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Rena Finder Recap

Rena Finder:  Schindler’s List Survivor with Timeless Message
by Carol Glassman

It was a full house of over 400 people (with an equal number disappointed for not getting tickets) for Chabad of Naples’ inspiring and thought-provoking evening with Mrs. Rena Finder, the youngest person on Oskar Schindler’s List;  who saved her life and her mother’s during the Holocaust. Now approaching her 87th year, Rena kept the audience spellbound as she stood before them for more than one hour, relating her moving story of courage and survival.
 
Rena was a child of ten when her family life in Krakow, Poland was abruptly turned upside down with the arrival of the Germans in September 1939.  Along with other Jewish families Rena and her parents were forced to leave their home and their possessions and move to a ghetto where they faced poverty, starvation, illness, and the whim of the Gestapo who arrived at any hour of the night or day to ‘relocate’ people who were never seen again.  Such was the fate of Rena’s beloved father Moses and her grandparents.   
 
In 1943 the ghetto was closed down and everyone was relocated to Plaszow, a forced labor camp that became a concentration camp. Imagine Rena’s confusion:  one moment the happy and loved child of a large extended family, and overnight, an enemy of the state, persecuted and punished for just being Jewish.
 
Rena and her mother Rozia were classified as ‘metal workers’ and placed in a slave-labor camp where enamel kitchenware and ammunition were manufactured for the German military. The factory was owned by the now-renowned Oskar Schindler, whom Rena described as charming, handsome, and ambitious. In 1944 when the Germans ordered Schindler to close his factory, he was able to convince them to allow him to move it to Czechoslovakia and take over one thousand of his Jewish workers with him, easing their transit with bribes and expensive gifts. On the way to the new factory the 300 women and 700 men were sent to Auschwitz for several weeks, and as Rena recalled, “A terrible place to be.  If it weren’t for Oskar Schindler, those people would not have survived.”
 
According to Rena, Schindler was one of the people who showed the world that while everybody said  there’s nothing that could be done, Oskar Schindler said, “I’m not going to stand by and do nothing.”  And that has become Rena Finder’s motto and message over the years. 
 
“The world is a terrible place, not only because of the people who are murderers, but because of the people who stand by and do nothing. In this world of bullying and hate crimes, it’s important to teach children not to stand by - you have to go and get help. Don’t stand by and do nothing, ” Rena stated emphatically.
 
Rena met her husband Mark Finder, also a survivor, in a displaced persons’ camp after the war and they were married from 1946 until his death at age 90 four years ago.
 
Rena Finder is a remarkable woman, not just because of the horrors and tragedy she endured, but because she has since made it her life’s work not only to share her personal story but also to to use it to impress, especially children, with the necessity of not standing by and witnessing abuse but standing up, going for help, and not becoming apathetic.
 

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“What an honor for Rena Finder, the youngest person to have been saved from the Holocaust by being on Schindler's List,  that so many people in the community wished to attend as she addressed a mammoth crowd at Chabad of Naples on February 11,” said Rabbi Fishel Zaklos, Chabad’s spiritual leader.   “It's always our dearest wish to hold an event with a full house and a sell-out crowd, but this week we found ourselves in the unenviable position of actually having to turn away hundreds of people who would have liked to come and meet Mrs. Finder, our guest speaker.  We have many seats to fill but the outpouring of enthusiasm was simply overwhelming.  We regret having to turn so many people away, but what a statement on behalf of Mrs. Finder and her inspiring message of hope and perseverance!” The audience, including 50 students from local schools, was simply awestruck listening to Mrs. Finder speak. 
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“Rena Finder will change the path of many through her sharing last night and I was proud to have been there as a witness to what is truly difficult in life and to her message of courage!”  said Wendy Hodgson, Collier County Public School Social Studies and Character Education Coordinator. 
 
Naples Councilman Bill Barnett  presented Mrs. Finder with a Proclamation from the City.
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When Australian author  Thomas Keneally's book was published in 1982, it was called ‘Schindler's Ark’.  It was a Booker Prize winning historical novel,  released as Schindler's List in America, where it won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction in 1983.  Oskar Schindler was a German industrialist and spy, and a member of the Nazi Party.  He is credited with saving the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust  by employing them in his various factories, which were located in occupied Poland. The book was finally adapted to film by Steven Spielberg in 1993 and in 1994 won approximately 34 awards including the Academy Award for Best Picture. Many have likely read the book or seen the movie which is considered historical fiction. The audience at Chabad heard the true story, first hand,  from one of its real main characters, Rena Finder.
 

 

Featured Comments from the Crowd

"I am writing to thank you so much for allowing myself and a colleague the honor of sitting before Ms. Finder and experiencing her story. The night was truly an experience that will never be forgotten. I am so grateful for the opportunity and blessed that we had a Divine appointment that day at City Hall, that we might run into one another. Ms. Finder's story was heartbreaking, inspiring, tragic, heroic, and as you mentioned, a call to action. I sat next to a young junior from Golden Gate High School and the two of us sat in silence completely still hanging on every word. I can't fathom the evil that she and so many experienced and witnessed. What a beautifully strong woman she is to be so bold and courageous in her efforts to educate through remembrance with such peace, calmness, and even joy." ~ Niamh O'Toole

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"Had one of the coolest nights as an educator tonight. 23 students on a Thursday night went out to hear a presentation by a survivor of the Holocaust saved by Oskar Schindler named Rena Finder. The kids were enthralled by her story of heartbreak and survival. Really amazing to see students so excited as well as the fact they knew they may be the last to actually meet a holocaust survivor. It's nights like these I realize why I do what I do. Hope to pass on the legacy of holocaust survivors so that no one ever feels pain like Mrs. Finder." ~ John Krupp, Feb 11 @ 11:26 pm

 John Krupp's photo.
 
We'd love to hear what you have to say about Mrs. Finder's event!!  Please share your experiences and stories below! 

Representing our Community in Israel

 

As many of you know, this past week, including Shabbat, I had the privilege of representing our community in Israel to officiate at a simcha and a bar mitzvah. It was my great honor to offer special prayers and blessings for the health and well- being for all during my stay, and to bring regards and to show support from the community in Naples, especially at this time.
 
This trip to Israel came at a very special time in my life. Although Israel is never far from my mind and heart, it has been many years since I last visited and in that time I feel I have become so much more responsible for the love and blessings of so many - my marriage to my dear wife Ettie Zaklos, our four children, and becoming part of the ever-growing extended Chabad of Naples family.  Just being there was such an inspiring and uplifting experience.

Add to that, the special energy from the honor of witnessing the transition of a boy to manhood by officiating at his bar mitzvah at the Western Wall, and you will understand there is no stronger connection to our history and our faith than this. jake bar mitzvah 1.jpg 
 
I am very proud of Jake who read from the Torah so beautifully with such confidence and melody,  making it even more special to walk with him and hold the Torah at the Kotel and sing Siman Tov. 
 
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I can't think of a more inspiring way of welcoming a young man into the ranks of Jewish adulthood than by celebrating it at the Kotel.
 
 Mazel Tov to the Masters family not only on this joyous occasion, but also for having the foresight to provide this unique, unforgettable experience for their son Jake and for allowing me to share it with them. The Kotel represents our heart and soul and what a joy for me, to be included in this special Bar Mitzvah. Thank you for extending to me the great privilege of being a part of this incredible and unforgettable Simcha.
 
Then I took the time to go to the Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem, honoring the memory of the holy souls of 6 million who lost their lives for no reason other than the fact they were Jews.  By the time I came to the end of the museum, I literally was in tears, where there are shelves of just memories of the names of the people. It was a moment where I was thinking to myself of how we need not only to commemorate and remember but also to do something to honor those lives. I felt coming here as a rabbi and welcoming a new member to our nation was one way of honoring them. And then as you walk out of the museum you see the city and how prosperous it is how: Am yisroel chai-- the nation of Israel with its unbreakable spirit lives! If you didn't realize it before, you now understand the breadth and depth of our amazing history - - the incredible faith and ideals and values. It's the story of the Jewish people, that unbreakable spirit.  
 
We just welcomed Rena Finder, a survivor of Schindler's List to our community, and it just seemed to me to be an ideal moment to come here, renew the ties, and show support from our Naples community.
 
Israel is a land full of inspiring and emotional moments.
Before Shabbat on Friday, I had the opportunity to go to the market place, the shuk, Mahane Yehuda in Jerusalem.  Four hours before Shabbat and the place was so packed I had to bump my way through the little food stands and shops, filled with precious Jews from many countries buying staples for Shabbbat.  While the loud speakers and shoppers sang 'Shalom Aleichem' there was such a good feeling to see everyone ready to welcome the Sabbath with such energy and devotion. I am committed to bringing my children to see and share this experience so that the Jewish spirit will be imbued in their hearts forever.   
 
Friday night I wished to daven by the Kotel, joining thousands walking there and back together.  I met a dear colleague who invited me to share some words and thoughts with the Chayalim, dear soldiers.  So I spent part of Shabbat afternoon with the precious soldiers who protect our Holy Land in an amazing way. Chayaljpg.jpg Some of them are as young as 18 - some older.  I wanted to thank them and offer inspiration.
 
Overall, the emotion one experiences in Israel is in part from so much young energy.  As we walked in the Old City we passed a few bar mitzvahs, there was a welcoming of the Torah celebration, and there were people from all walks of life converging, I could not  resist playing tourist and adding this fellow and his pet camel to my collection of memories. me on camel.jpg
 
 
This is where it all began and today there are  still such blessings and energy.  Feeling so safe and protected I prayed for our community.
 
Back in Naples I am filled with gratitude and wonder, and a deep desire to return with a special Naples community trip so that all of us will have an opportunity to share this together.  Meanwhile, let's continue to demonstrate  our love, devotion,  and commitment to Israel and its people.

 

I look forward to my trip to Israel

Later this month when we have the honor and pleasure of welcoming the ambassador (click here to RSVP), he will no doubt remind us of the important roles  played both by the US and Israel, countries which project light and hope into the darkness of today's political climates.  Do we need a reminder?  Aware of almost daily attacks in and against Israel, we know we must stand strong and unite with our brothers and sisters there, providing them with consistent support. I look forward to my coming visit to Israel to officiate at a simcha  and a bar mitzvah, not only to pass on the amazing legacy of our traditions and ancestors, but also to show by actions rather than just words, that we stand with the people and offer them strength.

May Hashem protect us and the land of Israel and keep us from harm.

Achieving a Spiritual Touchdown

Dear Friends,

It's Super Bowl time again and as 100 million people prepare to watch this annual phenomenon, the debate  is on:  will Quarterback Youth lead his team to glory over Quarterback Experience?  

Last year taught us a valuable lesson in unlikely odds. It was a heartbreaking loss for the Seattle Seahawks -- one yard from the end zone and instead of running they passed and an anonymous backup rookie from other team intercepted the ball.  Harold Butler became an improbable hero.  How and why?  He believed in himself.   Before the game he felt that he was going to do something big-- and that enabled him to seize the moment. How often do we believe so strongly in ourselves that when the moment appears, rather than pass it, we seize it and run! Spiritual touchdown!

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