Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, begins at sunset tonight, April 27, 2002
Every year on this day I think about Rabbi Lazlo Berkowits z’l”, a man with whom I developed what I came to call an “intimate relationship.” We were 16 years apart in age. He could have been an older brother. Initially, I was just another congregant where he served as founding Rabbi, Temple Rodef Shalom, Falls Church, Virginia. We joined the Temple in 1973, 49 years ago. I was an active member, became an officer, and by 1980 was President of the Congregation.
I had never met or known a Holocaust survivor before and didn’t quite know how to account for that in our relationship. He never mentioned it in those days, and I never asked. His story wasn’t a secret, and I was aware that he was captured by the Nazis when he was 16 years old and liberated a little over a year later when he was 17 years old by soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division of the United States Army.
I remember as I write this a particular evening in 1982. It was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and as President of the Temple, I would give a talk during the service. Now, 40 years later, I remember it as if watching from above as I get up from my seat and walk past him, look over to see his wife Judy Berkowits z’l” also on the Bema, smiling, and I stop for an instant. “What were you doing Sam when you were 16 years old?” flashes through my mind. And in that instant, I sensed the enormity of the journey and the miracle of this man and his story.
Since that time, he and I became like brothers, and we have traveled together before his death many times to the exact place where he was liberated on May 2, 1945. Two months and 16 days before I was born. In some ways, we were both born in the same year. Lazlo passed away at the age of 92 in 2020. He inspires me still. He taught many things to many people, but among the most profound lessons he taught me was the power of the “kindness of strangers.” In his last years, as we would have lunch together every Friday, he would often recount his appreciation of the people in his life who did not know him, yet helped him.
I want to share today my blog from 2017, five years ago, on Yom HaShoah. Please read it here, and you will find there link to a video of him thanking members of the 82nd Airborne, and hear his voice
For more information about Yom HaShoah, you can explore the United States Holocaust Museum website. https://www.ushmm.org/online-calendar/event/NADOR0422