On Aug. 25, 1944, after six days of fighting, the city of Paris was liberated from the Nazis, ending a four-year occupation that marked one of the darkest times in the history of the City of Lights.
Three weeks later, dentist Marvin Goldstein, a captain in the U.S. Army Air Forces from Atlanta, walked to Paris’ Great Synagogue (the Rothschild Synagogue) with Rabbi Judah Nadich, the chief Jewish chaplain of the U.S. forces, and opened it for its Rosh Hashanah service.
“We were treated as heroes by the Jewish population that poured into the synagogue on that particular occasion. We made many friends at that time,” Dr. Goldstein recalled when interviewed in 1989 by Merna Alpert.
Rabbi Nadich had arrived in the city a few days earlier and immediately connected with the chief rabbi of Paris, Julien Weill. Minutes into the conversation, Rabbi Weill inquired why Rabbi Nadich spoke such good French.
“Monsieur le rabbin,” he replied, according to the archives of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, “it’s because your brother was my French teacher in America!”
At the Breman Museum, I have the privilege of hearing serendipitous stories like these on a regular basis. But chances are you have heard quite a few as well. In fact, you have likely been the protagonist of at least one such story — running into a Jewish friend from home in a remote part of the world or finding yourself at a Shabbat dinner where you don’t even know the hosts and discovering a common relative halfway through the meal. We are wandering Jews, and we seem to find community wherever we go.
As we look at the future of the Breman Museum with aspirational lenses and add our voice to the re-imagination of Jewish Atlanta spearheaded by the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta and joined by dozens of other organizations, I start this new year mindful of our community.
In our ever-evolving and diverse society, we are more conscious of our challenges, and at the same time we are incredibly empowered by the extraordinary strengths that come with this new awareness.
Listening to Dr. Goldstein’s Rosh Hashanah story, I can’t help but look at the journey ahead with great excitement. We may face some uncertainty, but one thing is for sure: Wherever we go, we will find community.
Ghila Sanders is the acting executive director of the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum (www.thebreman.org).