Sandrin Elbaum-Buchnik participated last Shabbat at Yehudah Videvsky’s 100 birthday celebration in Givat Shmuel. She felt, justifiably so, that this was a celebration that others should hear about as well. And so, she wrote to me:
“Yehudah was born in 1919. This was the year in which the Treaty of Versailles was signed, which ended the Big War. In those days no one knew that it was destined to be called the First World War since a second, more horrifying one, would start in twenty years. That was the year that Rav Kook was appointed as Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, and the Jews of Palestine were still hoping for a good future under the British Mandate.
“Yehudah grew up in Łódź, Poland, where he ran a factory, but when the Nazi occupation began, he moved to the ghetto. He was naive. In the video that was made about him and played at the Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony, just before he lit a torch at Yad VaShem, he said that he was sure that the Jews were only working hard in factories. He didn’t imagine factories for exterminating Jews.
“In 1944 Yehudah was sent to Auschwitz. When he arrived, he and a friend of his saw the furnaces and the smoke and said: ‘This must be a bread bakery’. At the infamous selection process in Auschwitz, his father, mother and two siblings were taken away from him immediately. He hasn’t seen them since. He says that he sees them in front of his eyes – not every day, but every hour.
“After the war he met Dorka. They married, made Aliyah, built a remarkable family, and with their own hands built a business of replacement parts for cars. Yehudah arrives to work every day, even today (!), with endless energy. But something keeps gnawing at him. He wanted to commemorate the martyrs who were left behind and didn’t even merit to have a tombstone. Since the 1970’s he has been active in restoring Jewish graves in Europe, especially in the Jewish Cemetery of Łódź. Until today, some 7,000 graves of Jews who died in that ghetto have been restored. There is not even one day in which he does not hold conversations and send faxes to Poland, to identify and save yet another grave.
“When he was called up for an Aliyah to the Torah Shabbat morning, a trembling was sensed across the audience, a feeling that is beyond words. Yehudah walked confidently, lightly leaning on his cane, and went up to the Bimah erect, with a smile on his shining face. The choir, who was invited especially for the occasion, sang to him together with the moved audience: ‘For length of days, and years of life, and peace, will they add to thee.’ (Proverbs 3:2), as he covered his head with his Talit.
“Who of us has met a 100-year-old person? How many changes has he seen, how many tantalizing events, innovations, struggles and wars, how many curses, how many blessings? On that Shabbat a hundred-year-old man stood in front of us and recited the Blessings of the Torah: ‘חיי עולם נטע בתוכנו’ (‘He has planted within us an eternal life’). We had the merit and privilege of answering to that: Amen.”