It is a great honor and privilege to serve as Rabbi where the Gabbai of Hollywood Temple Beth El is none other than Joe Alexander.
Joe, who survived numerous concentration camps and the Warsaw Ghetto, has spent his days in reaching out to youth in the Los Angeles region ( and beyond) as a moving living testimonial to the tragedy of the Jewish people during the Holocaust and also as a lesson that one can never give up!
This is his story, in a nutshell, and this is the record ofour special Shabbat in his honor on November 20, 2021.
You can view the entire service here:
Celebration begins at 1:45 hrs into the video. Presentation from Los Angeles City Council 2:01 Tribute from Museum of the Holocaust-Los Angeles at 2:05:31 Lion of Judah award from Israel Bonds at 2:09:32 Presentation of Torah Mantel and a personal testimonial by Roni Duran with Jennifer Levins at 2:14 Display of tributes from City of Burbank, Los Angeles Unified School District and Woodbury University
I’m Roni Duran. I’m a child abuse survivor and I have been on my own since I was a teenager. In the darkest of moments, in my early childhood, light and hope came in a “World History” book that I found at the bottom of a cardboard box of donated used clothing. In it, I learned about the Holocaust and it changed the trajectory of my life. Being a small child, what I understood is that no matter the type of immense suffering that I was going through, it couldn’t possibly compare to the pain and suffering that Holocaust survivors had endured. Their stories of survival gave me hope. In that book, I read the section on the Holocaust over and over again throughout the years. I held on to this book tightly because it was my most prized possession. I often read it secretly because if my abuser found out, it would be taken away from me! Many witnessed the abuse, but no one ever stepped in to rescue us helpless children. But I held something far more powerful than the evil that surrounded me. I had G-d, my great grandmother’s spirit, and the knowledge in this book, which no one could take away from me. It gave my life meaning and a purpose that I too could survive and go on to help other children like myself, like many survivors had gone on to help others throughout the world. One of my childhood dreams was to one day meet Holocaust survivors so that I could say, “Thank you!” But to do that, I first had to survive. It gave me the strength and the courage to carry on, when at times, the abuse was nearly unbearable to survive. I held on to my faith and to the belief that tomorrow would be a better day!
I thought about my freedom every day! A freedom that could not come soon enough. I knew that education was my ticket out. It would be eight long years until that day, when I had to rescue myself because no one was coming to rescue me. When that day finally came, it was the happiest day of my life and yet, it was the scariest because the world up ahead held so many challenges. But what I knew, was that anything out there, would be better than where I had come from. With G-d, the clothing on my body, and a bookbag full of dreams, I got on a public bus and I rode ahead. Getting on that bus was the greatest decision of my life!
In college, on school campus, I found a Museum of Tolerance brochure. I was amazed that such a place existed! I was full of joy because I was a step closer to realizing my dream. A dream that still seemed so far away because at that moment, I was a struggling student, without much. I didn’t even know where I would get my next meal, let alone know where to find this museum in a city, in a county, so far away. Still, full of hope and optimism, I placed the museum brochure in my bookbag so that one day, I could get there. As G-d would have it, not only did I meet Holocaust survivors at the Museum of Tolerance, but G-d has also placed many other Jewish angels in my life. Nine years ago, I converted to Judaism and I’m honored to be Jewish.
As a proud member of Hollywood Temple Beth El, it is here that I’ve had the incredible blessing of meeting Joe Alexander. I didn’t originally know that he is a Holocaust survivor until one day, after services, Jennifer Levins and I were talking to Joe, and since we hadn’t been in Shul for a while, we wanted to know what he had been up to. Joe shared with us that he had come back from a trip to Europe, where students upon finding out that he is a Holocaust survivor, were eager to meet him and hear his life story. Joe also shared with us that in the concentration camps, what kept him going, was his faith and his belief that tomorrow would be a better day. He told us that he said it to himself every single day, “Tomorrow will be a better day!” In that moment, Joe profoundly touched my soul because immediately he took me back to my childhood, when I too, had uttered those same words, “Tomorrow will be a better day!” I know for sure that without learning about the Holocaust and without learning about Holocaust survivors, I wouldn’t have survived to become the person that I am today.
Joe, it is an honor to know you. You are a blessing in my life. I’m living proof that who you are matters, that all the good that you do matters, and that your life story does positively impact the lives of so many people. You make the world better. You are a beacon of light. You are a true inspiration, not just to me, but to so many people throughout the world.
Jennifer and I are grateful to Hollywood Temple Beth El for this opportunity to be here to celebrate you, to honor you, on your birthday, your 99th birthday. Baruch Hashem!
We are donating a Torah cover in your honor, in deep appreciation for your love and dedication to Hollywood Temple Beth El and for your message of hope that you bring to our community and the world.
Joe, may Hashem bless you with a good life and keep you healthy and strong so that you can continue to inspire hope in all of us, to be better and to do better. Joe, from the bottom of my heart, I sincerely thank you for impacting my life in the way that you have. I love you! Happy birthday!
Israel Bonds Gave a Plaque and issued this testimonial
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