Being raised in a traditional home in America post World War II, Janet was always searching for the authentic Jewish life. Her father’s experience as a Partisan fighter during the Holocaust impacted her entire childhood. Her father told her that at age twenty-two, having survived the war, he attempted to get to the Land of Israel with other young refugees. Their ship was intercepted, and they were sent to a DP camp in Italy. While waiting for years, her father finally decided to apply for a US visa to join his grandmother and sister, who were already living in America.
Janet was always taught that Israel was the Homeland for the Jewish people and that they were all destined to one day live there.
“I always felt, even from a young age, that it was a historical mistake that I was born in America and not in Israel,” she explained.
In Israel, on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day- This year coinciding with May 2) at 10 a.m. air-raid sirens will sound for two minutes. At that moment traffic on highways and in cities comes to a stop and travelers stand next to their vehicles. People at work, at school, and in shops stop whatever they are doing and stand in solidarity, honoring the memory of the six million Jews systematically murdered by the Nazis or who died trying to resist Hitler’s evil plan of genocide. For these remembered martyrs and heroes, there are many living legacies. One such story is that of Janet Friedman.
As an orphan, young Moshe (Murray) Kasten, Janet’s father, asked his older brother if, instead of becoming a tailor like the rest of the men in his family, he could be a carpenter’s apprentice. His brother’s casual answer, “Why not?” actually saved Moshe’s life. When other men, including his brothers, were shot and killed during a selection, Moshe was saved because the Nazis needed carpenters. He had many close calls during his years in a Polish ghetto and then as a partisan fighter during the Holocaust. At one point he was able to save his sister, escaping into the woods and joining the famous Bielski Partisans, a group of over 1200 men, women, and children, mostly non-combatant.
After the war, in his new home in America, Moshe, now called Murray, asked his cousin to introduce him to a nice Jewish girl in her class. They soon married and were blessed with three children.
Janet Friedman, Moshe’s middle child, recalls going to school in Dobbs Ferry, New York where her father and mother had a small contracting business. One third of the students in her school were Jewish, but she felt estranged from them. She was the only one who was a child of a Holocaust survivor. Her Jewishness was somehow different because of this reality. Janet had a nagging feeling of being in the wrong place. She read an article by Helen Epstein, author of Children of the Holocaust, who interviewed thousands of people like Janet from all around the world. Janet now understood that she wasn’t alone in her struggle, experiencing a childhood different from other Jewish children. Thousands had similar difficult childhoods.
Janet remembered a conversation she once overheard that had a real impact on her life. When she was a child, she heard her father speaking with his friend. This friend, a fellow Holocaust survivor, had emigrated with his wife to the USA penniless and later became very wealthy.
The man bragged, “You know why I survived and became rich? Because I am smarter than others!”
Murray pointed out many very smart people they knew who were murdered.
The friend challenged, “So, if it’s not because we were smarter, then how do you explain it?”
Although not a religious man, Janet heard these words from her father’s lips:
“It was a miracle.”
“A miracle? Now you are suddenly a rabbi or holy man that God is doing miracles for you?” the friend scoffed.
“No, I don’t claim to be holy or religious. There’s nothing about me that deserves a miracle, but I felt it. I remember running from bullets. Everyone was running to the left and I followed. Suddenly I felt a shove to the right. Without thinking, I switched direction and ran to the right. I found out later that everyone that ran to the left was killed. I experienced a miracle!”
“So,” the friend pushed further, “if you weren’t a worthy Jew, how do you explain the miracle?”
Without missing a beat, Murray answered, “I have children. One day one of my Jewish children will do something really important.”
As Janet continued searching for Jewish authenticity, she concluded that the only thing that could stand tall and proud as authentically Jewish was the the Bible and the State of Israel. After high school, she went to learn Jewish studies in Israel, where she later met her husband.
“I got warned I would not succeed in moving to Israel,” Janet recalls.
“Well, I’ll show you!” she responded.
She always felt she had the same strong spirit as her Partisan father. He fought to save lives in the forests of Poland and she would fight to acquire her rightful part of the Holy Land.
“I will succeed because this is where I belong,” Janet told everyone.
Janet and her husband, Yehoshua, searched for a way to actualize their pioneering spirit. They became founding members of Kochav HaShachar, a settlement established half an hour north of Jerusalem, which today claims 2700 members.
Janet’s parents merited to spend their final years in Israel surrounded by Janet’s eight children and dozens of grandchildren (Their great-grandchildren!) The grandparents are buried in the Holy Land, a resting place far beyond the horrors of Moshe’s childhood. On this Holocaust Remembrance Day, Janet will stand and remember the millions who were killed and who could never have even imagined a Jewish state with a strong Jewish army in the Promised Land. Just this past week, the Brit Milah, circumcision covenant, was performed on her newest grandson in the hills of Samaria. He was named David, connecting him to the king of Israel from whom the Messiah will descend.
May the Redeemer of Israel come soon in our days, bringing Peace to the world. May those millions of souls lost to our people arise from dry bones, as is written in Ezekiel 37:12:
“Behold, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, O My People; and I will bring you into the Land of Israel.” [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]