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The Rosenberg Holocaust Siddur: Program Material Preserving the Memory of the Holocaust

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Reviewer: Rabbi Dr. Michael Leo Samuel

Despite having an entire tractate discussing the minutia of Jewish prayer in the daily spiritual life of the people, it is surprising—perhaps astounding—the first siddur did not come into existence until the ninth century, over 900 years since the Sages conducted their deliberations about Jewish prayer!

The name Siddur means “order” and it is a direct cousin to the familiar Passover Seder. And the similarities in their names is not coincidental. The Siddur prescribes the basic prayers that govern the spiritual daily life of the Jew. The Siddur follows a natural progression, beginning with the prayers one recites upon waking up in the morning and rediscovering the rays of dawn.

The Sages realized that most people might not be able to spontaneously pray to God like the biblical personalities did in the Torah. Nevertheless, they created a structure that has a linear progression, leading to the contemplation of nature (Pisukei d’Zimara), then taking the person on a contemplative journey leading to the Shema, and finally to the Amida (the Shemoneh Esre).

Sometimes, Jewish scholars tend to become stodgy and two-dimensional in their worship. As you see, it took rabbinical scholars nearly 900 years to finally compose a Siddur.

Siddur on the Holocaust?

Fortunately, it did not take 900 years to debate or come up with a finished product. Yet, it is amazing few, if any, people came up with this novel idea—but to the credit of my friend and colleague Rabbi Dr. Bernhard H. Rosenberg, he recently published, The Rosenberg Holocaust Siddur: Program Material Preserving the Memory of the Holocaust. This new groundbreaking work helps a generation of Jews, many of whom have felt incapable of expressing prayer when speaking about the evils and horrors of the Holocaust. At last, somebody has come up with a way to help survivors, the children of survivors, and ordinary thoughtful people who have felt as if they were wandering in the wilderness of silence.

Here are a couple of examples of some of the moving poetical selections that the author wrote, and others that he cited, many from many survivors and those who perished in the death camps.

A simple sort of man he builds walls

wraps his nights

round the nape of his neck

A dark lodging

trickles and tracks

tick-tack beats

to time counting sorrow.

Scars stretch thoughts ache

shame stumps the soul

one leg over the other

crossing unmarked holes

He peels his empty

over and over

who needs me?

who needs me not?

He hoards his fears

schemes trade with dreams

no one hears him say

Survival is a spectacle.

When the reader encounters these words, one can suddenly feel what it was like to be a survivor who lived long enough to re-tell the story.

Rabbi Rosenberg reminds us that we are a people who love stories. To tell a story is to create a world, adopt an attitude, and suggest a behavior… We are born into a community of stories and storytellers. In interpreting our stories about the Holocaust, we find out who we are and what we must do, and why we must never forget. In telling and hearing the stories of the survivors, we ourselves are told, as we work to preserve these memories for the future generations.

The Rosenberg Siddur has other familiar pieces anyone planning a Holocaust Memorial Service will definitely want to include:

Dona,

On a wagon bound and helpless

Lies a calf, who is doomed to die.

High above him flies a swallow

Soaring gaily through the sky.

Chorus:

The wind laughs in the cornfield

Laughs with all his might

Laughs and laughs the whole day through

And half way through the night

Dona, dona, dona…

Now the calf is softly crying

“Tell me wind, why do you laugh?”

Why can’t I fly like the swallow

Why did I have to be a calf,

Chorus

Calves are born and soon are slaughtered

With no hope of being saved.

Only those with wing like swallow

Will not ever be enslaved.

Chorus

The Rosenberg Siddur also features the Partisan Song better known to Holocaust survivors as Zog Nit Keyn mol:

 

Yiddish in transliteration

Zog nit keyn mol, az du geyst dem letstn veg,

Khotsh himlen blayene farshteln bloye teg.

Kumen vet nokh undzer oysgebenkte sho,

S’vet a poyk ton undzer trot: mir zaynen do!

Fun grinem palmenland biz vaysn land fun shney,

Mir kumen on mit undzer payn, mit undzer vey,

Un vu gefaln s’iz a shprits fun undzer blut,

Shprotsn vet dort undzer gvure, undzer mut!

S’vet di morgnzun bagildn undz dem haynt,

Un der nekhtn vet farshvindn mit dem faynt,

Nor oyb farzamen vet di zun in dem kayor –

Vi a parol zol geyn dos lid fun dor tsu dor.

Dos lid geshribn iz mit blut, un nit mit blay,

S’iz nit keyn lidl fun a foygl oyf der fray,

Dos hot a folk tsvishn falndike vent

Dos lid gezungen mit naganes in di hent.

To zog nit keyn mol, az du geyst dem letstn veg,

Khotsh himlen blayene farshteln bloye teg.

Kumen vet nokh undzer oysgebenkte sho –

S’vet a poyk ton undzer trot: mir zaynen do!

 

English translation

Never say that you’re going your last way

Although the skies filled with lead cover blue days

Our promised hour will soon come

Our marching steps ring out: ‘We are here!’

From green lands of palm to lands with white snow

We come with our pain and our woes

And from where a spurt of our blood falls

Will sprout our strength and our courage

Today the morning sun will accompany us

And our enemies will fade away with yesterday

But if the sun waits to rise

Like a password this song will go from generation to generation

This song is written with blood and not with [pencil] lead

It’s not a tune sung by birds in the wild

This song was sung by people amidst collapsing walls

Sung with pistols in their hands

So never say that you’re going your last way

Although the skies filled with lead cover blue days

Our promised hour will soon come

Our marching steps ring out: ‘We are here’!

There is much to be said about this short but very meaningful book. This is the kind of book parents can share reading with their families.

Rabbis, Priests, ministers, and Imams, and all people of faith will find the Rosenberg Siddur a delight, one masterfully crafted by a wonder rabbi and spiritual teacher.

Author: Rabbi Dr. Bernhard H. Rosenberg

Publisher: CreateSpace: 2020

Paperback: 116 pages

Price: $10.00

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