Open Heart – Part 3 – TOWARDS THE END

Everything exhausts me. To breathe, to open my eyes, to think – everyting brings renewed agony. Am I out of danger? Not yet. …The doctors try to convince me that from now on, for a few days, a few weeks, I must be patient, that the feeling of being cut into pieces will disappear. But when? …The oppression lasts thirty-six hours, perhaps two days. An eternity during which I can do nothing without help. …On the third day, I am at last able to leave my bed. Then my room, to walk a few steps in the hallway.

One day at the begining of my convalescence, little Elijah, five years old, comes to pay me a visit. I hug him and tell him, “Every time I see you, my life becomes a gift.” He observes me closely as I speak and then, with a serious mien, responds: “Grandpa, you know that I love you, and I see you are in pain. Tell me: If I loved you more, would you be in less pain?” I am convinced that God at that moment is smiling as He contemplates His creation.

 

Open Heart – Part 3 – TOWARDS THE END – 9.14 mins

Open Heart – Part 2 – POST-SURGERY REFLECTIONS

“Elisha,” I say very quietly. My son hears me: “What can I do for you?” … I motion him to approach. Now he is very close to my bed. He takes my hand in his and caresses it gently. I try to squeeze his hand but I don’t succeed. I know that he wishes to transmit to me his strength, his faith in my recovery.

Is one ever ready? Some of the ancient Greek philosophers, as well as some Hassidic masters, claimed to have spent their lifetimes preparing for death. Well. the Jewish tradition counsels another way: We sanctify life, not death. ‘Ubakharta bakhaim,’ says Scripture: “You shall choose life” and the living. With the promise to live a better, more moral, more humane life. This is what man’s efforts should be directed to.

 

Open Heart – Part 2 – POST-SURGERY REFLECTIONS – 9.21 mins

Open Heart – Part 1 – “IT’S YOUR HEART!”

 

My wife, Marion, and I have just returned from Jerusalem, where, every year, we spend the holiday of Shavuot with close friends. …This time, in Jerusalem, it had all gone well. No terrorist attacks. No border incidents. …But now, back in New York, suddenly my body revolts.”It’s certainly the heart.” Ominous words, inducing fear and the promise of more pain. Or worse.

 

Open Heart – Part 1 – IT’S YOUR HEART! – 10.30 mins

 

OPEN HEART – by Elie Wiesel

I belong to a generation that has often felt abandoned by G-d and betrayed by mankind. And yet, I believe that we must not give up on either.

Was it yesterday – or long ago – that we learned how human beings have been able to attain perfection in cruelty? That for killers, the torturers, it is normal, thus human, to act inhumanely? Should one therefore turn away from humanity?

The answer, of course, is up to each of us. We must choose between the violence of adults and the smiles of children, between the ugliness of hate and the will to oppose it. Between inflicting suffering and humiliation on our fellow man and offering him the solidarity and hope he deserves. Or not.

I know – I speak from experience – that even in the darkness it is possible to create light and encourage compassion. That it is possible to feel free inside a prison. That even in exile, friendship exists and can become an anchor…

I still believe in man in spite of man. I believe in language even though it has been wounded, deformed and perverted by the enemies of mankind. And I continue to cling to words because it is up to us to transform them into instruments of comprehension rather than contempt. It is up to us to choose wether we wish to use them to curse or to heal, to wound or console.

OPEN HEART
by Elie Wiesel

~ review by Cindy

In front of me, the cemetery; behind me, the garden of my childhood. The future is shrinking; the past is dying.

In June – 2011, 82 year old Elie Wiesel is told he needs emergency open-heart surgery. Faced with this diagnose, Elie Wiesel reflects back on his life and his own mortality. Open Heart is Elie Wiesel memoir of this time.

We sanctify life, not death. “Ubakharta bakhaim,” says Scripture: “You choose life” and the living.

Unlike the heaviness of Elie’s other reads, Open Heart is softer, more settling. His words are peppered with hope and speak life. Elie’s voice in Open Heart will resonate with many of us who have more years behind than ahead of us or for anyone who has reflected on their own mortality.

All my life, until today, I have been content to ask questions. All the while knowing that the real questions, those that concern the Creator and His creation, have no answers. I’ll go even farther and say that there is a level at which only the questions are eternal; the answer never are.

And so, the patient that I am, more charitable, repeats, “Since G-d is, He is to be found in the questions as well as in the answers.”

Deeply intimate and profoundly moving, Open Heart is a short read, only 79 pages long. Though Open Heart can easily be read in one sitting, it is one to go back to time and time again.

I am not the man I was before June 16, 2011, but on a level close to the absolutes that are life and death, I have remained the same. What is different is that I now know that every moment is a new beginning, every handshake a promise.

I know that every quest implicates the other, just as every word can become prayer. If life is not a celebration, why remember it? If life – mine or that of my fellow man – is not an offering to the other, what are we doing on this earth?

You can purchase Open Heart here from amazon.com
Open Heart

And the Sea is Never Full – Part 3 – PEACE AND HATE

Was it Oscar Wilde who was wise enough to say that he who lives more than one life ends up dying more than one death? I have lived a few lives. How does one relate to the other? I look for the life of the boy from Sighet in that of the orphan abandoned at Buchenwald.

With a Nobel Prize come quite a few lessons. For one, you learn who is a friend and who is not. Contrary to popular wisdom, a friend is not one who shares your suffering, but one who knows how to share your joy.

Nothing good, nothing great, nothing that is alive, can be born of hate. Hate begets only hate.

 

Part 3 – The Nobel Peace Prize – 13.37 minutes

And the Sea is Never Full – Part 2 – SCARS

October 5, 1973. The Yom Kippur War, terrible and shattering. We learn the news during services. Rabbi Joseph Lookstein, dressed in white as was the High Priest of long ago, asks the congregation to pray with increased fervor.

Ani Ma’amin – I Believe…a Song of Lost and Found Again. …For me it was a call to faith and an affirmation that even though he was late, the Redeemer would make his appearance one day.

Later I heard that the Jews on their way to Treblinka and Birkenau had sung that song, as if to defy death. And I failed to understand: How could they believe in the coming of the Messiah over there? From where did they draw their faith in Divine kindness and grace?

 

Part 2 – Scars – 15.58 minutes

 

And the Sea is Never Full – Part 1 – CROSSROADS

Inside me happiness and distress seem to spark a fire that is both somber and luminous. Could it be that I fear happiness?

I cling to the notion that in the beginning there was the Word, and that the Word is the story of man, and that man is the story of God. If praying is an act of faith in God, then writing is a token of trust in man.

Part 1 – Crossroads – 15.25 minutes

AND THE SEA IS NEVER FULL

What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?
One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh:
but the earth abideth forever.
The sun also riseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.
The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north;
it whirleth about continually,
and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.
All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full;
unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.
All things are full of labor; man cannot utter it:
the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
Ecclesiastes 1:3-8

AND THE SEA IS NEVER FULL
MEMOIRS, 1969 –
by Elie Wiesel

~ Review by Cindy

A dawn unlike any other. It will mark my existence forever. This little fellow in the arms of his mother will illuminate our life. I look at him and look at him. And as I look at him I feel the presence of others also seeking to protect him.

And The Sea Is Never Full, is the continuation of Elie Wiesel’s memoirs. Written in the middle of his life, this work begins with two life-changing and joyful events – his marriage in Jerusalem to Marion Rose (1969) and the birth of his son, Elisha (1972).

I have a wife I love, and yet I write not about love but about solitude. I have a home filled with warmth, and yet I write about the misery of the condemned.

Driven by memories of the Holocaust, Elie’s memoirs are a cornucopia of the thoughts, observations, and struggles of a man firmly rooted in his faith but struggling with both G-d and man. In And The Sea Is Never Full, Elie shares that he feels obligated to “turn my attention to those who have been judging me.” Shadowed in all he relates is the responsibility to bear witness. As always there is an intensity in Elie’s words that make this a worthwhile but, at the same time, a heavy and challenging read.

In this conversational narrative we enter a labyrinth and meet world leaders, rabbinic scholars, travel the world, dip into the political arena, and engage in pressing issues of the day. Woven throughout Elie’s personal experiences are Hasidic legends and stories. Prevalent throughout the book is a heaviness that Elie is seeking answers to unanswerable questions.

A writer cannot detach himself from his story. He is responsible for it to the end.

As a champion for human rights Elie speaks forthrightly and, honest to his understanding about persecution, racism, refugees, always, always, always for those he perceives to be the underdog. And, throughout the narrative, Elie remains deeply involved with, and concerned about, Israel.

Deeply honest, this personal spiritual journey of Elie’s is one we wish we could wholeheartedly recommend but in truth cannot. 80% wonderful, 20% left oriented, we cannot, without reservation, recommend a read in which we consider that an unbalanced view of the Israeli – Arab conflict is expressed. (A view that we believe Elie balanced out later in his life). This book, however, does stand in contrast to those critics who have said Elie Weisel had the tendency to whitewash all Jewish behavior and blindly support Israel.

As I write these words, I contemplate the photograph of my home; it is always before me, heavy and sealed under the weight of darkness. And yet I want to go back to Sighet one last time. To write the last pages.

I am not afraid of losing my way. Like Elhanan in ‘The Forgotten,’ I am afraid of forgetting. I read, I reread what I have written, what others have written. And God in all that? I stumble on three poignant words in Book of Lamentations – the prophet says to the Lord, “Haragta lo khamalta – You killed, You had no pity.” Earlier the prophet said to the Lord, “In Your anger, You hid and persecuted us.” Why, God? Why? I am afraid to know the answers. I am afraid not to. But above all, I tremble at the idea that my memory could become empty, that I could forget the reasons that have allowed me to set one word after the other.

I am afraid to know the end before I begin.

What shall I begin Father?

I feel like singing, singing of happiness and serenity. I want to love, to laugh, to accompany the lonely on their road to nowhere. I want to pursue the work G-d started in the heart of man.

How am I to sing, Mother, how am I to sing the songs that your father, Grandfather Dodye, taught us on Rosh Hashanah eve?

How can one still love in this life, when you, Tsipouka, my gentle sister whose future was stolen by the enemy, when you entered death so small, so frail, so innocent?

I still have so many questions to ask you, Father. So many doors to open, so many secrets to discover. Will I have the time?

 

Night – Part 3 – A Gray Light On The Horizon

 Another Winter arrives… Elie’s right foot gets infected. While he is in the infirmary, the Russian front draws closer and the Nazis decide to evacuate the camp. Elie and his father are among the thousands evacuated – in the form of a death march! Gruelling days of marching follow, without food or water and in constantly falling snow. They leave a trail of corpses in their wake. The survivors reach the camp of Gleiwitz.

After three days, again wthout food or water, they are marched to a field to await transport deeper into Germany. A long train with open cattle cars appears. Transported in freezing snow and wind for days, when they finally arrive at Buchenwald only twelve of the hundred crammed into their cattle car have survived, including Elie and his father. Soon after, his father succumbs to the torture and is taken to the crematorium. The American army arrives to liberate the camp three months later.

 

 

After liberation and two weeks in the infirmary between life and death…

One day when I was able to get up, I decided to look at myself in the mirror on the opposite wall.
I had not seen myself since the ghetto.
From the depths of the mirror,
a corpse was contemplating me.
The look in his eyes as he gazed at me has never left me.

 

Part 3 – A Gray Light On The Horizon – 29:18 minutes

 

Night Part 2 – The Camps

Part 2 is composed of excerpts describing Wiesel’s arrival at Auschwitz with his family, and the transferral of he and his father to the Auschwitz work camp called Buna. There, among other atrocities, they witnessed hangings, including that of a young boy.

 

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in the camp,   that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed.
Never shallI I forget that smoke.
Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky.

 

The Camps 20.26 minutes

Night – Preface and Part 1

 

Elie Wiesel, of blessed memory (z”l) said:

If in my lifetime I was to write only one book, this would be the one.

He also commented that all the numerous books he was to write thereafter, could not be understood …”if one has not read this very first of my works.”

Join us in exploring this vital work of an outstanding mind of our times.

~Keren Hannah

Preface and Part 1 – 21.28 minutes

A Winter with ELIE WIESEL – Introduction

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We would like to bless the memory of ELIE WIESEL (z”l)  by sharing excerpts of his writings during the coming winter months (or summer in the Southern Hemisphere!). He was the prolific author of more than fifty books. We have chosen three that mark the beginning, middle, and the end of his writing odyssey.

  1. The classicNight”   2.The Sea is Never Full”   and   3.Open Heart

[ Please note: When you enter the discussion and share comments on these posts, your name will be entered in a draw for a free copy of your choice of one of these books.]

 

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Survivor and Witness

Elie Wiesel is most commonly recognized as a survivor of and a witness to one of the greatest atrocities of human history – the Holocaust.  He was born in Sighet, Hungary, into a pious, Hasidic-Jewish family. His father was a beloved leader in the community and Elie was a deeply religious youth, fervently committed to prayer and study of the Torah and Talmud. Most Jews in Hungary hoped and believed that that they were far enough removed from Nazi Germany to be spared and would safely survive the war. However, in 1944, the Nazis invaded Hungary and all the Jews of Sighet were deported to Auschwitz.

On arrival at the death camp and facing the infamous ‘selection,’ his mother and beloved seven-year-old sister, Tziporah, were immediately led to the gas chambers along with other women and children. Elie and his father were spared as laborers and together they clung desperately to life in the camps of Auschwitz, Buma, and Buchenwald. Tragically, his father was viciously beaten to death by a guard not long before the liberation by the Allies.

After liberation, with no family or home to return to, Elie was sent to Paris to study at the Sorbonne. From Paris, he travelled to Israel and then to America, where he settled in 1956. In 1968 he was married in Jerusalem to his basherte* Marion. Although New York was their official home, Elie was in great demand as a lecturer and they travelled frequently and also spent time in Israel whenever possible.

The Message and the Burden

Elie called himself a witness and a messenger. 

I will bear witness. I will reveal and try to mitigate the victims’ solitude.

Six million Jews perished and he somehow survived. He saw his mission as bringing their message to the world. He carried the dual responsibilities of being a witness to their death and of retelling their story. He could not forget them and worked to ensure that we do not either; not in order to punish the living nor to heap more blame on the perpetrators, but for deeper spiritual reasons. His works address the central theological question that looms from the horror: “How can one speak of God after the Holocaust?” All other theological questions pale until this one is validly addressed.

Our human tendency is to try to forget the unpleasant, and many Jews try to blot out the atrocities of the death camps from memory. We can erect monuments, say some prayers, and move on to embrace the hope of a happier future. On the other hand, others are crushed spiritually by the Holocaust and their faith in God is snuffed out entirely. Elie faced both these choices and his work ultimately advises against any hasty surrender to atheism, however attractive and justified it may seem. He rejects both the head-in-the-sand optimism and atheism. Neither Christians nor Jews can overlook the theological challenges of the Holocaust by ignoring them or by being crushed by them.

Fragments of Self

We will be exploring his autobiographical books, but even Wiesel’s novels reflect his own honest struggle with these questions. They take the literary form of fiction but in reality they, too, are thinly veiled autobiography. They are personal reflections, intimate musings, and narrative memoirs. He commented: “The Jew in my books is myself – or fragments of myself.” The intensity of his presence on the pages elevates his novels beyond mere literature into a unique genre.

He has looked deep into the heart of man and seen the face of the beast that hides there. Many of his novels employ the image of a dark pit, the confined prison that is life. A pivotal point in his own struggle is described in his book “The Gates of the Forest.” It, too, ends in a darkened, confined space but, this time, it is not a torture room or prison cell but a synagogue in Brooklyn. This time, the character is not alone and isolated but wedged amongst a group of fellow Hasidim. There is no silence in this pit but flowing rivers of chanting and singing and the rhythmic power of worshipful dance. In the center is not a void but the holy presence of the Rebbe. As Dr. Bradley Dewey describes**

The dark pit is transformed, it is blessed, it becomes the Ark of Salvation, the dwelling place of God.

Wiesel describes the scene as the Rebbe, sometimes pounding on the table, urges the Hasidim to greater enthusiasm and abandonment of ‘self’, as if he were saying:

Don’t caress your soul as if it were a body, feeding on kisses. Beat it, without humiliating it; whip it, without diminishing it; drive it on in order that it may rejoin its Source and become one with it in the Heichal HaNegina – the Sanctuary of melody. It’s there that God awaits you in secret praise. 

The crowd obeyed, dancing with a vigor that may have seemed desperate. …We are alone, yes, but inside this solitude we are brothers, helping one another to go forward without stumbling. …So forcibly will we invoke God that the shell of time will be shattered, its laws abolished, and God Himself will cease to exist as a stranger.

 

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~Keren Hannah Pryor 

  • *basherte – soul mate, marriage partner made in Heaven
  • **Dr. Bradley Dewey, article Elie Wiesel, A Witness to the Holocaust, Jewish Affairs, South Africa, April 1973

 

NIGHT – Elie Wiesel

“If in my lifetime I was to write only one book, this would be the one. Just as the past lingers in the present, all my writings after Night, including those that deal with Biblical, Talmudic, or Hasidic themes, profoundly bear its stamp, and cannot be understood if one has not read this very first of my works.” *

night

NIGHT
by Elie Wiesel (obm, ז״ל)

~ review by Cindy

NEVER SHALL I FORGET that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night, seven times sealed.
Never shall I forget that smoke.
Never shall I forget the little faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky.
Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever.
Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my G-d and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes.
Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as G-d Himself.
Never.**

Elie Wiesel was 15 years of age when he and his family were forced into Auschwitz and Buchenwald death camps. It is beyond grievous to imagine the mark that this unthinkable horror, total humiliation, unmatched hatred, and the complete contempt for life would leave on anyone’s heart, let alone the tender heart, mind, and spirit of a young man. The pain and anguish of that time is felt in much of Elie Wiesel’s works but his memoir, Night, is agonizingly raw.

He was deeply sensitive and observant – even as a child – and it helps to keep in mind these words of Elie Wiesel’s as you read Night:

I have never renounced my faith in G-d, I have risen against His justice, protested His silence and sometimes His absence, but my anger rises up within faith and not outside it. I admit that this is hardly an original position. It is part of Jewish tradition. But in these matters I have never sought originality. On the contrary, I have always aspired to follow in the footsteps of my father and those who went before him…It is permissible for man to accuse G-d, provided it be done in the name of faith in G-d.***

Night reveals where Elie’s struggle with G-d began. But just as Elie never forgot that night, he never forgot G-d.

Night is a short read, only 120 pages. But it is 120 pages of suffering, horror, and honesty, that will leave its mark on your heart.

Elie Wiesel ( ז״ל) – may his memory be a blessing and may his words continue to bear witness.

Some people might not agree with or ‘like’ Oprah but she was profoundly touched by his memoir Night. This is a sincere interview that started a caring friendship between the two.

*Elie Wiesel, Night, preface
**ibid, 34
*** Elie Wiesel, All Rivers Run To The Sea, p. 84

VIOLINS OF HOPE – Violins of the Holocaust

It’s often past belief that I, that I alone
of all the millions who had come to grief,
that I without a scratch climbed from the vale of bones.
At times I can’t imagine it, it’s past belief.

Perhaps I too was burned to ash with all the others,
like them, just like the rest of them, my sisters, brothers,
burned up, burned up like Moses’ bush, his desert thorn,
and out of the hot ashes I arose newborn.

But how it happened I’m unable to remember –
as if a mother’d given birth to me once more
to cry out for a reckoning to the last ember

for all who dies in flames or in the poison chamber,
for every child and mother butchered in this war,
all, all, six million lives to be accounted for.*

“For the dead and the living…we must bear witness.” ~ Elie Wiesel

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VIOLINS OF HOPE
Violins of the Holocaust – Instruments of Hope and Liberation in Mankind’s Darkest Hour
by James A. Grymes

~ Review by Cindy

Tracing the stories of violins played by Jews in the Holocaust, author James Grymes allows the story of each instrument to be a voice and a memorial for the souls of those who played them. These stories raise out of the hot ashes of brutality, unimaginable horrors, and a time of incredible darkness – speaking for those who cannot speak.

Juxtaposing these stories, James Grymes shares the story of Amnon Weinstein whose father Moshe opened a violin shop in Tel Aviv in 1938. After the war, Moshe learned of the death of 400 family members. The pain of that discovery lead to Moshe’s first heart attack and he never again spoke to Amnon of his family.

Amnon grew up to be one of the most respected violin makers in the world and by the 1990’s was ready to reclaim his lost heritage. He began to reflect not only on the Holocaust but the role that music played in the the lives of Jews during that time. Amnon began to locate and restore the violins played by the Jews in camps and ghettos. He is now founder of Violins of Hope Cleveland.**

In the pages of Violins of Hope, James Grymes gives us a glimpse of Holocaust memoirist Elie Wiesel and his interaction with Jewish violinist, Juliek:

On January 19, 1945, after the survivors of Auschwitz III had been taken on a two-day death march to the Auschwitz subcamp of Gleiwitz, Wiesel found himself on top of Juliek in a packed barrack. Later that night, Juliek extricated himself from the pile of living and dead bodies long enough to play a Beethoven concerto on the instrument he had brought with him from Auschwitz III.

“Never before had I heard such a beautiful sound. In such silence,” Wiesel later recorded. “All I could hear was the violin, and it was as if Juliek’s soul had become his bow. He was playing for his life. His whole being was gliding over the strings. His unfulfilled hopes. His charred past, his extinguished future. He played that which he would never play again.”

When Wiesel woke the next morning, he saw Juliek’s lifeless face staring back at him. Next to Juliek was his crushed violin – a fitting symbol of the hundreds of thousands of Jewish lives that had been destroyed in Auschwitz.

Painfully raw, Violins of Hope is a testimony to the strength, perseverance, and hope of the Jewish people. It is a book that haunts the reader long after one has read the last page.

Violins of Hope is available via amazon.com:

Violins of Hope: Violins of the Holocaust–Instruments of Hope and Liberation in Mankind’s Darkest Hour

Watch a powerful, moving, and hope-filled documentary film featuring Amnon Weinstein:

Violins of Hope – Strings of the Holocaust

*Avrom Zak (December 15, 1891-May 22), 1980, Out Of The Hot Ashes
** Violins of Hope Cleveland

THE SECRET SHOFAR OF BARCELONA

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THE SECRET SHOFAR OF BARCELONA
Jacqueline Dembar Greene
Illustrated by Doug Chayka

The Secret Shofar Of Barcelona takes place in Spain during the late 1400’s and early 1500’s. This was a time of intense Antisemitism and severe persecution of the Jews by the Roman Catholic Church. It is known historically as the Spanish Inquisition. Thousands of Jews were murdered. Further thousands managed to survive by fleeing to other lands. Still, large numbers remained in Spain and, to save their lives, converted to the Catholic faith. These converts were known as conversos –  Jews living Catholic lives in public while practicing their true faith – as best they could – in private. These conversos not only had to hide their true faith from the Inquisition but were under constant surveillance and suspicion. Spies were everywhere and the secret Jews lived in constant fear of being discovered.

From this period came a Sephardic legend about one very courageous converso, Don Fernando Aguilar and his son, Raphael. Don Fernando Aguilar was the conductor of the Royal Orchestra of Barcelona. On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, Don Fernando decided to secretly honor the Jewish New Year by presenting a concert that included the blowing of the shofar. Hiding in plain sight, his son Rafael blew the shofar – Tek’iah! Shevarim! Teru’ah! Tek’iah Gedolah! Hundreds of notes in all. The non-Jewish audience were fully appreciative of the performance and sound of this unfamiliar instrument. But to the Jews in the audience, the cry of the shofar meant that they could fulfill the mitzvah of hearing the shofar blown for the first time in years.

Accompanied by rich, warm and opaque paintings, The Secret Shofar of Barcelona is a gentle way to introduce AntiSemitism and the period of the Inquisition to children.

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~ Review by Cindy

You can purchase The Secret Shofar of Barcelona through Amazon.com – The Secret Shofar of Barcelona (High Holidays)