This week, my family and I were honored by my childhood school for the work we’ve done over the years to give back to the school and to the community.
I gave a speech and made another commitment.
Both are below…
**** The speech ****
Next week is Passover.
It’s a time in the Jewish tradition when we talk about how we escaped bondage, oppression, and persecution and were freed from slavery in Egypt.
Growing up every year, when my grandparents were around, we would go to their house for this holiday. I would sit next to my grandfather at the head of the table, watching him tell the story about how, we, as Jews, were freed from slavery.
As some of you may know, my grandparents were Holocaust survivors. And like the Jews from Egypt, my grandparents managed to survive their own Pharoah and discover freedom on a small farm in Toms River, New Jersey.
To sit next to my grandfather, and listen to him talk about Jews being persecuted and freed, thousands of years ago, was quite surreal to me.
Even in my eulogy about him, I remember remarking about how these moments felt like a window into the past, through his eyes and his narration of the Sedar, with his Yiddish accent.
At a young age, I could appreciate this relationship between Passover and the Holocaust. The Hebrew Academy certainly had a role to play in helping me understand these chapters of our past.
But I remember one year in particular.
I was sitting at the head of the table and my grandfather had a few more cups of wine than usual.
Out of nowhere, for the very first time in my life, he began to tell me stories about his experiences during the Holocaust.
These weren’t stories about the six million Jews.
These were stories about Sam. About his friends. About his siblings. About his parents. About his family.
About my family.
One story he told me was about the time when he was a prisoner of war, he went without eating his bread rations for a week, so he could sell those rations to enemy soldiers and bribe his way out of the camp to work as a carpenter, which he was not.
You could imagine the irony of listening to him tell me about the importance of bread and how it saved his life while starting at a matzah plate in the middle of the Sedar table.
These stories, and others like it that night were the first time that I really internalized the fact that he lost everything, yet, we were here.
We were free.
We had opportunities he never had.
We have opportunities 6 million people, and their children and their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren never had.
This is something I think about every single day of my life.
בְּכָל דּוֹר וָדוֹר חַיָב אָדָם לִרְאוֹת אֶת עַצְמוֹ כְּאִלוּ הוּא יֶָָצֶָא מִמִּצְרַָים
“In every generation, every individual must feel as if he personally had come out of Egypt”
This visceral understanding gives me perspective and encourages me to make the most of this gift that each one of us has.
The gift of life.
Back at the Passover table, and after he shared his war stories, he then proceeded to give his young grandson some life lessons.
They were simple.
Work hard and go to school. Get a good education.
I think he understood that our kids are our future and that his kids and grandkids were his future.
I think he also understood how education played a central role in it all, especially when he himself was not able to pursue it due to the war.
This is something, as a parent myself, I now really understand but more importantly, it’s something I feel and connect with every time I look at my own kids, Michaela and Brayden.
It’s something my parents understood too when they sent me to school at The Hebrew Academy.
My grandparents and parents knew that if that little boy at the Sedar table worked hard in life and got a good education, he might be ok. And maybe, just maybe, he could help pay it forward and do the same for his family and for others.
And here we are.
I’ve worked hard, had a great upbringing thanks to my parents and The Hebrew Academy, had a little success and a lot of luck, and now recognize that it’s my turn to help ensure our Jewish family carries on for future generations.
That is why, tonight, I am excited to honor the memory of my grandparents, Sam and Betty, by rededicating my childhood school, formerly the Solomon Schechter Day School and currently The Hebrew Academy.
Moving forward, it will forever be known as “The Reich Hebrew Academy”.
I can truly think of no better way to express my love and appreciation for my grandparents and their legacy.
Today more than ever, this is especially important with the backdrop of what’s happening in Ukraine. Once again, people are fleeing Europe to save their lives as my grandparents did from their small towns in Poland years ago, which are now part of Ukraine.
This commitment ensures that my generation and future generations will be afforded the same opportunities that were afforded to me. Opportunities that were not afforded to my grandparents and millions of others.
So here’s my ask to all of you…
Please consider joining me and my family, Joe and Maxine Macnow, and recent others like David and Vanessa Wise, Randy and Laurie Pearlman, in stepping up in a big way and helping ensure this school gets built.
Joe, Maxine, and Yoti told me they had a dream about this project. As an entrepreneur, I too love to live in the clouds and try to invent the future.
And their dream is an amazing one where the past present and future exist concurrently. It’s an exciting vision and we would not be here without them.
Joe, Maxine, Yoti, thank you.
So please, help us make it a reality and help us ensure the path to the future is secured for our kids and future generations.
And now, I’d like to introduce you to the funnier, better-looking Reich, my brother Jeremy.