I was down and out, the day after Yom Kippur in 2014.
A financial advisor for over 20 years, not fully recovered from the financial crises of a few years prior, I was looking to “give back” somehow, to make a difference, not knowing what to do but pray to Hashem, in my own words, “Ribono shel olam, help me help others.”
So I signed on as a Volunteer with www.connect2ny.org, paying friendly visits to lonely Holocaust Survivors, a project of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Coney Island (JCCGCI). Previously, my experience with Coney Island was limited to rides on the Cyclone and trips to the aquarium.
Previously, I had purchased books and DVDs about the Holocaust, but this time it was different. Over the next two years, I would drive many Thursday evenings and Sunday mornings from my home on Long Island, to visit more than twenty survivors. I heard some amazing stories from those who wished to talk about it. There were several who didn’t and I respected their wishes. From survivors such as Rebecca in Borough Park, who was a refugee on the ship Exodus 1947, where the British did not allow the passengers to get off in Israel. Stories from Ludwig, a survivor in Midwood, whose Father got the family out of Nazi Germany before Kristallnacht, and how the Captain of the Queen Mary held the ship and saved them as they were crossing borders, trying to escape. Stories about Frances, from Flatbush, a Survivor of several camps and the “death march,” who was at Auschwitz, and assisted four women, including Roza Robota, blow up an oven (the women were caught and hanged).
I learned about perseverance, about “Emunah,” faith in Hashem, and about good people striving to rebuild after the horrors of the Shoah.
I learned about some of the children, grandchildren, even great grandchildren of some of the survivors.
And I learned of the loved ones lost and those that never really rebuilt broken lives and live near poverty even to this day.
Along the way, I visited Orthodox synagogues in neighborhoods from Brighton Beach to Borough Park, from Coney Island to Crown Heights and Williamsburg, and quickly, my exploration expanded to Queens and Manhattan. I especially enjoyed being in the different neighborhoods and seeing the relatively new influx of immigrants in Brooklyn and Queens from places like Iran, Iraq, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
Here are ten of the stunning sanctuaries I visited:
“Ten Times Chai: 180 Orthodox Synagogues of New York City” takes readers on a tour, with 613 color photos of 180 Orthodox synagogues (ten times ‘chai’, the number 18), in over sixty different neighborhoods in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island. My book is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble stores in Manhattan, and New York are Judaica stores, and is dedicated to the more than twenty Holocaust survivors I met. It is my personal testament to the spirit of religious freedom in New York City.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.