It’s too late for students to interview
WWII era Jewish champion of faith

By Rafael Alvarez
Examiner Correspondent

The kids in the eighth grade at Yeshivat
Rambam, a Jewish school on
Park Heights Avenue at Strathmore,
have been getting ready to interview
Holocaust survivors. Their oral history
project is several months too late
to include a giant from those days, a
man raised in a grocery store not far
from their school, down at the corner
of Smallwood and Pressbury
streets.
Rabbi Judah Nadich, a World War
II Army chaplain with the rank of lieutenant
colonel, was General Eisenhower’s
adviser on Jewish affairs
when refugees flooded Western Europe
at war’s end. He died at age 95
Aug. 26 in New York City.
In the class at Rambam, students
questioned the impact that atrocity,
particularly the cruelty that humans
visit upon one another, has on faith.
When Nadich arrived at a Displaced
Persons camp outside Munich in August
1945 — where up to 40 hungry survivors
were shoved into rooms designed
for six, survivors held behind barbed
wire as if the war had never ended —
the answer was not academic.
“He struggled as a result of what he
witnessed,” said Shira Nadich Levin,
a daughter. “But he eventually realized
that without faith . . . there could
be no explanation for so much in this
world — acts of great courage, feelings
of love.”
Described at length by Nadich in
his 1953 book, “Eisenhower and the
Jews,” the post-Holocaust experience
was horrific enough for him to
avoid the pulpit after returning to the
States.
“He didn’t feel ready to return immediately,”
said his daughter Leah
Meir, as though recounting a story by
Isaac Bashevis Singer. “It was difficult
for him to see the kind of ‘normal’
life that American Jews were leading,
with the parties and the spending of
money.”
It was very important to Nadich
that he had served in the military during
World War II, his family said — he
volunteered the day after Pearl Harbor
— almost as important as it was
to serve “his people, in whom he never
lost faith” as a rabbi.
“He spent the years after leaving
the military until 1947 raising funds
for the care and resettlement of the
displaced Jews of Europe,” said Meir.
“It was the defining time of his life.”
And thus it is that doubt defines
faith, for without doubt there is no
need of faith.
As Judah Nadich’s stepmother,
Nettie Gifter, had no doubt that without
an education, her son could expect
little in this life, she asked him
more than once as she stocked the
shelves: “Do you want to grow up to
be a truck driver?”
At 14, Judah left his father Isaac’s
grocery store at 1655 N. Smallwood
St. — the pickles in the barrel, the red
wagon he used to make deliveries, his
little sister Esther upon whom he doted
— and went to board at a yeshiva
in New York.
“I went back to see the family
store six or eight years ago and
it had shrunk,” said Esther Nadich
Rosenberg, 85. “It was my mother
who created faith in Judah, like she
created it in all of us.”
That faith led Judah Nadich to become
a cornerstone of the Conservative
movement of Judaism in the
United States, to include women in
all aspects of the faith and to protest
segregation in the decade following
World War II.
“Freedom is colorblind and the
yearning for it is God-implanted,” he
said in a 1960 sermon excerpted in his
New York Times obituary. “To help
those . . . who have a right to it is our
sacred obligation.”
Shira Levin came across her father’s
remarks about faith in a video
someone made while interviewing
him. The words were strong and
clear, but they didn’t tell the whole
story.
“When he gave his answer, the intensity
of his belief and optimistic
view of the world and its beauty was
apparent,” said Levin.
“But he also said there will always
be darkness for which we have no
explanation.”