Remembering a hero for Hanukkah and beyond

Tomorrow afternoon at 2 p.m., we will gather together in the Temple Beth El section of Skyway Memorial Gardens to honor the memory of Johanna Hagedoorn.

I will lead a service for the unveiling and dedication of her gravestone.

Johanna was a chasidah, a righteous Christian who risked her life in order to save Jewish children from the Nazi Holocaust.

As the last candles were lit on our Hanukkah menorahs this week, we paused to reflect on the incredibly brave deeds of this modern female Maccabee, who died on July 28, 2009, at the Westminster Towers Healthcare Center in Bradenton.

Johanna “Jopi” Hagedoorn grew up and attended medical school in Holland. She also became an avid sailor.

In 1940, she resigned from medical school and joined the Dutch resistance struggle, the underground movement to fight the Nazis who invaded and occupied Holland.

Jopi” began to smuggle Jewish children out of Amsterdam in her family boat.

She painted the sails black to make it harder to see the boat at night, as she guided the children across the English Channel, transferring them to the British underground, thus saving their lives.

To this day, it remains unknown how many of those dangerous trips she made across the ‘mined’ English Channel, or the actual number or names of the many fortunate children she rescued from certain death in the Nazi extermination camps.

Following the war, after coming to America, Johanna graduated from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 1965.

She served as a professor at the New York Medical College for 20 years. After Johanna relocated to Bradenton in her later years, she became a friend of Temple Beth El.

Johanna donated a precious Hanukkah menorah to the temple, which had been given to her during the war by a family named Cohen.

The menorah was to be held for them until they could return to pick it up. The family never returned.

That exquisite menorah is the one used each year by Temple Beth El during our festive Shabbat Hanukkah celebration.

I offer this Hebrew blessing in loving memory of the righteous Johanna Hagedoorn: zichrona l’vracha -- her righteous deeds are an inspiration and a blessing.

We cordially invite all of our friends and neighbors to join us tomorrow afternoon.

At the conclusion of the unveiling ceremony, children from our religious school will release seven white doves. Six doves are in memory of the six million Jews. The seventh dove is for the one and a half million Jewish children who died.

I am deeply grateful to Jackie Greenough of Sarasota Dove Release for her generosity and kindness.

Rabbi Harold F. Caminker, is rabbi of Temple Beth El, 4200 32nd Street West, Bradenton. Shabbat services are held 7:30 p.m. Fridays. For more information, call (941) 755-4900 or visit