Everything was all set. The Kleinman Family Holocaust Education Center was hosting an event on Tuesday, January 27, in Brooklyn, commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Five hundred people had registered to attend, including survivors, high school students, the Polish Consul General, and New York City Council members. Rabbanim were scheduled to deliver divrei hisorerus, placards with Tehillim to be recited in memory of the kedoshim had been printed, and a satellite truck to connect to the live ceremony taking place in Auschwitz, Poland, was reserved. The breakfast menu was prepared and the food was on order.
And then the weather forecasts began, predicting snow…
I was in Poland when I heard news of the impending storm. KFHEC founder and president Elly Kleinman and I were to head a delegation of frum survivors who would attend the commemorations in Auschwitz-Birkenau. However, under the able direction of Cynthia Darrison, KFHEC’s vice president for institutional advancement, the KFHEC team in Brooklyn had to make a decision about whether or not the local event should proceed.
At first, the general feeling was to forge ahead, but as the day progressed, concern rose. The weather predictions were getting worse. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio took to the airwaves to warn of “the biggest snowstorm in the history of this city,” advising the public to “prepare for something worse than we have seen before.”
As disappointed as we were, we felt we had to cancel our Brooklyn event. “Better to be safe than sorry,” Cindy wrote. “The safety of those scheduled to attend must take priority.”
Even as the snow began to fall on Monday, KFHEC continued to receive phone calls from people who wanted to register for the event! However, we knew we had made the correct decision in canceling once traffic was banned from the roads; at that point, it would have been impossible to go forward.
Tuesday morning arrived with plenty of snow on the ground, but no blizzard. Roads were reopened for traffic, and everyone (except our school kids) experienced a sense of relief that the worst had not materialized. As I thought about our canceled event, I recalled an incident that had occurred just the week before.
Before my trip to Poland, we had met with one of the Auschwitz survivors of the KFHEC delegation who would be traveling with us to the ceremony. We asked this gentleman, a nonagenarian, if he had a warm coat for the trip. To our surprise, he laughed, adding that he hoped it would be very cold in Auschwitz! He explained that the winter of 1945 was one of the fiercest European winters of the 20th century. In Auschwitz that year, they wore nothing but striped pajamas and, if they were lucky, some makeshift shoes. For him, the cold weather was merely a tangible reminder of what he had been forced to endure 70 years earlier.
This Wednesday is the Yom Tov of Tu B’Shvat, the new year for trees. Why do we celebrate the rebirth of fruit in the middle of winter? Chazal explain that during the coldest days of the season, the growth of the next crop is under way. Although we can’t see it, the sap is beginning to flow and nature is taking its first step toward spring.
This is a message we must always remember. Even in times of difficulty and darkness, Hashem is laying the groundwork for the future. It is a message of hope, one that was reflected in the efforts of the Holocaust survivors who began to rebuild immediately upon their liberation. We incorporated that theme into the KFHEC logo with a young sapling beginning to emerge from the barbed wire.
There will be other KFHEC events, iy”H, most notably the March 22 groundbreaking of our permanent facility in Boro Park. But we must never lose focus on our goal—working together to learn from the kedoshim and to inspire future generations. So no matter where you were on Tuesday, January 27, hopefully you took a few minutes to learn or daven as a zechus for those killed in Auschwitz and all throughout the Holocaust.
Indeed, that is something we can do every day as we await the final liberation with Mashiach Tzidkeinu, speedily in our time.