Time is now to meet survivors

I recently encountered an interesting book: Star of David: A Popular History of the Mysterious Hexagram, by Dr. Robert Norman. He says what we think of as ours alone was actually used by a long string of other faith traditions, including Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and some Eastern philosophies. And he maintains it didn’t become Judaism’s best-known symbol until the 20th century!
Norman believes that — like so many other things we can trace to the Holocaust — it was Hitler and his Nazis, forcing Jews to wear the yellow star as a badge indicating their religion, who made this happen. He gives the start date as 1930; then, “chai” years later (which seems incredibly appropriate!) the State of Israel chose that six-pointed star, in the traditional blue of tallis threads, to center a new banner designed after the tallis itself.
Legend has it that Betsy Ross started to make six-pointed stars for the first American flag, but found an easier way to fold her fabric that resulted in the five-pointed ones used ever since. Should we believe this? Or all those other things as well? And — does it really matter? What does matter: the remarkable lives of so many who were once forced to wear that six-pointed yellow star, intended as a badge of shame; who survived, made it to this land of the five-pointed ones, and have since lived incredibly productively while honoring the starred banners of both the United States and Israel.
A couple of cases in point: one right here, and one I know from my old hometown.
The first makes a book worthy of mention: Dreams and Jealousy: The Story of Holocaust Survivor Jack Repp. This man is one of Dallas’ precious treasures; he’s already told his personal tale to thousands of visitors at our local Holocaust Center, and continues to do so because he knows how important this is. And now, our TJP columnist Rabbi Dan Lewin has put Repp’s life between covers so that all can read it. Many heard him tell it as centerpiece of the recent annual Intrafaith Sisterhood event at Temple Emanu-El — Jack’s spiritual home for many years. (The copies available that day quickly sold out, but you can order more from Amazon.)
Many of you reading this already know Jack Repp. Now I’d like to introduce you to another survivor, Moshe Taube, a retired cantor who continues to sing — especially at Holocaust memorial events — because for him, “Music is life!” Well into his 90th decade, his city’s daily newspaper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, honored him with a front-page article that began by calling him “a living link to Eastern European Jewish culture before it was devastated…” Like Jack Repp, Moshe Taube suffered unbelievable family losses and personal tortures, but also lives to keep the story of his past alive — through traditional song.
I consider myself privileged to know both of these living treasures. I see Jack Repp in many places — where he worships, and where he gives riveting accounts of his own past experiences. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he begins almost every sentence, calling attention to the need for everyone to listen carefully to what he’s saying. And I know Moshe Taube as a longtime friend of my machatunim; in fact, at my son’s wedding — now more than 36 years ago — this great cantor stood under the chuppah with the officiating rabbi to sing all the prayers.
These are my never-to-be-forgotten memories. Now I challenge you to make some of your own, before it’s too late.
This coming Saturday, the world will mark the anniversary of Auschwitz’ liberation as International Holocaust Memorial Day. It’s said that one of the first liberators shouted out “Am Yisroel Chai!” Please make it your priority to meet those who actually wore the yellow star, who kept the people Israel alive. You will never forget them. (A gentle reminder of an inevitable truth: The time to do so grows shorter every day…)

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