Things are rumored to slow down in South Florida after Pesach, but this past week and a half it certainly didn’t feel like it. Those who attended our annual Yom Ha’Shoah program were moved deeply by the incredible story of German born Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger. At a young age, he discovered that his father was a Nazi who had received a medal from Hitler himself, and that he had Jewish blood on his hands. Bernd was drawn to learn more about Judaism, ultimately converted, moved to Israel where he served in the IDF and now lives right here in South Florida. If you missed it, I strongly encourage you to listen to his remarks on our website.
On Monday night, BRS hosted a critically important program about anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activities on college campuses, including a briefing about what happened locally at FAU. An impressively large crowd heard from a diverse, but unified array of speakers including Congressman Ted Deutch, a student leader from FAU, Joe Sabag of the ZOA, Scott Brockman of Hillel and our own Matt Weisbaum of jerusalemonlineu.com. The alarming short film “Crossing the Line: Intifada Comes to Campus” was shown and made the undeniably compelling case that we cannot afford to be apathetic or indifferent to the growing anti-Israel/anti-Semitic movement seeking to shape collegiate minds across the country.
While most people would describe these programs as smashing successes, in one regard they were a complete failure to me. Yes, the Rand Sanctuary at Boca Raton Synagogue was full at both events, but who occupied the seats? If you looked around at the Yom Ha’Shoah program and the Campus program you couldn’t help but notice two disturbing trends: Firstly, many attendees came from outside of the Shul. On the one hand, this is an incredible tribute to our reach and impact beyond our small “circle” of influence. However, the fact remains that of our close to 700 families, only a small fraction show up and can be counted at community events such as these. And secondly, of our own members who did attend, there was a terribly poor representation from young people.
On Wednesday, I had the honor of speaking to an audience that was comprised exclusively of young people when I addressed the students of WYHS at their Yom Ha’Zikaron program. I used the opportunity to share the story of Israeli hero, Major Roi Klein. Roi was born in 1975 and attended both elementary school and high school in Ra’anana. He was very involved in Bnei Akiva, first as a participant and later as a Madrich. After High School, Roi attended a Mechina in Eli to learn Torah and prepare for his Army Service. He was drafted into a brand new special unit called Egoz who trained for the unique fighting environment in Southern Lebanon. After his service, he married Sarah Sjalin, moved to Eli and had two sons Gilad and Yoav. Roi graduated from University magna cum laude, while at the same time pursuing his Torah learning for hours each day.
In the summer of 2006, the Israel Defense Forces entered a second Lebanon war in an effort to put a halt to the rocket fire into Northern Israel. Roi and his battalion were called upon given their training specifically in this type of warfare. They had been entrusted with a difficult mission, namely to capture the Hizbullah capital, Bint Jbeil. On the first day of Av, one day before Roi’s Hebrew birthday, at 5:00am, Roi sent an advance platoon to seize a certain house. It turned out that a Hizbullah terrorist was lying in wait and shot the platoon commander. Roi and his men advanced despite being shot at, in order to evacuate their man. As they were removing the injured soldier on a stretcher, Roi suddenly noticed a handed grenade that landed right next to him. There was not enough time to evacuate the area, and it was impossible to throw the grenade far enough to minimize the damage.
In a split second, Roi did something extraordinary. He threw himself on top of the grenade, absorbed the entire explosion and prevented all of his soldiers from being struck. He was mortally wounded and remained alive only for a few moments. He used his final minute to radio his commander to report his own impending death. The final words on his lips were the loud declaration – “Shema Yisroel, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad.”
Roi Klein’s story is extraordinary and one can’t help but hearing it and wondering, what would I have done? But Roi didn’t have the luxury of just wondering and he didn’t have the time to actually make a decision. He didn’t analyze or calculate what to do, time didn’t allow it. He simply acted in a heroic way because that is what his intuition and instinct demanded. He loved the Jewish people, the Jewish homeland and the Jewish Torah with all of his being and when the moment arrived, he didn’t need to think, he just did.
Most of us will never find ourselves in a position like Roi Klein. It is unlikely that we will be asked to make the most supreme sacrifice for our people, giving our very life, leaving our wife a widow or our children as orphans. However, in a much smaller way and on a much smaller scale, every one of us face moments in which we are called upon to show up, be counted, raise our voices and make a difference on behalf of our people.
When we gather to recognize and honor survivors of the Holocaust who have maintained their faith, their joy and rebuilt their lives, it makes a difference if YOU show up. When we gather as a community in response to threatening flyers and hateful words against our homeland and our people, it makes a difference if YOU show up. Not only is the media watching, our enemies are watching, the community at large is watching, and I would argue Hashem is watching to see how much we truly care. We reach out and daven to Hashem with our words, and we daven to Hashem by taking initiative and acting.
Roi Klein made himself count by his willingness to sacrifice his life. In contrast, we are asked to make ourselves count by an infinitely smaller sacrifice, our time and our effort. Is it too much to ask to rearrange our schedule, get a babysitter, or record our must see TV? Do we not find a way to get out on a weeknight for many much less important things?
In a few weeks, on Yom Yerushalayim, our community will come together once again. We have spent 2,000 years davening 3 times a day yearning to return to our Holy City. It is our generation that has merited to see the beginning of the fulfillment of those prayers. Could anything be more important than bringing our families and our community together to say thank you to Hashem and to tell the world that Yerushalayim must always remain the undivided capital of the Jewish people?
When we gather to celebrate Yerushalayim, and when we hold future community events, think of Roi Klein and answer the call by showing up, we need YOU!