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People of the Book

צבי איכנולד
צילום: אביגיל עוזי
Translation by Yehoshua Siskin
Zvi Eichenwald, 94 years old, will get up on stage and deliver a speech in Jerusalem this evening, in celebration with the “Talmud Yisraeli” organization. These are the remarks that he has prepared:
From my childhood, books have been my best friends. In the days of my youth, when the Nazis set Europe ablaze, they began by burning Jewish books. The sight of Jews in a synagogue learning a Gemarah shiur was part of my childhood landscape in Poland, as was my school where children sat repeating Torah verses and Mishnayot. Nearly all the children that I knew in those days were murdered. Together with hundreds of pages of Gemarah and Rashi they had mastered, these children were taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. The tyrant could not bear the sounds of learning or Torah or those who carried its message. 
Since I left the camps and chose life, I have been privileged for decades to learn and even to teach Mishnah and Gemarah. When I was asked to celebrate together with “Talmud Yisraeli” children and parents, I felt this was another sweet victory: 80 years after the Talmud was burned in front of my eyes, and after what was left from the Jewish people was nothing more than wounded remnants, thousands of children and parents are finishing together the entire Talmud. What would my childhood friends -- those not privileged to be saved -- say if they knew that I, together with three generations of my offspring – my son Dubi, my grandson Ofir, and my great-grandson Tenneh – would stand as proud Israelis on this stage, in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, the sovereign state of the Jewish nation? Would they believe it? How great is the privilege, and how great is the obligation that comes along with it.
When I finish the last lines of the Talmud, I will look at the number tattooed on my left arm: 134105. A number whose purpose was -- beyond the humiliation -- in the words of our tormentors: “Come and let us destroy them as a nation and then the name of Yisrael will be remembered no more.” (Psalms 83:5) From the number on my arm, my eyes will turn back to the gemarah and to the thought of the wonderful journey of 2,711 Talmud pages that we are completing, and I will say:  “Blessed be the One who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.”


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