“Yaakov Yehuda Leib… Bayla Breindel… Simcha Nissan….”
The names of his relatives still echo in Rabbi Hershel Klainberg’s head. Throughout their lifetimes his parents spoke of their parents and siblings killed in the Shoah. They were a part of his oldest memories and as the only child, Hershel always knew it was his responsibility to remember their names.
Rabbi Klainberg was born in a displaced persons camp in Germany where his parents met after WWII. They came to Detroit in 1949 where HIAS found a job for his father at Ford Motor Company. His parents sent him to Yeshivah Beth Yehuda in the old neighborhood, where he would later teach after being ordained. He was also the chaplain for Jewish patients in a number of nursing homes.
Rabbi Bunny Freedman approached Rabbi Klainberg to work for JHCN 13 years ago, knowing a vital niche would be filled. Fluent in Yiddish with a deep understanding of the needs of Holocaust survivors, Rabbi Klainberg is welcomed like family into the homes of those who do not necessarily take kindly to strangers.
He has found his calling, motivated by doing something for those who suffered so much. Each survivor, he feels, represents those who never had the comfort or security of someone caring for them in their time of need. His mission is simple but deep: “When we support them in illness, we honor them and their murdered families. When we attend their burials and participate in final rites, we give them the dignity of the Jewish funerals their loved ones were denied. We have an obligation to take special loving care of our dwindling number of survivors for the millions of our people who were buried in mass graves, burned in the ovens or starved to death.”
On the back of Rabbi Klainberg’s mother’s headstone are the names of her family members murdered in the Shoah. They were sent to their deaths with no grave, and it was the one permanent thing he could do to honor them. With that same unique perspective and compassion, he engraves the memory of each person he cares for on his heart. Each time he sits at the bedside of Holocaust survivors, speaking the language of their childhoods, singing the melodies of their pasts, he offers comfort and understanding so they might find the peace and dignity denied to their six million brothers and sisters. This time they will not be abandoned. ♦
Holocaust heroes have earned our special admiration and respect. Help The Jewish Hospice & Chaplaincy Network provide the care they deserve. Click here to donate to the Annual Campaign.