Yud Tes Kislev: The Photo that Took My Breath Away by Rabbi YY Jacobson

Yud Tes Kislev: The Photo that Took My Breath Away by Rabbi YY Jacobson


It’s Yud Tes Kislev, 1798. The Alter Rebbe’s free at last. I’ll try to depict the scene. The rabbi is innocent, and he goes out, and for the Czar life moved on. It was a celebration for the Chassidim living in Russia, who were completely subjugated to the Czarist regime, which was very harsh on the jewish people. There were different czars, different milieus, different edicts, but the common denominator for all Russian Jewry was persecution, misery, and agony. When the Alter Rebbe was released, the Chassidim and other Jews danced and celebrated. It was a monumental victory. But if somebody had been observing it, they would have thought, it was a small story on the stage of global events.
220 years pass, and if you go back to Russia today, you ask yourself one question: Where is the Romanov dynasty? And the answer is “in Wikipedia.”
And then I will answer for you an alternative question, how many celebrations are taking place this Yud Tes Kislev in the former USSR?.
This year, approximately 400 farbrengens and celebrations are taking place. Appreciate the magnitude of the miracle, not only of Jewish survival, but of the level Jewish existence has reached today.
And it reminds me of a photograph I once saw. It was a photo of menorah with a swastika in the background. And I couldn’t understand, who would take a picture of a menorah with a swastika in the background? What kind of insanity was this? It took my breath away.
So I looked into the background of the photo; it was taken on December 31, 1932, a year that the 8th night of Chanukah fell on Friday night, in Kiel, Germany. The rabbi of Kiel was Rabbi Akiva Baruch Posner, and his wife, Rachel Posner, set up the menorah on the window ledge to be lit a few minutes before Shabbos.
It happened to be that the Posners lived across the street from the Nazi headquarters, and over the headquarers was draped a flag with a large swastika. And as Rabbi Posner lit his menorah, 8 candles were glowing, and in the background was a swastika.
Rachel Posner felt this was a surreal moment, the contrast between 2 world orders clashing in the most vivid way. She decided to photograph the moment. And after she developed the photo, on its back she wrote the following lines, “Chanukah 1932. Judah will die, thus the flag says. Judah will live forever, thus the lights answer.”
Indeed, the first half of her observation came very close to becoming reality. Just a few weeks later elections took place that brought Adolph Hitler into power, and on January 30, 1933, Hitler, Yemach shmo v’zichro, became the chancellor of Germany. And over the next 15 years, the light of Judah came so close to being extinguished.
And then a few days ago, I received a message from my friend. Rabbi Yehuda Teichtel, the rabbi of Berlin, who told me that he had been invited for a private audience with the President of Germany. The president had told him, “This year is the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht. How do you think Germany should mark the onset of the Holocaust? Rabbi Teichtel, I know you were sent here by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, how would he have said we should mark the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht?”
And Rabbi Teichtel answered him, “The Rebbe would always say, in the place where the greatest darkness is unleashed, we must introduce the most powerful light. Germany must somehow introduce a light of unprecedented greatness to counteract the unprecedented darkness of the Holocaust.”
The president responded: “Rabbi, great Idea. I want our country to sponsor the largest menora in the world this Chanukah, and it will stand at the Brandenberg Gate, the spot where my predecessor, Adolph Hitler, gave some of his most fiery speeches invigorating the German people to a life dedicated to hate, and genocide, to rid the world from the “bacteria” of the Jewish people.
And when Rabbi Teichtel told me this, I remembered the photo from Kiel Germany, and I discovered that in Haifa there is a man named Yehuda Mansbach, who is the grandson of Akiva and Rachel Posner. And every Chanukah, he lights a menorah in his windowsill, the very same menorah that his grandparents lit in Kiel, Germany in December 1932, and every year, his children and grandchildren stand around him, as he takes out the original photograph that he inherited from his grandmother, and he reads her handwritten words on its back: “Judah will die, says the flag. Judah will live forever, thus say the lights.”

2 comments

  1. Really puts things in perspective. Thank you for posting!

Leave a Reply