BY: Ben Weinfeld
Ben Weinfeld, a member of the USA Men's Junior Fencing Team at Maccabiah and a rising freshman at Lehigh University, sent this account of Tisha B'Av in Israel.
Today was the Jewish holiday known as Tisha B'Av, which commemorates not only the destruction of the First and Second Temples, but many other somber events in Jewish history. Because of this, it is a fast day that one of my teammates and I participated in, even in this Israeli summer heat.
As a team, we visited Mount Herzl and Yad Vashem, which struck a sad note for me. I have strong roots in Eastern Europe and lost many family members I never knew in the Holocaust.
I struggled to hold back tears as we walked through museum. At the end of the tour, I sat down at a computer there and typed in "Jucovic," my grandfather's last name.
My grandfather was from Munkacs, a small town in the former Czechoslovakia. He was one of only a few survivors in his family, making it through both the Auschwitz death camp and the Gross-Rosen/Funfteichen forced labor camp, where he worked in a Krupps converted ammunition factory.
He and his best friend were lucky enough to escape the Death March. After liberation, they spent nearly a year making their way from Poland back to their home town, sleeping in bus stations and in abandoned homes, and relying on themselves to survive.
I remember him telling me about a Russian soldier who offered to drive them over a military bridge so they could cross the Vechte River in Germany in the winter of 1945. The soldier happened to be so drunk that he drove over the side of the bridge and into the river, injuring my grandfather and his friend. Still, they continued their journey and eventually reached home. This persistence and drive are the reasons why I am here today.
As I looked at the computer screen at Yad Vashem, the sheer number of "Jucovics" and similar names that popped up astounded me. I said Kaddish for each and every member of my family whom I never had the chance to know, and finally broke down.
Israel is not only the Jewish homeland for me, but a place where I feel more in touch with Judaism and my Jewish identity. I would like to thank Maccabi USA and the IsraelConnect program for allowing me to reconnect with my roots here.