Observing Rabbi Jonas’ Yarzeit

On Shabbat Bereshit many rabbis and Jewish leaders across North America are observing the Yarzeit of Rabbi Regina Jonas.  Rabbi Jonas was ordained in 1935 in Berlin in a private ceremony by Rabbi Max Dienerman who was head of the Liberal Rabbinic Conference.  She was a graduate of the famous Hochshule fur die Wiesenschaft des Judentums in Berlin.  She had been scheduled to be ordained there but her teacher in charge of the ordinations, Eduard Baneth died before he could ordain her and Hanock Albeck who succeeded him refused to ordain her with her male classmates.  Rabbi Jonas worked in the growing shadow of Nazi Germany.  She taught in various pulpits, ministered to the elderly left behind after Kristallnacht when their children fled Germany and taught many classes at the synagogue on Oranienburger Strasse in central Berlin.

She was deported with her mother to Terezin the so-called “model” ghetto for Jews in 1942.  She continued to teach and minister as a rabbi there for two years, working closely with the great psychologist Vicktor Frankel.  In 1944 she was deported with her mother to Auschwitz.  They left Terezin on October 12 in a railcar and is said to have arrived on October 14 which was Shabbat Bereshit. There is no record of her after that.  Presumably she was gassed on that very same day.

This is how we arrived at observing her yarzeit on Shabbat Bereshit.

This past summer a group  of 20 women rabbis, women scholars and lay leaders under the auspices of the American Jewish Archives and Dr. Rabbi Gary Zola and and the Jewish Women’s Archives went on a study mission dedicated to the life of Rabbiner Regina Jonas.  There we viewed the small archives of her writings in the Centrum Judaicum in Berlin at that same Orianiaenburger Strasse synagogue (or what is left of it after the war).  And we dedicated a memorial plaque to her memory at Terezin.

As the sun sets we light a memorial candle to this brave, heroine. A true leader of the Jewish community of Germany. A trail blazer who dedicated her life to teaching Judaism and caring for the Jewish people even in the dire circumstances of the Shoa.  Her contributions were forgotten and only rediscovered along with her story a few years ago.  And so from now on, Shabbat Bereshit will be the time we recall her blessed memory, her courageous life and ask for God’s to keep her soul at peace as we continue to live out her legacy.   May her memory live for a blessing.

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