Encountering G-d: Rudi Leavor, BEM

Earlier in the year, Rudi Leavor, BEM, responded to our request about sharing stories about encounter. Written in May, this piece is all about his experience in taking part in a Bar Mitzvah over Zoom.

Kai’s Bar Mitzvah

Though my experience of G-d was not via the Cathedral with which, however, I have a close relationship it came at the very end of the year we are talking about.

Jews have been dispersed throughout the world twice, once in 79 CE (=AD) from Canaan by the Romans and the second time by the German National Socialists in the period 1933-1945. There have been other expulsions in between these times, e.g. from England in 1290 and from Spain in 1492, but the last three countries eventually made amends. In my case friends and relatives fled Germany to all corners of the world. My family chose England (and an innocent clerk at the Dental Board in London in 1936 chose Bradford for us). I celebrated my bar mitzvah in 1939, my two boys in 1972 and 1975 respectively.

Earlier this year (2021) I received an invitation to the bar mitzvah of a distant relative Kai, distant because the family lived in California, USA and distant because of a convoluted family connection. However he was a proper blood relation traceable to my own great-grandfather Louis Marcus whose life and mine coincided for a short period 1926-There was therefore a direct, albeit lengthy, connection between Louis and Kai. The ceremony was going to be streamed/zoomed to other relatives and friends in France, Israel, the UK and of course the USA.

Amongst 13 relatives of mine and Marianne who were murdered in concentration camps including Auschwitz was a four-year old boy called Dan who, together with his parents and grandfather could not escape Germany. When I remember all these relatives, which I do frequently, Dan comes to mind first. Dan did not live long enough to be able to celebrate his bar mitzvah and I thought it might be a good idea to hold a virtual bar mitzvah for him during Kai’s celebration.

This suggestion was gladly taken up by Kai’s family who now included relatives of Kai’s father Nico some of whose family, including a rabbi, were shot by a terrorist in Toulouse some years ago and which caught the world’s headlines at the time. They decided to include other relatives who were murdered in camps.

Evi

The whole episode would be the cause of high emotions. The reatgrandparents of Kai, Ruth and Simcha, saw the light in Germany in 1934 and emigrated to Palestine, eventually enabling Kai to be born; the other (potential) great-aunt, Dan’s mother Evi, did not. Sometimes the throw of dice determined who should live and who should die. Many people who managed to escape often think: there but for the grace of G-d go I.

During any morning service readings are made from the Torah, the parchment scroll consisting of the Five Books of Moses and members of the congregation can be ‘called up’ to say blessings before a short section of the Torah is recited, and afterwards. I was invited to be called up as the seventh person (of seven). It is a special honour to be the third or seventh person. I had been sent a kippa (small headcovering) made of satin and beautifully embroidered with coloured threads.

The stage was set for a highly emotional episode in my life. Even so there were some unexpected surprises, some of which came early on in the service. The requisite electronic link had been sent well in advance, including a time for a rehearsal the day before. There was an eight hour delay between the UK and California.

The early prayers were recited by Kai and one by one his younger siblings were encouraged to help in the recitation, ranging in ages from 3 to 11. The younger two were lifted up to reach the reading desk though the 3-year old added his contribution by heart. I had not expected this nor could I have done. All the more so that it brought tears to my eyes. They had been ready to flow at some time but so soon?

One by one relatives and friends were called up and different people including Kai chanted the passages. My portion of the Torah was read by Herb Barasch who hid in Belgium during the war. After my part was finished I referred to Dan. My grandmother was the oldest sister of Kai’s maternal grandmother’s grandmother. His great-greatgrandmother died shortly before World War II, while my grandmother perished in Theresienstadt. Another of the sisters, Hulda, survived Theresienstadt and came to live with my family in England after the war. I will read a poem that she wrote when she learned of the death of my second cousin and his grandmother’s first cousin, Dan, who did not quite reach 4 years of age (see below). Hulda did not have children nor grandchildren of her own, and little Dan had been a light in her life. I will recite the poem in the original German and then in its English translation. I had drawn up a short family tree (see below) showing the connection between Louis Marcus and Kai with a branch for Dan. When visiting graves of Jewish people it is customary to place a stone on the grave. It is a primitive relic from ancient times to indicate that someone has visited the grave and has become a quasi-religious fetish but without irreverent overtones. In a highly symbolic act a pebble was thrown into a glass vessel by one of Kai’s siblings which made a tinkling noise which, however, reverberated through decades where Dan’s and many relatives’ graves were unknown. The names of all relatives who perished before their time were mentioned and similarly pebbles were thrown in the same vessel as each name was recited. Kaddish was then recited – the prayer usually said in connection with a death or grave. For a few minutes symbolism was attached to reality.

Kai then chanted the “haftarah”, a reading from the Prophets, followed by the sermon by a rabbi who referred to recent happenings concerning BLM. The normal service then continued when, at the very end Daphna, Kai’s mother, and Nico, Kai’s father individually gave a short but most heartfelt address facing their son directly followed by an equally heartfelt (sanitised) hug.

G-D walked and watched with me that Day.

[Colour image] Kai Elan Lidzborski b. 2008
[Black / white image] Dan Simon 1940 – 1944
Parents: Evi (or Eva) and Werner. All three with Evi’s father Artur Blumenthal were murdered in Auschwitz 1944.

After the ceremony I addressed Kai:
Kai, let me introduce myself: I am Rudi Leavor in Bradford, England, one of your blood-relation ancestors. By the wonders of modern technology I have been privileged to witness the ceremony of your Bar Mitzvah six thousand miles away and hasten to congratulate you on the magnificent manner in which you have overcome and surmounted the considerable hurdles which a Bar Mitzvah presents. All credit to you and your teachers.

I don’t know if you have had a glance at the short family tree which I had sent to your Mum. It explains that we are blood relations in a direct line from your Great-great-great-great-grandfather Louis Marcus. I was only one year old when he died so I cannot say that I knew him, but he knew me. One generation down I knew your Great-great-great-grandmother Frieda whom we called Trulle and from then on I knew and still know everybody on that family tree with two exceptions because we emigrated before these two appeared in the family. They are Werner, husband of Evi and their son Dan who was commemorated today, together with others of your family who perished by evil forces long before their time. Print it out and place it carefully in my book which I sent you and refer to it from time to time and think of them because, before your dear parents gave you life, they gave you life just the same.

A few years after the Second World War, when my Greataunt Hulda, elder sister of Trulle, was safely living with us in England, having been the only survivor of those of our relatives who were imprisoned in concentration camps to have survived, your Greatgreataunt Dani in Israel sent me a poem which Hulda
had written when she heard that her darling 4-year old Dan had perished in Auschwitz. Apart from the content it has real artistic merit, not reflected in the English translation. I read it for you earlier.

Kai, your dear parents have given you the traditional blessing but I acquire the privilege of also pronouncing the blessing handed down to you now from almost 100 years ago when my Great-grandfather Louis Marcus pronounced it. It appears to have worked well because in five weeks’ time I shall celebrate my 95th birthday. Just follow my footsteps and more and you will do very well.

Short family tree compiled by Rudi Leavor, né Librowicz, b. 1926 for Kai’s Bar Mitzvah 24 April 2021, 12 Iyyar 5781.

Louis Marcus b.1836, d. 1927
Bertha LIbrowicz b.1865, d. 1944 KZ Theresienstadt. Rudi‘s grandmother
Sister Hulda Gembitzky b.1866, d.1955. Married for only two years.
Their youngest sister Frieda, called Trulle b. 1888 (?), d. 1938
Married Artur Blumenthal b.1887, d. 1944 KZ Auschwitz
Two daughters: Ruth b 1914, married Simcha Kamm b. 1910, d. 1997
Third of three daughters Chava b. 1947, married Michael b. 1940
Two children: Ron b. 1975, Daphna b. 1978, Son Kai b. 2008
Second daughter of Frieda: Evi (or Eva) b. 1916, d. 1944 KZ Auschwitz;
Married Werner Simon b. 1905, d. 1944 KZ Auschwitz
Son Dan b. 1940, d. 1944 KZ Auschwitz

Louis was the Great-great-great-grandfather of Kai. He knew me when I was 1 year old. I then knew and know everyone else in this short family tree except Werner and Dan who became part of the family after our emigration.

Appendix

If you would like to take part in a future ‘Encountering God’ story, e-mail stories@bradfordcathedral.org with your experiences in your own words and to say whether or not you would be happy for your name to be associated with your story when it is shared. Alternatively you can speak to Canon Paul Maybury as a way of sharing your story so that I can capture it and share it with others.

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