Nira Berry, Happiness Coach, Laughter Therapist, Keynote Speaker and TV host from Bethesda, MD visited Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem last week with the descendants of Grzegorz Czyzyk who was posthumously honored as “Righteous Among the Nations.” It was Czyzyk who saved Nira’s mother and grandmother from certain death at the hand of the Nazis during the Holocaust. A Polish policeman and friend of Nira’s great-grandfather, Czyzyk entered the ghetto to rescue his friend’s daughter and child and hid them first in his potato shed and later in his chicken shed for two years until the end of the war.
Mr. Czyzyk died just as the war ended, and the story of his heroism was not passed down to his family. “They didn’t know if their grandfather was a Nazi collaborator or a righteous man,” explained Nira. Nira’s grandmother also died just after the war, and when Nira’s mother came to Israel as a young orphan, she made it her life’s mission to find the family and give recognition to the man who, “in the face of evil, chose to make the right decision and save two Jews, two human beings”. Nira’s mother was not able to reconnect with Grzegorz Czyzyk’s family before she passed away, but through the efforts of Yad Vashem, Nira finally connected with Czyzyk’s grandchildren who were completely unaware of their grandfather’s heroism.
After hours of emotional skype calls between Mr. Czyzyk’s family and Nira’s family, Nira and her family traveled to Poland where the two families met for a formal Righteous Among the Nations ceremony arranged by Yad Vashem. Together, the families visited meaningful places throughout Poland, including concentration camps and Chelm, the city where they had joint family roots. The families participated in giving Nira’s grandmother a long overdue, proper Jewish burial as well as a private ceremony honoring the memory of Mr. Czyzyk, and a ceremony with the Mayor of Chelm.
Feeling eternally grateful to the Czyzyk family, Nira arranged a journey to Jerusalem this week, bringing his descendants together with her family and friends, to give them the opportunity to see his name overlooking the hills of Jerusalem. I wanted Grzegorz Czyzyk’s family to see how the righteous acts of their grandfather allowed generations of my family to come back to our homeland. During my mother’s early years in Israel, there was no access to the Kotel, so to be at Aish HaTorah, opposite the Kotel, is one of the most beautiful feelings in the world.” said Nira.
Rabbi Steven Burg, CEO of Aish HaTorah stated, “Hosting the Czyzyk and Berry families at Aish HaTorah is a celebration of Jewish continuity. Czyzyk heroically risked his own life for a Jewish family. Aish HaTorah is the place where Jews reconnect to their heritage, playing a crucial role to ensure the vibrant future of the Jewish people!”
Nira created Laughing RX, a Bethesda-based company that uses laughter for healing and leads interactive laughter programs for small groups and corporations. A breast cancer survivor, Nira said, “I threw myself into a laughter, happiness spectrum because I realized that’s what life is all about. Life is meant to be lived and enjoyed, with faith and laughter.” She continued, “Knowing what my mother and grandmother went through strengthened my faith and helped me survive my battle with cancer.”
Edited by: JV Staff