Kristallnacht 80 years on

Teddy Roosevelt’s great-grandson joins 2 Five Towns rabbis to mark event


The Five Towns commemorated the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, last Wednesday evening at Kehillas Bais Yehudah Tzvi in Cedarhurst.

Rabbi Yaakov Feitman, the shul’s morah d’asra, said it was appropriate for the remembrance to take place in a shul because that is where the tragedy began.

“The Nazis tried at first to destroy the spirit and soul of Israel,” he said. “They didn’t succeed, and the proof is that we are all here tonight.”

“The destruction began on Kristallnacht with the burning of shuls, yeshivos and Sifrei Torah, and since that’s how the destruction began, that’s how the rebuilding must begin,” said Rabbi Ephraim Polakoff of Congregation Bais Tefilah of Woodmere, in whose shul the annual Five Towns commemoration originated some years ago.

“There’s no more fitting venue than a shul to hold a Kristallnacht event, no greater testament to the rebuilding of Judaism,” he said.

“Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, represents the spirit of the Jewish people,” Rabbi Polakoff said.

“The Jewish people have grown to be numerous like the sand by the seashore” — as Hashem promised Avraham — “yet we’re are also like metal,” which when “destroyed and broken can be melted down and reconstituted. As much as we’re shattered [and] broken, as much as occasionally we’re melted down, we can always be rebuilt into something stronger and greater and more beautiful than before.”

The evening’s guest speaker, Theodore Roosevelt IV — great-grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt — said that “the Holocaust was not created by one maniac who hypnotized everyone else [but] was a collaboration among people who chose to forget and in so doing surrendered their best selves to their worst.”

“Remembering is one of the most moral actions we can undertake,” he said.

Roosevelt recalled that in the years preceding Kristallnach and World War II, his grandfather, Theodore Roosevelt Jr., the eldest son of the president, “became increasingly concerned about anti-Semitism in the United State and spoke out against it.”

“It must never happen again,” he said.

Rabbi Feitman said this year’s event had extra meaning because of what happened in Pittsburgh, where “we lost 11 holy, beautiful souls, kedoshim.

Rabbi Polakoff concluded, “May the Jewish people never witness such destruction ever again and may we continue to rebuild our institutions and the fabric of our faith to even greater and greater heights.”

David Klein, son of survivor Cecile Klein, read his mother’s poem, Promise. “We must be remembered, all must know,” she wrote.

The annual event was organized by The Jewish Star’s Kosher Bookworm columnist, Alan Jay Gerber, and by Judith Greenberger, in tribute and memory of Rabbi Binyomin Kamenetzky, Andrew Parise, Joseph Ash, and Cecilie Klein.