OTTAWA — A bar mitzvah by its very nature is a life cycle event linking generations of Jews, so a program initiated by Yad Vashem to “twin” bar mitzvah boys with boys who lost their lives in the Holocaust brought special meaning to a local family recently.
Eadan, left, and Gedaliah Herskovitz Farber
Mariana Herskovitz, mother of twin boys Eadan and Gedaliah Herskovitz Farber, had heard about the Yad Vashem twinning project and suggested to her sons that they may want to participate as part of the mitzvah they planned to do for their bar mitzvah.
“‘Unto Every Person There is a Name’ is a unique worldwide project. The idea behind this program is to honour and remember children who perished in the Holocaust before having the opportunity to be called to the Torah as a bar mitzvah. Remembering by naming the ‘lost’ child during the service restores the dignity of those children,” the twins said in an e-mail to The CJN.
“First, Yad Vashem gave us the names of twin boys, but we were unable to find out more about them through any of their surviving family members. Our mother then suggested we honour my dad’s half-brothers who were killed in the Holocaust. Our mom then found that they were registered at Yad Vashem. We were even more excited knowing that it would actually be our uncles that we would be remembering during our bar mitzvah.”
During the Sept. 5 ceremony at Ottawa’s Agudath Israel Congregation, Gedaliah explained what they were doing. “We are praising HaShem through our being called to the Torah as bnai mitzvah. We are honouring the memory of our fellow Jews, through the mitzvah of the Yad Vashem twinning program, in this case by honouring the memory of my father’s half-brothers, David and Yitzhak, who perished at 11 and seven years old in the Holocaust.”
The story of the boys’ uncles – their father’s half-brothers who died before he was born – was told by their uncle, Bernie Farber, CEO of Canadian Jewish Congress.
He and Stan, the boys’ father, are the second family of their late father, Max, who lost his first family, including sons David and Yitzhak, in the Holocaust.
As “family chronicler,” Bernie told the story of the brothers he never knew.
“There once were two young boys – David and Yitzhak. They lived in Botchki, one of the hundreds of small Polish villages scattered throughout eastern Europe in the 1930s, known in Yiddish as shtetls. Like other Jewish boys at that time, David and Yitzhak studied Talmud, played in forests, went on picnics, and walked to synagogue with their father on the Sabbath. While these boys and their family did not have much, theirs was a life imbued with faith, love and even hope. That was, until Sept. 2, 1939,” Bernie said.
“That was the day the Nazis invaded Poland, and life was forever changed for the Jews of Europe.”
Stan and Bernie’s father lost his entire family. Eventually, he made his way to Canada where he remarried and started life anew.
Eadan and Gedaliah said they both felt that “our uncles were there with us during the service.”
For their father, the experience was particularly poignant.
“My father passed away in 1990. There is no one left alive who knew my half-brothers or any of my father’s first family that perished in the Holocaust. Nevertheless, the mitzvah of remembrance brought my remaining family and all congregants closer together during the service,” Stan said.
“For me, it brought back memories of my growing up with my father having nightmares in the middle of the night with thoughts of what happened to his children, Yitzhak and David. To know that my children were able to remember them through this program was especially satisfying and perhaps, in some way, brought some closure to my father’s pain as a survivor.”