The very committed Holocaust committee at Temple Beth-El of Rockaway Park, in New York, has created an unusual way to personalize the impact of the Shoah on the congregation’s members, a program they call Adopt a Kaddish – Adopt a Martyred Child. More than just reciting Kaddish during Yizkor in the children’s memories, these families “adopt” the children and make their memories a part of their family’s life.
Betty Zapolsky, a trained librarian and a second generation Holocaust survivor, collected the names of murdered children, where they came from, and any available biographical notes from the Yad Vashem registry. She provides each family with a file about their appointed child.
Almost 40 families volunteered and during services they proclaimed, “My name is… I am adopting this young child… and pledge to say Kaddish at Yizkor services and pray that his/her memory continues in the life of my family, my children and grandchildren and will thus never be forgotten or abandoned.” Whenever a family has made this pledge it has been an emotional moment for both the family and the congregation.
Ruth Pagirsky is an 83-year-old Holocaust survivor who speaks frequently at high schools to tell students about her experiences. She contacts each adoptive family to explain the importance of their reciting Kaddish for these children whose real families perished.
When the families come to Yizkor services to recite a special Kaddish, the names of the children are announced as well as the names of the adopting families. If a family cannot come to services, somebody else is asked to recite Kaddish in their place. We take this very seriously.
The impact on the participants has been powerful. One single woman asked that her nieces and nephews continue to keep the child’s name and memory alive. Another, a busy young judge in the civil court, made the pledge together with her teen-aged daughter. A survivor, who had never spoken about the Holocaust in all her years as a member of the congregation, spoke about her experiences for the first time after she adopted a child born in Vienna, as she had been.
Shaye Ben Yehuda, Yad Vashem’s managing director of international relations, expressed his interest in the project when we met in Jerusalem. The congregation, in the meantime, is looking at ways to influence the next generation so that they too continue to keep these children’s memories alive.
Any congregation interested in information about the project can email me at RabbiAllanBlaine@aol.com.