In a concentration camp, a rabbi celebrates his grandson’s circumcision
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'We will continue, we will build, we will bear children'

In a concentration camp, a rabbi celebrates his grandson’s circumcision

Aryeh Hendler, unable to attend ceremony in Israel, connects via video link as he leads a tour at Majdanek in Poland

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Screen capture from video of Rabbi Aryeh Hendler leading a tour at the Majdanek concentration camp site in Poland, November 2017. (Hadashot news)
Screen capture from video of Rabbi Aryeh Hendler leading a tour at the Majdanek concentration camp site in Poland, November 2017. (Hadashot news)

A rabbi celebrated the circumcision of his grandson in Israel as he stood thousands of miles away on a mountain of ashes, the remains of countless victims of a Holocaust death camp.

Aryeh Hendler, the son of of a Holocaust survivor, was leading a tour of high school students from the central city of Modiin last week at the site of the Majdanek concentration camp, set up by the Nazis when they occupied Poland during World War II, Hadashot news (formerly Channel 2) reported Wednesday.

Back in Israel, his newborn grandson was set to undergo his circumcision, the ancient covenant ritual performed on Jewish boys on the eighth day after their birth and during which they are named. But due to his previous commitment to lead the group, Hendler was unable to attend the ceremony,which took place in the central town of Ramle, where he heads a yeshiva.

It was the first time he had been absent from the circumcision of one of his grandsons.

As Hendler led the group of students up to The Mausoleum, a memorial built over some 1,300 cubic meters of ash and remains of cremated victims from the camp, the circumcision ceremony was being held in the yeshiva.

But he was able to observe a live feed of the event on his cellphone.

Screen capture from video of Rabbi Aryeh Hendler watches his grandson’s circumcision in Israel via a video as he leads a tour at the Majdanek concentration camp site in Poland, November 2017. (Hadashot news)

Hendler, recalling the prophet Ezekiel’s vision in which God brought to life a valley of dry human bones, became emotional as his grandson was named “Or Shmuel” — after his own father.

As part of the traditional prayers during a circumcision participants repeat a Hebrew phrase, also from Ezekiel, meaning “In your blood I said to you, ‘Live!'”

Screen capture from video of a circumcision ceremony in the Israeli town of Ramle that was broadcast via video link to the site of the Majdanek concentration camp in Poland. The phone use to send the images can be seen at the left of the screen. (Hadashot news)

It was, Hendler said, “a holy covenant, on the mountain of ashes.”

“Believe that eternity is not ashes and dust,” he told the students. “This pile of ashes won’t beat us, we will continue, we will build, we will bear children, we will establish families, and we will continue, and continue, and continue.”

The Majdanek concentration camp was in operation between October 1, 1941, and July 22, 1944. Some 78,000 people were murdered at the site, mostly Jews. It was captured more or less intact by advancing Soviet Union forces, making it the first concentration camp liberated by the Allies.

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