Bar Mitzvah in Auschwitz
As the rabbi of Kspace, a center for young Jewish adults, I was approached by the Miami Jewish Federation to join the staff for the "March for the Leaving 2023" trip. This trip was exclusively for 18-year-olds who had recently graduated from high school. It turned out to be a truly remarkable experience. I had the opportunity to meet incredible people with captivating stories and life experiences. The group consisted of 66 young individuals who were brimming with love, vitality, and enthusiasm. They were eager to learn about our people's history and embark on a new phase of their lives, proud to belong to the Jewish community.
One of the most profound moments during the trip occurred in Auschwitz, just before we began our march to Birkenau, joined by over 10,000 people from around the world. While we waited for the signal to start walking, I struck up a conversation with a group of young individuals from Hungary who were standing in front of us, proudly holding their flag. Behind us were individuals from Mexico, Canada, Panama, and, of course, the entire Miami group accompanying me. Curious, I asked the Hungarians if they were all Jewish. They replied that they belonged to a pro-Israel Christian movement and, every year, they sent young people to Poland to visit the camps and express solidarity with the Jewish community. However, they mentioned that one out of the 150 participants was Jewish. They introduced me to him, and we began to chat.
The young man enthusiastically shared with me that his great-grandmother had survived the concentration camp where we were standing—Auschwitz. However, his grandmother had since abandoned the Jewish faith, married a Christian man, and converted to Christianity. I explained to him that being Jewish is an inherent part of one's identity and cannot be changed. Despite any conversions that may have occurred in his family, he possessed a Jewish soul. Curious, I asked him if he had ever worn Tefillin or had a Bar Mitzvah. He replied with a "no," as he was unfamiliar with these practices. With his consent, I took out my Tefillin, which miraculously I had decided to bring at the last minute, and proceeded to put them on him. As I did so, all the young people present, representing various countries, burst into dance and song, joyfully celebrating with "Mazal Tov Ve Siman Tov."
Since then, Alex and I have maintained a long-distance relationship. Upon returning to Miami, I contacted the rabbi of the Chabad in Budapest and shared the entire story with him. I requested that he invite Alex to the Chabad House, an invitation to which he graciously agreed. Thanks to God, Alex is now on a journey to rediscover the roots of his great-grandmother, who tragically lost her entire family in the same place where Alex discovered his own heritage.