April 23, 2010
The recent Passover holiday offered me a wonderful opportunity to reflect on our upcoming trip to Felshtin. I wanted to share some of these thoughts with you as we make our final preparations for our activities in the Ukraine.
During the Holiday, I was struck by my memories of the incredible joy and warmth that my grandmother and her generation shared at the Seder table. However, what struck me most was, how could that be? It was difficult to reconcile how they were able to sustain what I remember as such unmitigated joy, love and camaraderie since they were so close to the unspeakable horrors of genocide and the arduous journey to an unknown land with nothing much beyond the clothes on their backs? Our own enjoyment of the recent holiday with family and friends brought home the somewhat disjointed nature of my memories of joyous celebration and the upcoming journey to dedicate our monument.
Of course, at the time of my childhood, in the 1950s, much healing time had passed and, time does heal. Still I wondered over this recent holiday, where did the joy come from? The answer I have now accepted for myself is that it was not simply the joy of the occasion but deep gratitude for having survived, endured and fulfilled the renewal of regeneration and what this must naturally bring to those who have borne such loss and disruption to the normal course of life. I am certain that this feeling of gratitude was the special ingredient that always made Pesach a wonderful time for my family. It sounds simple, nothing earth shattering, but yet the magnitude and endurance of this feeling over the years of my own life and its having been passed to my own family is, to me a bit remarkable.
Of course, I am deeply grateful for all the good that has come to me in my life. How lucky I am to have the wonderful life with all the good things that come with a system that rewards hard work, competence and talent. To have inherited the indomitable spirit from these people who showed me what perseverance is all about is truly great fortune. Whether it was illness, hard times or other human challenges, they showed what it took to overcome and succeed. How lucky we are to have this as an inheritance and how important it is for us to help succeeding generations learn about these gifts.
Understanding this, I am now looking forward to our upcoming journey. I imagine there were times of peace and prosperity when simchas and celebrations in Felshtin must have filled the air. I go to Felshtin accepting this legacy to bring our suffering full circle. I am happy to be able to fulfill what I know would have been my grandparents’ wishes to pay respects for those who perished. But also, to honor what was lost that was not human flesh or property but of the thread of life that binds us in many ways unseen but felt, joy and love, bother and sisterhood, the literature, the culture and the triumph of the human spirit to thrive.
I am very proud to be representing all of the members of the Society and their families. I am also grateful for being able to return to experience this with my wife Fran and my Felshtin brothers and sisters Sid and Sondra Shaievitz and Mel and Gail Werbach. Thanks to all the members who have already offered their kind support. It is important and necessary for us to know that people care for us to keep things moving along. I look forward to establishing connections in the Ukraine that will allow us to expand our resources for exploring our past and educating our future.
We are attempting to begin a process of regular communication with the local people that we meet so that we might better understand how we can make the memory of our past relevant into the future. It has been discussed that we might work on a special commemoration of the 1919 pogrom in 2019. So, we are hoping that our visit will open up some doors that will keep us moving forward.
Thanks to all of you who have donated money to the Society and paid dues. We have even gotten some pledges for the documentary that we will make out of the dedication trip and ceremony. The money will go toward editing the tapes from the trip so that the end result will be a coherent production that can be viewed online.
For many of you it is a year since you gave generously at the reunion and we are hoping that we can stimulate the same generosity this year. There are bills to pay for official documents that must be filed, insurance that must be purchased, stamps, stationary and many other things that require money. If you have not given yet, please do so at your earliest convenience. We are struggling to keep the Society alive and your help is necessary. A check to Sid or an online donation at the website (www.felshtin.org) would be greatly appreciated. We are requesting all members pay $36 per year in dues.
However, we also have some practical realities to face. One of them is the perpetuation of our management of the cemetery in Staten Island. As I previously communicated, we need someone who can help in the following way –
Once or twice every few years we get a call from a funeral home for permission to inter a deceased member of the Assn. This person would check our records, confirm that the deceased owns a plot (or sell them one at a reduced fee if they don’t) & mail/FAX a burial permit to either the funeral home or Baron Hirsch Cemetery.
The permit fee is $36, but it can be reduced to $18 or waived if the family is in economic distress. Grave sites nominally cost $1000 (sgl) or $1500 (dbl) (Baron Hirsch charges $3500/$4500), but are reduced to $500 & $750, & can be further reduced or waived for reasons of financial distress.
If you have a loved one interred there, this would be a great way to ensure that the Society will continue to maintain care and control over the plots. If we lose control to the Baron Hirsch Cemetery, then we give up the ability to keep the remaining space for Felshtiners. This task takes very little but is important. We need a responsible volunteer to handle it now that Peter Hoffman is retired and is traveling frequently. This need not be a local person and there is no visit to the cemetery required. If you can help, it would be great.
I will next be reporting to you from the Ukraine! In friendship and with good wishes
Alan Bernstein, President