Torah Thinkers Forum

A Meaningful Visit

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I always am moved when I visit Torah giants.

In Israel I have met leading present day Torah scholars such as Rav Chaim Kanievsky and Rav Aaron Leib Shteinman, may they live long and in good health. I felt uplifted just being in their presence and basking in their light of their pure souls. I was able to comprehend the great level of Torah scholarship and refinement of character that a dedicated person can reach in a lifetime of toil and struggle.

And in my youth I was also fortunate to meet Torah luminaries of the the past generation such as the previous Bobover and Skvere Chassidic Rebbes, and heads of yeshivas such as Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Yitzchak Hutner, (all ZT"L) , whose memories live on within me.

In a different vein, I also feel excited to meet people who have lived lives that played roles in Jewish history, and that are heroes of a different sort. A week ago I had the opportunity to meet one such man.

I had heard a few weeks ago that in our community, just down the block from our local shul in Abu Tor, lived a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. I spoke to Michael Stern, a friend who has been raised in the neighborhood, and he acknowledged that as he was growing up he knew the person in question, Simcha Rotem, very well. In fact Michael himself had been surprised only within the the last year or two to find out about Simcha's past exploits. I urged Michael to take me to meet the famous survivor. Michael told me that Simcha was somewhat of a recluse and didn't always accept visitors, but I prevailed upon Michael, and on Shabbat afternoon, we met at the shul a half hour before Mincha, and we walked together down the block and knocked on Simcha's door. 

Simcha's wife answered and directed us to the back yard where Simcha was taking a short stroll. We went there and Michael introduced me to the elderly man, who looked to be in relatively good health. I shook Simcha's hand and told him that it was a great honor to meet him. I first asked him if had ever met Reb Menachem Ziemba, a Talmudic genius and prodigy who lived and died in the Ghetto. Simcha answered that he had heard of the great Rabbi, but never had the opportunity to meet him.

I then asked Simcha a number of questions dealing with his exploits and will relay his answers (along with information I later found out in a Wikpedia article that is cited below). 

Simcha Rotem  (born 1925 as Szymon Rathajzer, was also known as Kazik, his nom de guerre). He was 17 years old when the Warsaw Ghetto uprising began. He was the main courier that passed information to and from the fighters in and outside of the Ghetto. When I asked him how he escaped the German onslaught, he told me that it was through the sewer system. He said that the effects of his constant travelling by foot through such unsanitary conditions had an adverse effect on his health throughout his life. He didn't mention that through his knowledge of the sewers he eventually led out the last 80 people whom he saved from sure death at the hands of the Nazis. And he didn't offer the fact that he is one of the last three survivors of the Ghetto still alive.

Simcha related that after escaping the Ghetto he continued fighting as a partisan until the end of WWII. He made Aliyah to Israel (then known as Palestine) in 1946 and joined the Haganah. He rose to an officer rank and fought in the War of Independence and all other Israeli wars up until the Yom Kippur War in 1973, when he was deemed too old to fight. In later years he was presented with a number of awards and decorations by the Polish government.

In all, it was a short but meaningful visit.  We don't get many opportunities to meet people who inspire us with their lifelong achievements, and we should make sure to grab those occurrences when we get the chance.

 

Simcha Rotem - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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COM_EASYBLOG_GUEST Friday, 20 October 2017
Last updated on: 10/20/2017
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