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Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Speak up for the orphans!

Daf Yomi Kesubos 36

During the Holocaust, thousands of Jewish children were given over to Christian neighbours and orphanages for safekeeping.  At the end of the War, however, it was not so easy to get them back.  Childless Christian couples had adopted the children as their own and the orphanages had proceeded to baptize these helpless children.  In addition, it was near-impossible to take children across borders without legal guardianship.

The Vaad Hatzalah (Rescue Organization) was originally established in 1939 by the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of America to save war-torn yeshivas.  Following the War, they were successful in rescuing many of these children and placing them in Jewish homes throughout Europe.  They realized, however, that they lacked sufficient resources to adequately deal with the crisis. 

Herbert Tenzer, a lawyer, businessman and politician, was a member of the Executive Committee of the Vaad.  Together with a number of other dedicated individuals, he established Rescue Children, Inc. and worked tirelessly for the plight of these orphans.  He raised huge amounts of money to have them placed with Jewish families and he advocated with the US government to intervene with governments across Europe to save the children.   Rescue Children centres were established in France, Belgium, Sweden, and Germany.  In October 1946, New York Governor Dewey established a charter of incorporation for Rescue Children and commended Tenzer for “the vision and the great humanitarian program” of the organization. 

The Beraisa states: A deaf-mute, deranged, mature, or injured woman cannot have allegations of a lack of hymenal blood brought against them.
The Gemara asks: Shall we say that you heard this teaching from Rabban Gamliel in a case where the deaf-mute herself claimed that she was violated?  But if she did not make that claim, would Rabban Gamliel’s teaching still apply?  
The Gemara answers: Yes. Once Rabban Gamliel declared that she is believed, we invoke the teaching in Proverbs, “Open your mouth for the mute, toward justice for the devastated.”

King Solomon enjoins us to speak up for those whose voices cannot be heard.  Advocating for those who can’t speak up for themselves was not just a Holocaust-era issue.  In every time and place, there are those who do not have the same clout and standing as you and need your voice.

There are no shortage of people who need your help.  The mentally-disabled, people with physical impairments, and persecuted minorities, all need advocates from across the community.  And certainly children always need advocates.  Sadly, today we are faced with a generation of physical and spiritual orphans, who need someone to speak up for them.

They’re not members of shuls, because they don’t appreciate the importance of paying membership.  Indeed, they hardly know the basics of Judaism, most can’t even read Hebrew, and we expect them to pay money to belong!?!  And so all too often, they and their children, tragically, are shunned from Jewish communal life.

It’s time to speak up for those without a voice!  It’s not their fault.  You’ve had a different upbringing, a different life experience, which has taught you to appreciate and invest in your Judaism, and that of your children.  They have not, but they need a voice.  Helping them reintegrate into Judaism is no less virtuous than the tireless work of Herbert Tenzer in the late 1940s.  It might be a little more thankless, but that makes it all the more urgent.

You are incredibly fortunate to be committed to your Judaism.  Speak up for those without a voice.  May you merit advocating for those who cannot speak for themselves and becoming the Herbert Tenzer of our generation!

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