Lines Of Communication

Remembering the Seder

Dear Lilith:

For many years we have searched for a Hagada that would be meaningful to all who gather around our Seder table (25 people this year). You have now provided us with just what we were looking for— “An Egalitarian Hagada.” Keep publishing your wonderful, high quality articles.

by Charlotte and Alexander Holstein, Syracuse NY

Dear Lilith:

Our second seder in recent years, at best has been a warmed-over version with a marked fall-off in attention—especially among the younger generation, but, also parents’ rebelling against a rigid ritual.

This year we used the Egalitarian Hagada for our second sederKol hakovad to Aviva Cantor. She helped us all breathe new life into a most significant tradition.

It meant as much to my husband as to our daughter. Perhaps, most of all, this new light meant most to me. Thank you all for the inspiration, the scholarship to give it weight, and the forum to share it.

by Joyce Arnoff Cohen, New York NY

Vitke Kempner Lives!

Dear Editors:

A group of us used [the Egalitarian] Hagada this Passover and were very moved by the integration of passages from Inquisition and Holocaust literature. However, the introduction to Hirsh Glick’s poem in honor of Vitke Kempner, heroine of Vilna’s armed Jewish resistance, left the impression that Vitke did not survive the war. Vitke is alive and well in Israel where she lives on the kibbutz Ein HaChoresh with her husband Abba Kovner, the poet who led Vilna’s fighting Jewish partisans from the ghetto to the forest. A photograph of Vitke, Abba and other partisans, male and female, shouldering their rifles is one of the few joyous sights in the Yad Vashem memorial.

by Susan Brownmiller, New York NY

Dear Lilith:

The Hagada is excellent. But I wish to point out a factual error: Vitke Kempner did not perish in the resistance. She survived and settled on a kibbutz in Israel with her husband, Abba Kovner, the well-known poet, who was a resistance leader in the Vilna Ghetto. I spoke with both of them in the summer of 1960.

by Yuri Suhl, New York NY

Dear Editors:

I was surprised to read in “An Egalitarian Hagada” that Hirsh Glick and Vitke Kempner had died in the Vilna Ghetto Uprising. Hirsh Glick, the troubadour of the Vilna Ghetto, died in the forest of Estonia. An active member of the Vilna underground, Glick also wrote the words for the “Partisan Hymn.” This song was sung to new members of the Vilna underground and later taken to other ghettos. Today, it symbolizes the struggles of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust.

Although Vitke Kempner risked her life daily as an active member of the Vilna ghetto underground and later as a partisan in the Vilna region, she survived World War II Her story as well as those of the other courageous members of the Vilna resistance will be the subject of a documentary film that I am producing. Josh Waletzky, the director of “Image Before My Eyes,” will be directing.

After reading these errors in the Hagada, I realized how important it is to document on film the accounts of the Vilna resistance so Jews today can learn about the actual events and insights from the survivors themselves. The struggles that the Jewish women had to face—outsmarting the Nazis and proving themselves as fighters among their fellow partisans—is especially important for us to hear about. These struggles are part of the history of Jewish women.

by Aviva Kempner, New York NY and Washington DC

Cantor replies:

We were dismayed to learn of the error—but glad to hear that Kempner is, indeed, alive. The source of the error was a New York Times news story dated October 28, 1973 about the publication of a booklet on the fighters. The news story (but not the booklet) states explicitly that Vitke Kempner “was killed while serving with the partisan forces.” We agree with Aviva Kempner that the experiences of women in the Holocaust and Resistance are an important part of Jewish women’s history. We are planning a special issue on this subject for 1983.

Reclaiming Jewish Identity

Dear Lilith,

I am an 18 year old woman from a non-religious family. I went to a shule which was concerned with passing on the cultural, rather than religious traditions of Judaism. I learned Yiddish instead of Hebrew. This experience left me with an affection for Yiddishkeit, but a feeling of alienation from mainstream Jewish life, and from my parents, who find my interest in other aspects of Jewish life rather surprising.

Although I have gone to Chanukah and Purim parties and have had awkward seders at home, my immediate experience with the non-secular aspect of Judaism is minimal. While I do not feel it is necessary to be devout to be Jewish, one should at least be familiar with the laws and rituals which one is not observing.

The generation with no memory of Yiddish, no knowledge of Hebrew, and no personal experience with religious ceremonies, is only marginally Jewish. The absence of Christianity is not, and should not become, the substance of Judaism.

Since women have traditionally been the ones to transmit Judaism to succeeding generations, it is particularly crucial that we do not feel alienated from the religious side of Judaism. Nonetheless, as a feminist, I find it especially difficult to approach traditional ceremonies and literature.

For these reasons I was thrilled to hear of Lilith. It is desperately needed.

by Erica Simmons, Toronto, Ont.