Soul searching is part of the fabric of Jewish life, never more intense than at this time of year when Jews are immersed in Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur observances. Observance can take many forms, one of which can be immersion in books that speak to the soul. I found one last week on the table of new arrivals at Barnes & Noble, with a beguiling title and inviting subtitle. Its author, Naomi Levy, is the founder and leader of Nashuva, a groundbreaking spiritual outreach community based in Los Angeles.
Chapter two bears the title of the book, and Levy advances the claim that this particular Rabbi, Robert S. Marcus, deserves something deeper than a footnote in Einstein’s history. The letter that Einstein wrote to Marcus is archived and well-documented, but there is no record of the original letter from Marcus about his eleven-year-old son’s death from polio that prompted Einstein’s reply.
The typed version of the letter is dated February 12, 1950, and by this time Rabbi Marcus was political director of the World Jewish Congress but only five or six years removed from his monumental service in World War II. The Center for Jewish History notes that Captain Marcus, Jewish Chaplain with the 23rd Tactical Air Command, was awarded with the Bronze Star Medal for meritorious service in connection with military operations from May 24, 1944 to May 8, 1945. Captain Marcus ministered to the religious needs of his men and brought comfort to the wounded through the period of the aerial offensive, and the campaigns in Normandy, Southern France, and Germany.
Children were among the first to be slaughtered in the concentration camps but, in April 1945, along with his colleague Rabbi Herschel Schacter, Rabbi Marcus discovered 904 Jewish boys who had been courageously hidden and saved by the camp inmates. He set up “Kibbutz Buchenwald”, committed to restoring these boys to health and to finding them a new life. They learned how to engage in communal farming, providing them with skills they could use in the free world. Among the children that Rabbi Marcus would make his personal mission to save was a sixteen-year-old boy named Eliezer. The world came to know that boy as Elie Wiesel.