We may wonder -- amidst all the evil in the world -- whether one person can truly make a difference. But sometimes, ordinary people can become heroes under extraordinary circumstances. Hannah Senesh was one such person.
Hannah was born in Budapest, the daughter of a journalist. She kept a diary from age 13 until shortly before her death. Anti-semitism in Hungary in the 1930s led her to turn to the Zionist youth movement. At the age of 17, Hannah left Hungary for Palestine in 1939, 12 years before the State of Israel was born. She wrote in her diary of being a Zionist:
“This word conveys so much, but to me it means this: I have developed a stronger pride in being Jewish. My aim is to go to Palestine and help build the country. I have become a new person and it feels right. One must feel that one’s life is not … spent in vain, that one is needed – and Zionism gives me this purpose.”
Hannah found happiness settling in the land of Israel. But in 1943, she joined the British Army and volunteered to be parachuted into Europe. Although safe from the Holocaust in Palestine, her conscience would not let her rest. Hannah was trained to parachute behind Nazi enemy lines to help organize Jewish resistance fighters back in Hungary. No one urged her to go – quite the contrary, all her friends tried to stop her. She went because she believed that one woman could make a difference.
On June 7, 1944, Hannah was captured, and even under torture, she refused to divulge any secret information. Throughout her harrowing ordeal she remained steadfast in her courage. When she was executed by a firing squad on Nov. 7, she refused the blindfold, staring directly at her executors and her fate.
Just months before she made the decision that would lead to her martyrdom, she quoted this Jewish teaching: “All the darkness cannot extinguish the light of a single candle, yet one candle can illuminate all the darkness.”
In Israel today, every city and town has a street, avenue, boulevard, or plaza named in memory of Hannah Senesh. Her remains are buried on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, Israel’s national military cemetery. Her diary and literary works have been published in many languages. Her poetry continues to inspire us – along with her incredible story of bravery.
Her poem “Eili Eili - O God, My God” is my personal favorite. The words are now contained in our Sabbath prayerbook. Every Israeli child learns these words by heart in school at a very young age:
“Eili Eili – O God, My God, I pray that these things never end. The sand and the sea. The rush of the waters. The crash of the heavens. The prayer of the heart.”
May you have a happy and healthy Hanukkah festival of lights!
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 www.templebethelbradenton.com .