If you were cast away on an island with just one Jewish text for company, which would you choose?
This week Rabbi David Hulbert of Bet Tikvah Synagogue selects Rabbi Hugo Gryn’s autobiography, Chasing Shadows
I’m sure that on this island, once my immediate physical needs had been met, I would set about trying to construct a meaningful Jewish life for myself, to try to give my existence some rhythm and structure. I would do my best to reconstruct the Siddur and Machzor from memory even though, without a minyan, I would be unable to recite so many familiar prayers.
I would carefully observe the heavens, in order to reconstruct accurately and to maintain my awareness of the Jewish calendar. Of course, I know the blessings and MaOz Tsur by heart, so for my Jewish text I would choose Rabbi Hugo Gryn’s autobiography Chasing Shadows (Viking, 2000).
It was the final days of the war, and Hugo had survived Auschwitz, with his father. After another train journey, the two of them found they had been cast away at a camp in Germany called Lieberose.
It was the first night of Chanukah, they were close to starvation, yet all the barrack block, including a number of non-Jews, gathered around a makeshift Chanukiah. The lights were to be lit from the week’s meagre margarine rations. But sadly, it proved impossible to light this poor fuel, and Hugo recalls his 15-year-old self turning in a temper on his father – what a waste of those precious calories.
Hugo’s father, Géza, replied to his outburst: “Don’t be so angry – you know that this festival celebrates the victory of the spirit over tyranny and might. You and I have had to go once for over a week without proper food and another time almost three days without water, but you cannot live three minutes without hope.”
Just days after the two of them had been liberated by the Americans, Hugo’s father died of typhoid in a barracks near Linz in Austria. A happy and hopeful Chanukah to all.