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A PRAYER FROM THE WARSAW GHETTO

Introduction and translation by Mark Weitzman and Daniel Landes

This prayer was composed by the Hasidic rabbi Kalunimus Kalmish Shapiro (known as the Piaseczner Rebbe) in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1941 or 1942. The prayer is written in a familiar conversational Hebrew, reflecting both the intimacy of the conversation between the Hasid and his God, and the desire of the author to make this prayer accessible to any Jew who might want to use it.

Key elements of this prayer include the very basic hope of restoration of family and commu nity. The dream of redemption is thus expressed in its most basic, elemental sense-that of the restoration of the family unit.

The intimacy of the conversational language does not mask its explicit challenge to God. The author calls on God not only to be the traditional Master of the Universe, but also to take up the (rarely used in prayer) role of El Shaddai, Almighty, which, in rabbinic interpretation, connotes victory, fear of the Divine, and miraculous intervention.

Lastly, the author includes a paragraph where the Jew who is turning to God for deliverance can also, through the means of charity, offer assistance-direct aid of food or money-to those who are even more desperate. Through this, the Jew, even in the midst of the horrors of the Holocaust, can perform a classic act of Imitatio Dei, imitation of God, as the core of Jewish and human identity.

Prayer Offered by the Piaseczner Rebbe
Original Hebrew Text

Baumel, Judith Tydor. Kol Bikhyot: ha-Shoah veha-Tefilah. (Ramat Gan, Israel: Bar Ilan University Press, 1992), p. 119.

PRAYER OFFERED BY THE PIASECZNER REBBE,
KALUNIMUS KALMISH SHAPIRO, WARSAW GHETTO 1941-1942

Ribono shel '01am! Master of the Universe! Listen to the voice of our cries and to the sighs of our hearts. See our sorrow and oppression, and rescue us from our great distress.

Those dearest to our souls-wives and children, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, and the rest of our brethren, the Children of Israel-were torn from our homes. Seized and imprisoned, their whereabouts are unknown.

Be, El Shaddai, God Almighty, the Shield of all the captives! Guard them from all sorrow and distress, give them strength to withstand the trials of their torturers, tormentors, and abusers. Find for them a source of life so that they can return to their families. Grant that the children and infants, stolen from the bosoms of their fathers and mothers, will be redeemed and restored to their parents as in the days of our Exodus from the land of Egypt.

I hereby offer charity on behalf of the starving poor. By this merit, shelter and redeem (here insert the Hebrew names:_________son/daughter of________mother/father), taken in captivity, and bring them back to their homes in peace.

El Rahum Ve-Hanun! Merciful and Pardoning Lord! Respond with mercy and loving kind ness to all who call out to You wholeheartedly. Now, shelter and pity the remnants of Your People Israel. Say to our sorrows: Enough! Guard the handful of the remnants of survivors, just as You rescued Abraham our father from Nimrod, Jacob our Father from Esau and Laban, Moses our teacher from Pharaoh, King David from Goliath the Philistine, and Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah from Nebuchadnezzar. As You rescued Daniel from the den of lions, and as You rescued Mordecai and Esther from the hand of the evil Haman, so save and deliv er Your People Israel from the hands of their haters. Send us the righteous Redeemer who will redeem us from this bitter exile, speedily and in our days-Amen.


Homeless child sleeping in the street, Warsaw Ghetto.
Source: SWC Archives #88-288

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