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Monday, May 05, 2014

The Belt Buckle

During World War II my grandfather used to trade cigarettes with the German and Japanese Prisoners of War on his ship. He would give them cigarettes and they would give him whatever they had. He showed me some of the Nazi memorabilia that he acquired. We both agreed that it was gruesome but he couldn’t get rid of it.

One of the items in my grandfather’s collection is a belt that changed my life. The fact that it is a belt worn by a Nazi is fascinating enough for a young boy, but it was worse: On the belt buckle, right above the Swastika, are the words “Got Mit Unz” – “G-d is with us”.

Chutzpah is too nice of a word. I still can’t get my mind around the fact that those sadistic and subhuman Nazis had the stupidity to entertain the idea that G-d was somehow on their side. May their name be obliterated forever.

Earlier this week I attended the Yom Hashoah event and had the privilege of hearing a lecture from a holocaust survivor named Werner Reich. Warner Reich remembered the belt buckle. He was a short eight year old when he went to Auschwitz and it was at his eye level.

Warner recalled being shocked by the belt buckle. “G-d’s with you!? G-d’s with us!”, he thought.  “We are the ones who study G-d’s Torah and keep his laws. We don’t kill, we don’t steal, and we don’t covet. We honor the Shabbos and we dedicate our lives to representing G-d. G-d is with us!”

Warner was a tiny, scared, hungry, undressed orphan who had just come off of three days in a cattle car. He was looking at a well dressed and powerful officer with a highly polished belt buckle. But he knew that G-d was with him and not with the enemy.

We will never ever have to deal with anything even remotely close to what Warner Reich dealt with and survived. We will never ever have to deal with the indignities that Warner Reich suffered. But we will have challenges in your life. Some of those challenges will be formidable. Some will make us lose sleep and lose confidence. Some will make us scared.

G-d is with us. We walk the paths of men and women who live with G-d. And when you live with G-d you can live with anything.

It’s not that simple though. We are going to need to make Torah integral to our lives. We are going to need to allow the Torah to form who we are and how we act and how we react and what we believe in and how we live.

It’s not just our Torah, it’s G-d’s Torah. It’s the Torah that makes us special and able to face anybody and anything that dares to disparage our uniqueness.

May G-d be with us.

(Originally shared at the Bar Mitzvah of Yitzi Litt. Mazal Tov!)

Posted on 05/05 at 09:53 PM • Permalink
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Meet Rabbi Sender Haber

Rabbi Sender Haber is the Rabbi of the B'nai Israel Congregation in Norfolk, VA. He is well known throughout Hampton Roads, having arrived over twelve years ago as one of the original four members of the Norfolk Area Community Kollel. In that capacity, Rabbi Haber was involved in community wide programming, teaching, and outreach. He has inspired many Jews to expand their Jewish identity and increase their love of Torah and commitment to its observance. Everyone who knows Rabbi Haber is touched by his breadth of Torah knowledge and his ability to convey the wisdom of the ages in such a way as to make those esoteric writings accessible to persons of all levels of experience and a variety of backgrounds.

Rabbi Haber has served in a number of capacities during his years in Norfolk. Since 2003 Rabbi Haber has been a teacher of Jewish Studies at Toras Chaim Day School in Portsmouth, teaching boys and girls of all ages, with a focus on Gemara, Halacha, and Chumash. He has also taught at Yeshivas Aish Kodesh and Bina High School in Norfolk, and served as Assistant Rabbi of B’nai Israel for 6 years. He also serves as the Rabbi of the “Lost Tribe,” Tidewater’s Jewish Motorcycle group! While handling all of these responsibilities, he has continued to participate in numerous Chavrusos (one-on-one learning partnerships) covering a wide range of topics and writings.

Rabbi Haber and his wife Chamie have been married for thirteen years. They have four children, Minna (9), Moshe (6), Ely (4), and Akiva Meir, born in August of 2012. They both come from rabbinic families steeped in Torah, Kiruv and Chesed. Rabbi Haber received his Rabbinic Ordination (Yoreh Yoreh) from Rabbi Sender Rosenbloom and Rabbi Mordechai Freidlander of the Jerusalem Beth Din. He was awarded a Teaching Certificate by Torah Umesorah Association for Jewish Day Schools in 2004 and again in 2009. In addition, Rabbi Haber has spent over a decade studying Talmud, Jewish Law, and ethics in some of the world’s most prestigious Yeshivos including Beth Medrash Gavoha in Lakewood, NJ and Yeshivas Mir in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Haber can be contacted through the Synagogue office at 757-627-7358, or through e-mail at senderhaber@gmail.com