Why am I writing about my custom of not eating kitniyot (legumes) on Pesah on the eve of Yom Hashoah?
Well, besides the close proximity of the two dates (it was less than a week ago that I was defending my custom of not eating kitniyot on Pesah) it also ties in to my identity as a G2er, whose parents were the only ones of their families to survive the Shoah. My father, z”l, was one of 8 children, my mother, z’l, one of 9. The custom of not eating kitniyot on Pesah is part of a greater legacy left me by my father, who was my teacher and, for many years, my ‘posek.”
My father, pictured above with my mother in the photo taken before the war, was born in 1911 – or perhaps later, depending on when you asked him, in Trochenbrod-Lozhist. He did not know his exact birth date – it was entered in the family humash before the book of D’varim (Deuteronomy), so he knew it was in the summer. He chose August 10 , coincidentally the same date as my daughter’s birthday.
My father was a rabbi, like his father after whom I am named. He (my grandfather) was a melamed – a Torah teacher in Trochenbrod and when it was time for my father to graduate from his father’s class, he went off to study in one of the prestigious yeshivot in Europe like so many other children his age. In his case it was Radun Yeshiva where he became a student of Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan – better known as the Hafetz Haim. My father learned there for a number of years, after which he went to the yeshiva in Kobrin, where he received his ‘semicha’.
He and my mother were married just before the war broke out, and when the Nazis invaded Poland, they each made there way separately (and unknown to each other) to Uzbekhistan where they were reunited two years later (a story I plan to write in the future). They remained there until the end of the was after which they and their two daughters – I was not born yet — made the long and difficult journey to the U.S. Yet, throughout all this time, my father held fast to his faith and maintained a fierce loyalty to the Torah, halakha and his family traditions, including the kitniyot ban.
When I moved to Israel, about 15 years ago, I continued to use my father as my personal rabbi and ‘posek’ – even asking him to sell my hametz for Pesah although he still lived in Philly (knowing that it would add another 7 hours to my week-long abstention from hametz).
I was very excited to spend my first Pesah in Israel. Imagine going to a supermarket where the whole store would be overflowing with kosher-for Pesah, not just a little corner. Imagine my frustration, however, when I discovered that most of the products were kosher for Pesach only for people who ate kitniyot. So here I was finding that even in the land of Zion and Jerusalem I was not free to eat the kosher food that was available.
I devised a plan. I framed my sh’elah – my question – for my father in Philly, expecting him to readily grant me dispensation to follow the minhag hamakom (especially since the kitniyot ban was just a custom that people here dismissed as being irrelevant at best.) The answer I got was an unexpected: “No.”
That was it. I asked my question and got my answer. I was destined to keep the kitniyot minhag forever.
And so I do. It’s now beome my way of respecting my father’s wishes and keeping the tradition he carried with him as a true survivor of the Holocaust. It’s my connection to the life that was his before the war. And now it’s mine as well.
But it won’t be my children’s. With them, I will create another legacy.
That’s why when Yom Hashoah siren sounds, we will stand and remember my father and mother, my chidren’s saba and savta, and all the aunts, uncles, cousins they will never know. We will light a candle in their memory, just as I will be lighting a candle in two weeks on my mother’s first yahrzeit. When we do this, I will also be thinking about the legacy my father left me and wondering what kind of legacy will I be leaving my children here and in the US. I hope they will come to know this part of their father’s life, and I hope they will create a legacy of their own that they can share with their children in the proper time.