What is freedom?

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Passover is upon us and has me thinking about the true meaning of the holiday.

Passover, of course, commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. But while our people were freed from enslavement, they spent 40 years wandering in the desert. They had to find a new home.

I equate this to the liberation of the surviving Jews after the Holocaust and what they faced after gaining their “freedom.”

I recently saw “After Auschwitz,” a post-Holocaust documentary presented by Arts Emanu-El at Temple Emanu-El, in Providence.  Fran Spitzman-Denerstein, a Rhode Islander whose parents were Holocaust survivors, spoke after the film.

Spitzman-Denerstein was born at the Bergen-Belsen displaced persons camp in Germany. She and her parents traveled to Rhode Island in December 1949.  

She said, “This documentary took us into the lives of six incredible women, and each time I watched the film … it was the opening line that brought tears to my eyes. Upon liberation, the soldiers said, ‘You’re free – go home. HOME.’  

 “ ‘You’re free’ – my parents were never free from the memories, nightmares, PTSD [post-trauma stress disorder] and emotional wounds. First came their physical survival. Then came the difficult journey of looking for family and loved ones.  

“But rebuilding damaged trust took a lifetime, and searching for closure was virtually impossible. They said: ‘Go home.’ So where was home? The home they knew no longer existed. That life was destroyed. So, where would they go to rebuild their lives?  Where would they find ‘home’ with their 15-month-old child?”

When Spitzman-Denerstein’s family landed in New York, they were helped by the United Jewish Appeal and settled in Providence. Her parents rebuilt their lives in the city, where they lived for almost 50 years. 

“My parents lived to see their family rebuilt, beamed with the birth of each grandchild and great-grandchild, and forged an incredible bond with the third generation,” Spitzman-Denerstein said. “Holidays were celebrated, traditional foods were prepared and life had returned. And, my children sat close to their grandparents, listening to their stories, loving them unconditionally and bringing happiness to their home.”

In the article “Viktor Frankl, Passover, and the Meaning of Freedom,” posted at Aish.com, Rabbi Yaakov Cohen writes, “Passover. The holiday that celebrates what it means to be truly free. But what is freedom?”

Frankl, a prominent Jewish psychologist, was a survivor of two concentration camps. By the time he was liberated, in April 1945, almost everyone in his family had been killed.

Based on his experiences in the camps, Frankl wrote the bestselling book “Man’s Search for Meaning,” in which he describes man’s need for meaning as the key to living: “The Nazis took everything away from him; his clothes, possessions, his family … But there was one thing they could never take: his choice, his response … By realizing he maintained the power to choose, he clung to his humanity and dignity.”

Spitzman-Denerstein made a promise never to be silent, and speaks to groups about growing up as a child of Holocaust survivors. 

She concluded her remarks by saying: “I will always be the daughter of Holocaust survivors, and a witness to their lives, their strength and their courage.  My parents were proud people.  We are their connection to the past, present and future.” 

PATRICIA RASKIN, owner of Raskin Resources Productions, is a media host, coach and award-winning radio producer and business owner. She is on the board of directors of Temple Emanu-El.