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Celebration of Life Amid Sadness and Horror
By Caroline Broida Trapp

Friday night, I attended a Shabbat service at the Birmingham Temple of Farmington Hills, Michigan that would have been inspirational at any time, but for the three-hundred-plus who attended in the aftermath of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, three days before, it was an incredible experience.

Rabbi Sherwin Wine began by stating that the evening had two purposes. The first was to mourn the victims of the terrorist attack, including the son of a beloved Temple member, killed in the World Trade Center. The second was to thwart the terrorists’ desire to demoralize us by continuing to celebrate life cycle events – in this case a Bar Mitzvah.

At our Humanistic Judaism temple, now in its 38th year, it is the custom of bar mitzvah boys and girls to spend the year prior to their 13th birthday researching the life of a Jewish hero or heroine and apply lessons from their hero's actions to their own life. Tonight, the Rabbi stated, Jackson Klein would be our teacher.

Jackson climbed the step to the podium and faced the congregation. He announced that he would share the life story of Solly Ganor. The Bar Mitzvah boy had read his book, Light One Candle, about how, as a 12-year-old boy in Germany, Solly had endured unspeakable hardships to keep himself and his family alive during the Nazi regime. Amazingly, Jackson had located Solly, now a 74-year-old living in Israel, and had begun a year-long e-mail correspondence.

He told us how Solly, as a 12-year-old like himself, enjoyed sports and hanging out with friends, when suddenly he was no longer free and he was in danger because of his Jewish identity. He told us how Solly's family missed a chance to leave the country, and after they were forced from their home, hid briefly with five other families in a barn. In the middle of the night, Solly's father woke them and led them out of the barn, just as soldiers arrived. The family watched in horror as everyone in hiding was forced out, forced to dig their own grave, and shot, one by one.

Jackson shared stories about how the Ganor family lived for a period in a ghetto, where Solly endured hunger and cold. Solly was bravely able to retrieve food thrown over the ghetto wall by a boy who had been a friend before the war, each risking his life to make a midnight run to the barbed-wire fence when the guards were not looking. Boredom was another hardship, as the Germans banned one of the Jews’ last remaining pleasures by ordering the collection of all books. Knowing he risked his life, Solly and a friend hid books in a forbidden part of the ghetto. Solly grieved when his former math teacher was found with a book and shot. Solly attributes his ability to stay alive in the ghetto to his friendships with two other teens, both of whom later died in concentration camps.

Solly's family was sent from the ghetto to a work camp, and then to a concentration camp. It was here that he was separated from his mother, and promised that he would keep his father alive. The Bar Mitzvah boy told us about Solly's heart-wrenching experiences at the Dachau work camp, but also told us how Solly used his wits to keep himself and his father fed and clothed.

Finally, the Germans sent Solly and his father along with thousands of others on a death march through miles of snow-covered roads south of Munich. Here Solly, in his fatigue, lost track of his father. Eventually Solly collapsed beside a tree, and believing he was about to die, fell asleep. But in the morning, four men of the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion drove by, and a Japanese American soldier lifted him out of the snow, and told him he was free. Solly was later reunited with his father, who had been taken to a hospital.

In the spring of 1992 Solly was reunited with the soldier who rescued him, Clarence Matusumura, in Israel. This reunion brought back many memories that Solly had long suppressed, and that was when he began to write his book. Jackson stated that he has committed himself to the telling of Solly's story of courage. At this point, the entire congregation stood and loudly applauded the very moving presentation.

As the clapping finally slowed, Jackson announced he had one more part to his bar mitzvah. He stated that, "due to the closing of the airports this week, none of the out-of-towners had been able to come in for this night, except for one. That person is . . . Solly Ganor!" A gasp went through the entire room. Jackson continued, "Since Mr. Ganor was not able to celebrate his bar mitzvah, I invite him to join me now." A gray-haired man in the front row stood and walked to the podium. Everyone stood and applauded, many shedding tears. For several minutes, Mr. Ganor stood with a hand over his eyes, struggling to regain his composure. Then, they read together, first in Hebrew, then in English.

Mr. Ganor stated he never expected his actions would one day be an inspiration to a 13-year-old boy. He was glad he had been able to make the journey from Israel and meet his e-mail pen pal.

Mr. Ganor's story reminded us that evil in the world is not new, but that the human spirit and will to survive is strong. At a time when many of us are asking how we can bear the sadness of these last few days, we are reminded of those who suffered during the years of Nazi cruelty and of people who live in places where terrorism is a way of life. We were reminded by a13-year-old that we must indeed continue to celebrate life.

Our evening ended by standing together and singing "Ayfo Oree." The words, translated from Hebrew, are as follows:

Where is my light? My light is in me.
Where is my hope? My hope is in me.
Where is my strength? My strength is in me.
And in you.

Jackson Klein's 11-year-old sisterthen read this poem.

I Had a Box of Colors
by Tal Sorek, age 12, Beersheva, Israel

I had a box of colors
Shining, bright and bold.
I had a box of colors
Some warm, some very cold.
I had no red for the blood of wounds
I had no black for the orphan's grief.
I had no white for dead faces and hands.
I had no yellow for burning sands.
But I had orange for the joy of life.
And I had green for buds and nests.
I had blue for clear skies.
I had pink for dreams and rest.
I sat down and painted

Hope in Times of Despair: A Continuation of the Bar Mitzvah Story 
By Solly Ganor

In these days of tragedy, sorrow and sadness, we all need to be comforted by our fellow men.

During the last few days I received dozens of e-mail letters from friends in the States and even from Europe praising me for coming in these difficult days to Jackson Klein's bar mitzvah.

One of the people in the congregation, Carolyn Trapp, wrote a description of the event that has now been widely circulated on the Internet. I wish to thank Carolyn for her moving description of that memorable evening at the Birmingham Temple. Since I played in it a certain role, her article that describes so beautifully the bar mitzvah service particularly touched me.

It took place on September 14, three days after the calamity in Manhattan. All of us who attended the service were still in shock, many close to tears.

Those of you who read the article, the lady describes a "white-haired man," who thirteen year old Jackson called to the podium. I was the "white- haired man‚" and it was the story of my life that Jackson had chosen for his bar mitzvah speech.

How did I get there and what was my connection to Jackson's bar mitzvah?

They say that sometimes life is stranger than fiction. It certainly is in my case.
I was Jackson's age when Hitler's armies invaded the Soviet union murdering in its wake millions of Jews. Lithuania, where I was born, was first to be attacked. I was among the few lucky survivors, as most of the Jews of Lithuania perished. After four years in the ghetto Kovne and the notorious concentration camp of Dachau, the US army liberated me on May 2, 1945. I immigrated to Israel and fought in its war of independence. It is my home to this day, but during the summer months we live in La Jolla California.

During World War II, like Anna Frank, I kept a diary which fifty years later was published in New York under the title "Light One Candle." It was later translated into German and Japanese.

About a year ago, I received an e-mail letter from Jackson Klein who told me that he was very moved by my book and decided to make my life story the subject for his bar mitzvah speech. We started to exchange e-mail letters. In his e-mail letters he asked many questions and by the questions I realized that he is an exceptionally bright boy.

After many letters, he very graciously invited me to come to his bar mitzvah. I am 73-year-old man who went through the Holocaust and participated in five wars against the Arabs in Israel.

As you can imagine, these difficult years left its marks on me. Coming to Detroit would not be an easy matter. I was about to refuse his invitation, when I remembered an incident in my life that made me change my mind.

It was on Hanukah, December 1939. I was eleven years old. World War Two had started a few months earlier and the Nazis had occupied Poland. Lithuania was still an independent country at that time, and thousands of Jewish refugees came swarming into Lithuania telling us of the atrocities the Germans committed against the Jews.

During that time a Japanese consul, by the name of Chiune Sugihara, came to Lithuania and moved in to a house not far from where we lived. Soon afterwards, I met him at my aunt's gourmet shop where he was purchasing some chocolates for his children.

I had come to collect from my aunt my Hanukah money and saw this elegant dressed gentleman with strange slanted eyes. I stared at him and he laughed and there was kindness in his laughter. I immediately took to him. He spoke perfect Russian, and my aunt explained to him the Jewish custom of Hanukah money given by family members to the children. He immediately offered me some coins.

I wanted the money, but told him that I couldn't take it because he was not family. He just smiled and told me that for this Hanukah he is going to be my uncle.

"You can consider me your uncle, he said." I took the coin and the Sugiharas became my family to this day.

There is an old Jewish saying, "life and death is on the tip of your tongue."

To this day I don't know what made me say it, but I blurted out, "If you are my uncle why don't you come to our Hanukah party on Saturday?" This invitation by an eleven-year-old boy resulted in a strange friendship between the Japanese consul and me. He accepted my invitation and actually came with his wife Yokiko to our Hanukah party. Our families became good friends and I would often go to the consulate to get cookies from his wife Yokiko. He would also give me an envelope filled with Japanese stamps for my collection. Six months later we found out what a humanitarian Chiune Sugihara was, when he issued thousands of visas to Jewish refugees saving their lives. There are over forty thousand survivors and their descendents today in the world, simply because of one man, Sempo, Chiune Sugihara.

In her book, "Visas For Life," recently translated into English, his wife Yokiko Sugihara wrote: "The decision to issue visas to the Jewish refugees may have been influenced by a young boy named Solly Ganor."

If that is true, then my life has not been in vain.

That was one of the reasons why I accepted Jackson's invitation to his bar mitzvah. The memory of that great Japanese humanitarian is always with me. I thought that if the Japanese consul could accept an invitation of an eleven year old boy to come to a Hanukah party, I should accept the gracious invitation by a Jewish boy named Jackson Klein of Detroit, who depended on me for the success of his bar mitzvah ceremony.

What I didn't reckon with was the disaster in New York. My wife Pola and I were booked to fly from San Diego, California to Detroit, on September 11.
On the 12, there was going to be the opening of a photo exhibition which was based on my book and the war photo collection of George Kadish. The exhibition was to open at the Sommerset Mall at Troy, Michigan. My friend, the historian Eric Saul of San Francisco, who created the exhibition, went ahead with the collection a few days earlier. I was to arrive for the opening on September 12.
On September 11, I was returning the rented car at the San Diego airport, when I noticed the man who was handling the papers staring open mouthed at the TV monitor above his head. I followed his gaze and couldn't believe what I saw. One of the twin towers was collapsing like a house of cards right in front of our eyes. I will never forget that site, not only because of the horror, but as a Holocaust survivor I instinctively realized that we are entering a new and terrifying world with unprecedented brutality.

The San Diego airport was immediately closed to all traffic and there was no way I could get to Detroit in time. It was then that I decided no matter what, I had to get to Jackson's bar mitzvah. Many feared to fly after September 11, and my friends thought I was crazy to go to a bar mitzvah, especially when the boy wasn't even family. But I persisted. Somehow I felt that I couldn't let Jackson down. And I didn't. As Jackson said, I was perhaps the only guest who arrived of all those who were supposed to fly in.

All I can add is that I do not regret it. The heart warming reception by
the Kleins, their family, their friends and the whole congregation, more than made up for the many hours I had to wait at the airport to get my flight to Detroit. But my main joy was to meet Jackson and take part in his bar mitzvah. His speech about my life was so vivid and detailed that it brought uncontrollable tears to my eyes and I don't cry easily.

Perhaps we all needed a good cry in the wake of the terrible tragedy in Manhattan that touched the hearts of all peoples of the civilized world.

What has to be done now? What we have been doing in Israel for over half a century; Bury our dead and go after the Ben Ladins of the world who pollute this planet.

Solly Ganor
Herzelia, Israel
October 26, 2001