At the first in a new monthly congregate meal program for Holocaust survivors, the 24 seniors who gathered April 25 at a Marlboro synagogue learned that Judaism encourages “a positive outlook on life.”
Sponsored by Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Monmouth County, the Kosher Meals-on-Wheels “lunch and learn” program offers the elderly survivors a chance to socialize with one another and feel comfortable sharing their experiences. A warm and nutritious kosher meal is served; the suggested donation is $3.
As the survivor population dwindles, it is more important than ever to reach out and engage those who are still with us, said Amy Dorfman, JF&CS director of geriatrics.
Dorfman estimates there are about 200 survivors living in Monmouth County. “Many of them are isolated and lonely. They’ve had so much loss in their lives, so it is important to give them a social opportunity and make them feel connected to a caring community,” she said.
The monthly program will meet at various synagogues in Monmouth County. The next luncheon is scheduled for noon on Wednesday, May 23, at Temple Beth Shalom in Manalapan. The temple’s Rabbi Ira Rothstein will lead a discussion.
At the inaugural gathering in the social hall at Congregation Ohev Shalom-Marlboro Jewish Center, Rabbi Michael Pont and the participants discussed anti-Semitism, past and present. The focused was on a recent incident at Rutgers University, in which a satirical campus newspaper attributed a fake op-ed entitled “What about the good things Hitler did?” to a Jewish student writer and pro-Israel activist.
The response of the survivors, whose ages ranged 75 to 91, varied from hurt and surprise to outrage and disgust.
“It’s a puzzle that I just can’t put together. I go to sleep with the pain of my memories, and I wake up with them,” said Tema Hoffman of Manalapan, the only survivor from her family of seven in Poland.
Jacob Kohn of Marlboro, also from Poland, was one of eight children, and the only one from his family to survive. Memories of his four-year-old sister being led to the crematorium haunt him every day, he said. “I cannot comprehend the atrocity of what we went through. It’s very hard for me to talk about the past, because I get so emotional I cannot express myself,” he said. “We all have one God, so why did this happen to us?”
Adele Rapaport of Marlboro was separated from her parents and five siblings in the concentration camps of Poland. When the war ended, Rapaport thought she was her family’s sole survivor, only to discover through a Jewish agency that her older sister had also survived. They reunited in the United States in 1949.
Despite her suffering and loss, she said, “I was never bitter. I decided long ago that if you have a life to live, you should live it to the fullest.”
Pont capped his talk on an encouraging note. With more than 100 days of celebration in the Jewish calendar, Judaism encourages the love of life, he said. “Wherever Jews have been throughout our history we always had to deal with anti-Semitism,” he said. “But Judaism is a religion of celebration, and it encourages us to have a positive outlook on life.”
(To make a reservation for the congregate meal program — the next one is on Wednesday, May 23, at noon at Temple Beth Shalom in Manalapan — call Amy Dorfman at 732-536-0050, ext. 20.)