendment passed in 1996, banning the sale of firearms to those convicted of domestic violence. After winning two more re-elections, Lautenberg decided to retire in 2000. However, he quickly regretted the decision, and came back in 2002, winning re-election again in 2008. Lautenberg wrote legislation that banned smoking on airplanes and in federal buildings. He voted consistently for more stem cell research, gun control, and peaceful foreign policies, making him a hero among liberal democrats. Sadly, he passed away this Monday from viral pneumonia after a previous battle with lymphoma. At 89 years of age, he was the oldest-serving senator, and the last to have fought in World War II.

 

Words of the Week

Are you as careful with what comes out of your mouth as you are with what enters it?
– Chassidic Proverb

Jew of the Week: Shimon Erem

Shimon Erem, an Israeli Hero

Shimon Kazarnofsky (1922-2012) was born in Lithuania. His parents immigrated to Israel in 1925 when he was just three years old. At 15, he joined the Jewish Underground and fought valiantly to establish the State of Israel. With the outbreak of World War II, he enlisted in the British Army’s Jewish Brigade and would receive four medals for his bravery in fighting the Nazis. Stationed in Italy at the end of the war, he stayed in Europe to run underground operations: hunting escaped Nazis and smuggling Jewish refugees to Israel. At the onset of the Independence War, Kazarnofsky (now going by his new Hebraized last name, Erem) returned to Israel and organized the first Officer’s School of the Israeli Army. He battled (and was wounded) on both the Jordanian and Egyptian fronts. In 1956 he commandeered the Sinai War, then served in 1967 as commander of special forces in the Six-Day War. Despite moving to California in 1970 (where his wife is from), he immediately returned to Israel in 1973 to fight in the Yom Kippur War. Erem finally retired from the military with the rank of Brigadier General, and returned to the United States where he worked tirelessly to raise support for Israel. He once said, “Every morning when I get up, I ask myself: What can I do to help Israel today?” Sadly, Erem passed away last Sunday.

Words of the Week

… I will insist that the Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation. If I were an atheist and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations… They are the most glorious nation that ever inhabited this earth. The Romans and their Empire were but a bauble in comparison to the Jews. They have given religion to three quarters of the globe and have influenced the affairs of mankind more, and more happily than any other nation, ancient or modern.

President John Adams, in a letter to F.A. Van Der Kemp, 16 February 1809