In The Footsteps Of Theodor Herzl
By Jamie Brooks
Copyright © Birmingham Holocaust Education Center
“She is a treasure,” I think to myself every time we go to visit Mrs. Sonja. My friend Sonja is a Holocaust survivor, one of at least twenty that live in Alabama according to the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center. I envisage the horrors she so narrowly escaped, and try to explain to my children how lucky we are to know her and to bask in the rays of her joy.
We met only two years ago, but immediately I felt a kinship towards her. Sonja is joyous and kind, soft spoken and loving. At times, she flashes a mischievous, child-like grin that displays her heartwarming personality.
Sonja’s father was forced to hand her over to an Orthodox Jewish orphanage when she was just a child to protect her from the rising anti-Semitism of Nazi Germany in the 1930’s. The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society arranged for Sonja and the other children to escape to America. Sonja speaks of the first banana she had ever tasted on the boat and I can only imagine what it must have felt like landing at Ellis Island after the long trip at sea. Looking up at the Statue of Liberty, standing tall, symbolizing safety and freedom to a child that had just escaped evil’s grasp.
Mrs. Sonja has been the guest of honor at Alabama Stand with Israel’s March of Remembrance in both 2012 and 2013, and most recently in 2014. She is not able to walk the distance of our March, so we take turns pushing her wheelchair from the start, at the location of the first Jewish Synagogue to ever be built in Montgomery, AL to the state capital building for the remainder of the ceremony. Sweet Mrs. Sonja always bursts into song along the ride and leads the crowd in various Jewish songs.
It is moving to watch the elderly woman, as she proudly stands for the Hatikvah. The grit and determination of the Jewish people is demonstrated in her life, in her resilience and devotion. She is a cherished friend; I have been blessed to know this amazing woman.
When we try to remember the millions that were horrifically executed, at times the number is overwhelming and incomprehensible. Every one of the victims was a person with a family and a life. Each one having a personality, possibly like dear Mrs. Sonja’s. The Israeli poet Zelda eloquently describes in the poem, “Unto Every Person There Is a Name,” that the humanity of those lost should be remembered by everyone.
The Holocaust stands as one of the darkest chapters of human history. Now, we must take the necessary steps to stop the creeping hatred of anti-Semitism.
Following in the footsteps of Theodor Herzl, considered to have been the father of modern political Zionism, Jews from all over the world united together seeking freedom from persecution and oppression.
For that reason we must take collective action to honor and protect the 2,000 year old dream of returning home to the ancestral Promised Land that the Jewish People kept alive in their hearts and souls.
Instead of feeling hopeless, helpless, their leaders took action.
And after years of working, building, believing, their dream took another step towards fulfillment on November 2nd 1917. The Jewish people finally received that much needed public validation for a Jewish state. British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour sent a letter, the Balfour Declaration, to Lord Rothschild expressing British support of a Jewish State in Palestine.
A state of their own.
A state where the Jewish people can be free from persecution.
A state where the Jewish people can defend themselves from the violent acts that threaten their existence.
Today, the facts are being distorted. Today, the world is believing the lies and propaganda of those who seek to, again, destroy the Jewish people through the destruction of the Jewish state. We all must stand up and take action.
So I ask you to join me in celebrating this historical document and this important day in Jewish history! Share it with your friends, family, EVERYONE who believes in Israel's continued existence. Be one of 1 million signatures - 1 million voices who proclaim: We Stand By Israel and the Jewish People!