A Holocaust survivor hosts a group of Chabad boys in Chicago and was shocked by their response to his confession.
Over the course of the past couple weeks, the 8th grade classes of the Cheder Lubavitch Hebrew Day School Chicago, had the opportunity to visit the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie. Through the private, guided tour, the students were able to see artifacts, pictures and videos from this dark time of our history, and were able to stand inside a genuine cattle-car from the period. The highlight of the trip was definitely hearing the first-hand account of Michael Winthrop, a native of Poland who was expelled from his home only weeks before his thirteenth birthday, eventually surviving the sheer brutality of Auschwitz, Mauthausen, and a death march, among other atrocities.
The climax of the boys’ trip, however, came at the very end, when one of the students asked Mr. Winthrop, “Whatever happened with your Bar Mitzvah?”
His response was a sad one, not only because he had never celebrated one, but because of the way he viewed himself as a result of never “having” a Bar Mitzvah. “I am only half a Jew,” he said almost painfully. “I have a Bris, but I never had a Bar Mitzvah.”
He continued to tell them how his grandparents had been orthodox, his great-grandfather a rav, and that he had studied for his Bar Mitzvah. He later also showed them with pride a picture of his family, pointing out his father, grandfather and great-grandfather.
“It’s never too late,” one of the boys shot back, lifting his Tefillin bag, which he and another student had brought in the event that the survivor from whom we would hear would be willing to wear them.
At first Mr. Winthrop thought they were kidding, but that lasted only a brief moment. His face turned bright red, partially from being put on the spot, but also clearly from the rush of emotion. A wide smile broke across his face, and his eyes were clearly moist. After being assured that he would be helped with the prayer, he gladly agreed to have his “Bar Mitzvah”. Not since preparing for his Bar Mitzvah had he donned Tefillin – never as an adult. (Afterwards he told them how surprised he was that he remembered much of the Brachos and Shema from so long ago.) They danced with him, singing “siman tov u’mazal tov,” watching this survivor, this holiest of Jews, at long last believe and realize himself to be a full member of our nation.