Here’s a story I’ve received from an out-of-state friend. I cannot verify it for you, but I find it interesting enough to pass along and let you make your own judgments. It is so totally topical at this very time, since I’m writing this to and for you just as
COVID-19 vaccinations of youth are beginning in our area. So, here goes:
Sixty thousand Jews lived in the port city of Thessaloniki, Greece, on the eve of World War II’s outbreak. It was then a thriving, vibrant community; so many of its men worked in the port itself that it was even closed on Saturdays.
But here, Nazi terror arrived in all its brutality. Hitler took Greece by storm to secure his southern fighting wing before launching “Operation Barbarossa” and the offensive against Russia. In a very short time, about 50,000 of Thessaloniki’s Jews were exterminated in Birkenau. However, among the survivors were members of the Bourla family.
In 1961, a Bourla son was born and named Abraham, which later became Albert. He grew up to study veterinary medicine and received his doctorate in reproductive biotechnology from Aristotle University’s Salonika Veterinary School. At age 34, he moved to the U.S. and married a Jewish woman named Miriam. The couple had two children.
Bourla made quick progress in this country’s medical industry, and eventually was named head of global vaccines for the Pfizer company, which then appointed him its CEO in 2019. Throughout that year, he led the frantic efforts to find a vaccine against the coronavirus.
The storyteller tells me that this vaccine, now saving the lives of people around the world, has already reached Germany, which killed so many Jews, and will save so many of today’s lives there from the scourge of COVID-19. The drive to accomplish all this was led by the son of survivors from a Jewish family of Thessaloniki, and so in memory of Albert Bourla’s grandparents, Israel became the first country to receive the vaccine.
Is all this true? I won’t spend time trying to validate it; if you wish to do so, please let me know what you find out. But I’m happily content enough just with the knowledge that some Jews managed to survive — as our people have ALWAYS managed to do, for centuries, one way or the other — and in their after-tragedy lives, have accomplished great things.
I don’t know what any of you learned in your own Sunday religious school mornings or your weekday Hebrew school afternoons, but my big lesson — surely the biggest I ever learned — was taught to me so often, by so many different people in so many different ways, that my chances of ever forgetting it never existed. And here it is, in case you weren’t taught this as I was: We Jews were put on this earth for one purpose: to forever attest to the existence of G-d! We can never die as a people — even though some of our people are always persecuted, and numbers of our people are always dying, from natural or very unnatural causes — because the Jewish people must live forever. The mental picture to go with this teaching and belief is that of the Long Gray Line of soldiers in any war: There are always some dying along the way, whether by enemy fire, or old age, or physical weakness, or Nazi torture, but there are always more joining the Line, which goes on and on, and will continue to go on — forever!
So now: please join me in this eternal belief, and have your children vaccinated!
Harriet Gross can be reached at