(Photo/Pixabay CC0)
(Photo/Pixabay CC0)

In time of reflection, gratitude to my survivor grandparents

Every day, a new tech innovation born in the Bay Area revolutionizes the way we work, live and connect with one another, in San Francisco and throughout the country. We’re entering, and creating, a future in which seemingly anything is possible. As a California native and son of entrepreneurs, it is exhilarating to be a part of such rapid change. As the grandson of Holocaust survivors, I’m also mindful of the need to reflect on the past and my family’s history, especially during this High Holiday season.

Every year at this time, an unmistakable atmosphere of self-reflection and renewal descends, presenting an important opportunity to explore my growth, aspirations and relationships. Whether examining the personal, the professional or the spiritual, these few weeks offer a break from the fast pace of the digital world and provide a platform to take stock of the previous year.

As I reflect during this most holy time, I am tremendously grateful that my personal goals have overlapped with my passions: my Jewish identity, my family’s legacy and my relationship with Israel. This is particularly true now, as I assume a new role as Israel Bonds’ executive director for the Pacific Northwest.

Almost a century ago, my grandparents could never have imagined how our family’s life would unfold in America, and how radically different it would be from the world they came from. My mother’s parents were Holocaust survivors who immigrated to the U.S. after the war, and their stories are deeply embedded in my memory. During Rosh Hashanah, and every Shabbat we spent together in between, they shared with me their experiences before, during and especially after the war, when they created a new life in Bakersfield, working their way up from custodial staff and shoe store clerks to successful real estate professionals.

My grandmother survived Auschwitz and my grandfather avoided the death camp by escaping from a cattle car. After that, he lived on the run. Eventually, a Polish Catholic family took him in, hiding him in a small box under the floorboards with two other people until the end of the war.

Upon arriving in the U.S., both my grandparents were determined not only to survive, but to succeed in a new land with a new language. They felt blessed to be allowed entry into the United States and they loved America for it. They also loved Israel. As they laid their roots in California, they supported the Jewish state and Jewish community in every way they could, and as I grew up, they instilled in me a commitment to the future of Israel that cemented my faith and drives my Jewish identity to this day.

When I began what would become a six-year career at AIPAC, leading a regional team across Northern California and Northern Nevada, my first day on the job would have been my grandfather’s 89th birthday. Coincidentally, my first day at Israel Bonds would have been my grandfather’s 95th birthday. I am confident that this is a message from my grandparents and a further sign that I am where I need to be: building support for the homeland they always loved.

Every year that passes, I’m acutely aware of how the Holocaust is receding from the public’s memory. As I gather with my family for the High Holidays and welcome 5779, I’m recommitted to sharing my grandparents’ survival story. I am filled with wonder and appreciation for all my grandparents have done to pave the way for me and look to continue their legacy through my endeavors in my new role.

Daniel Klein
Daniel Klein

Daniel Klein is the executive director for the Pacific Northwest of Israel Bonds. He lives in Alameda with his wife and three children and is a member of Temple Beth Abraham.