I’ve known Jael Freedman now for about four years. I’ve written a couple of articles about her. She is funny, smart, adorable, intuitive, immensely and intensely creative, and incredibly compassionate and empathetic.
Oh, and one more thing—this lady has guts.
Jael called me today to let me know she is donating a kidney to her nephew, Joshua Wood, 20, who lives in Columbus, Ohio, and suffers from Goodpastures Syndrome, a rare autoimmune disease that affects the lungs and kidneys.
“I decided I had to do it,” Jael said. “I don’t know what the outcome will be. I just keep thinking, `I cannot not do this.’ The feeling was so strong. This is his life we’re talking about here.”
Jael didn’t make this decision lightly. She is a 39-year-old single mother of two daughters who works as a nanny, personal assistant and (believe it or not) occasional psychic. She has a full life and lots of friends.
But this Friday, April 23, she will undergo a kidney transplant operation with her nephew at Ohio State University Medical Center in Columbus.
For the month of May, Ms. Freedman will be recovering from the operation and unable to work. So she is relying on donations to pay her bills during that time period, and she’s hoping the Jewish community will be there for her.
“Anything given is so much deeply appreciated,” she said. “One thing I love about being Jewish is the sense of community and the `One for all, all for one’ [credo] we have. There’s nothing that as Jews we didn’t overcome, so it’s natural to come to my family for help.”
So where does she get her courage? After all, let’s be honest, how many of us could put ourselves through something like this, even for a beloved nephew?
“I have no idea where it comes from,” she said, “but I just think everyone has the courage in them. It’s there when we need it.
or to 6537 Falkirk Road, apt. J, Baltimore, Md. 21239.
Jael, we’ll be praying for you and Josh. God bless you.
I’ve known Rubin Sztajer now for 20 years, and one thing I know for sure about him is that he always shoots from the hip. Even if it bothers people in the Jewish community.
When it comes to matters regarding the Holocaust, I trust Rubin’s gut. He is, after all, a survivor himself.
Rubin—who speaks about his time during the Holocaust to 60-80 local schools each year—sees something in the Jewish community today that he feels is quite troublesome and painful.
He and his family were in attendance at last Sunday night’s community Holocaust Remembrance Day observance at Chizuk Amuno Congregation. “If I, of all people, don’t go,” he says, “how can I blame others for not going?”
But Rubin, like many of us, has seen the number of people attending Yom HaShoah programs dwindle considerably over the years. (Around 600-700 people reportedly attended Sunday’s event.) And what he says really upsets him now is that our community, for the most part, has only one Holocaust Remembrance Day program annually.
“Do we only have one community observance of Purim or Passover?” he asks me. “Why don’t they observe Yom HaShoah no less than they do with Passover, Purim or Chanukah? We tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt twice a year, and we don’t even really know what happened there. Yom HaShoah should absolutely be observed at every shul in town. Every synagogue should have something. It should be observed like any holiday. We don’t celebrate any other holiday or observance only once as a community—and then nothing else.
“The victims must be turning in their graves about how history has been forgotten so quickly. It’s disgusting.”
These are difficult words to hear from someone who survived five concentration camps and lost a good deal of his family in the Shoah. But Rubin doesn’t mince words. He says he hears a lot of Jewish community leaders frequently invoke the memory of the Six Million, but “it’s a sham” to raise funds for and interest in their organizations. He shows me a slew of local synagogue and temple bulletins, none of which mentions Holocaust programming of any kind.
He also tells me of a prominent local rabbi whom Rubin approached recently. When Rubin asked him why survivors never come to his shul or its religious school to speak about their wartime experiences, the rabbi snapped that the Holocaust is just “old hat” now to the Jewish community. Rubin says when he began to argue with him, the rabbi simply walked away.
“The Holocaust is a big part of Jewish history, but it’s being quickly forgotten,” Rubin says. “And a lot of people are exploiting it and making dirty money off it. It’s become big business. Nobody should ever make money from the Holocaust. Not from my family.
“Conservative shuls now send kids home with [yahrzeit] candles for Yom HaShoah, so they can raise money for men’s groups and youth groups. But that money should go to Holocaust-related programs, not for youth groups or men’s groups.”
I remind Rubin that after the early ‘90s – with the opening of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and the release of “Schindler’s List” and similar films – a lot of people seemed to have come down with a bad case of “Holocaust fatigue.” It’s a downer, I say, people don’t want to hear more about the tragedies. Maybe it’s too vast, too overwhelming, too dark and graphic for some people to want to fathom.
“I never thought I’d live to hear of a fatigue about the Holocaust,” he says. “Three years ago, I attended a panel discussion of the Elie Wiesel book `Night.’ At one point, the moderator asked the panel, `When is it enough already?’ And no one challenged him. When I did later, he just walked away from me.”
Rubin says he recently spoke to more than 800 students at North Harford High School in Pylesville. It’s typical of predominantly non-Jewish schools, he says, because they’re interested in the Holocaust. But Jewish schools don’t seem to want him or other survivors to speak at their institutions, he says.
“I haven’t talked to a Hebrew school in more than two years,” Rubin says. “Not that I don’t want to, but I’m not asked. They won’t do it anymore. … The Reform shuls, they all observe Martin Luther King’s birthday, but they don’t observe Yom HaShoah.”
When I ask Rubin if other local survivors feel similarly, he responds, “The others do feel like I do, but they don’t want to speak out. I know some of my friends will jump on me for talking about this, but there’s so few of us who can really speak for the victims. Look, I’m 84, so what do I care?
“In another five or 10 years, we’ll all be gone, the survivors. People say to me, `Let the goyim learn.’ But the Jews need to learn about the Holocaust, too. They think they know everything about it, but they don’t at all.
“There’s still so much to learn,” Rubin says. “I still don’t know everything about it, and I was there. We have to remember what happened during the greatest tragedy that ever happened in the history of the world. Trust me, every Jew lost somebody there.”