Seventy years ago, when Murray Goldfinger should have been called to the Torah as a bar mitzva, his family was struggling to survive the Nazi onslaught in Poland.
Now, at 83, decades after emerging from the nightmare and torture of Nazi Europe, having had his home, family, and youth stolen from him, he finally achieved the Jewish milestone. He at last became bar mitzva in a particularly gratifying instance of “l’dor vador” — “from generation to generation” — by sharing the bima with his granddaughter.
Rebecca Leigh Chanin led most of the service and read from the Torah at her bat mitzva service on June 19 at Adath Israel Congregation in Lawrenceville. The fourth aliya was given to her grandfather, who also read from the Torah and went on to lead the Musaf service.
But before Goldfinger returned to his seat in the sanctuary, Rabbi Daniel Grossman had a surprise for him: a certificate signifying him as a bar mitzva. “In Judaism, 70 is a full life, so 83 is starting over again,” Grossman told NJJN in a phone interview just days after the event.
Goldfinger met what he called a “surprise” with tears and a speech to the congregation expressing his elation.
In a phone conversation with NJJN from his home in Monroe, Goldfinger said his story began in Cracow, where he lived with his five sisters, three brothers, and his parents. The second youngest, he lived happily there with his family until the German invasion in 1939.
After escaping from Cracow, Goldfinger and one of his older brothers were seized by the Nazis and taken to the Roznow forced labor camp in 1942.
His closest encounter with death came when a Nazi officer was ordered to execute him after he broke a shovel; the officer missed and hit Goldfinger in the shoulder. “I survived by a miracle,” he said. “God has given me the privilege to have lived all this time.”
Following his liberation and immigration to the United States, Goldfinger has taken every opportunity to tell his story not only to his family — his three daughters and their children — but to school groups and organizations.
And even though he suffered and lost his family in the Shoa, said Goldfinger, his morale has never been broken. “You can take away homes, money, everything…, but what you will never lose, it’s what you learn — and your heart.”
Despite that attitude, there was something else, Goldfinger said, that he had lost — the opportunity for an education.
During the Nazi occupation of Poland, he said, “boys I knew had opportunities, but Jewish children would not be allowed to study; they would be executed.”
Knowing that he had always sorely felt the lack of a formal education, including Jewish learning — he said he “had always wanted to be a bar mitzva” — Rebecca and her mother, Susan Goldfinger Chanin of Titusville, decided that it would be more than fitting if grandfather and grandchild were to share in what Chanin said was a “celebration of life and a celebration of generations.”
When asked if she felt perhaps that the double b’nei mitzva with her grandfather might have taken away from her moment in the synagogue spotlight, Rebecca said, “I’m really close to him and to share this was really special. He really did good,” she added, “and I’m really proud of him.”
Goldfinger returned the compliment to his granddaughter and put his life’s tragic and joyous experiences into perspective. “God took 11 from my family: five sisters, three brothers, two parents, and a grandfather. But then he gave me 11 back with daughters, grandchildren, family.
“The way I see it, God compensated.”