Saturday, December 7, 2019

Three Lessons I Learned from Sol Rosenkranz: Holocaust Survivor and Volunteer Extraordinaire

My community and the Jewish community at large recently lost a national treasure, Sol Rosenkranz, of blessed memory. Sol, a Holocaust survivor who went through six Nazi labor camps, passed away at the age of 101.

I want to share with you three lessons of the many that we can learn from Sol:

1. Be persistent and never give up hope. Sol experienced a number of tragedies and hardships in his life. They began during the Holocaust, but continued even during his later years, when he lost his son, daughter-in-law, and first and second wives. After every setback, Sol kept going. Later in life, when many slow down, Sol did not. It was only a few short years ago, when Sol would come regularly to the synagogue, morning and evening. For a period of time, I often walked home with him after the evening service. He walked slowly and I could see that it was difficult for him to come to the synagogue. But if something was important to Sol, he was persistent and refused to give up.

Sol and his brother Henry lost their entire immediate family in the war. He met his wife Sally after the war and together they came to America. Sol wrote, in a self-published memoir, “On the boat we were each given $8.00 and that was the only money we had…” Having lost almost everything, Sol kept his focus on the future, on rebuilding his life.

Recalling his experiences during the war, Sol wrote, “Most of all, I thank God for helping me through some very difficult situations that easily could have turned out differently. What I have learned from this experience is the value of being kind to others and never to lose hope.”

What is a challenge or setback in your life? Think of Sol’s tenacity. Refuse to give up and take the first step to move forward in your life.

2. Look for the good in life and in those around you. Sol was a positive and upbeat person. He relished the good in his life and was quick to compliment others. Unfortunately, many people are very stingy with their compliments. It costs nothing, yet is priceless to the recipient.

When you see the good in others, do not keep it to yourself, compliment them. Who do you appreciate in your life? Tell them today and often. No matter how hard your life is now, look for and thank God for the blessed aspects. Even if you cannot find any now, then like Sol, never lose hope. Always believe that things can and will get better.

A fellow congregant at Congregation Ohav Sholom, Mark Becker, once asked Sol how he could believe in God after witnessing the Holocaust. He responded, “I experienced too many miracles not to believe.”

That was Sol, always focusing on the good.

Even if you went through horrors like Sol, you too can focus on the good in your life and see the good in others. You too can be optimistic that with God’s help, things will get better. Until they do, have faith that God is with you every step of the way.

3. Be a giver. Throughout his life, Sol was a giver. He volunteered at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles for thirteen years. After he moved to New York City, he volunteered at Congregation Ohav Sholom and the Museum of Jewish Heritage. At the museum, over a span of more than twenty years, he educated tens of thousands of visitors about the Holocaust. He also renovated, at his own expense, the cemetery in his hometown of Krosniewice, Poland, a family project he was especially proud of.

Ethics of the Fathers teaches (1:2) that one of the three things upon which the world stands is kindness. With Sol gone, there is a void of kindness in the world.

To fill that void, we each have a sacred responsibility to become even greater givers than we already are. God gives us unique resources and talents to be of service to others. There are so many ways we can help others: donating to charity, giving physical assistance, encouragement, advice, or helping someone find a job or spouse. When you hear that someone you know is going through a difficult time, think about what you can do for them. Sometimes, all you can do is pray; do not discount the power of prayer.

Every day, God sends us opportunities to be a giver and do our part to sustain the world. Let us follow Sol’s example and grab those opportunities with both hands.

As the world struggles with the coronavirus pandemic, these lessons are as timely as ever. Individually and as a society, we are dealing with an unprecedented challenge. Instead of feeling helpless, focus on what is within your control:
  • Be persistent and refuse to give up.
  • Look for the good in your life.
  • Compliment and encourage others, as we all have our challenges.
  • Trust that God is giving you the strength you need to overcome.
  • Help those who are less fortunate than you. By looking out for each other we will get through this together.
May Sol’s memory be a blessing.