To know that Menachem’s memory will be a blessing and always remembered and has created an amazing way for me to learn and enrich my Jewish heritage
Memories that I will remember forever.
So ever since the age of 8 I knew when my time finally came to have my Bar Mitzvah, I wanted to follow in my cousin’s footsteps in 2015 and do a twinning! I liked the idea of it and the meaning it would give to my Bar Mitzvah service and as the time to start planning came round I researched it and learnt more about it, but I always said to my parents if I undertake this I want to do it differently, properly! I could see my Mother’s face she smiled what do you mean differently, properly Harrison? Well I want to really find out about the child I get twinned with everything I can of course, and then go further and find some family, so that they know what I am doing and can know that their relative is being remembered and considered in this way. Oh that’s lovely Harrison my Mother replied but there was slight worry in her eyes. What are you worried about? Well, what if there is no family as they may have all perished? Or what if the family are not as happy or as interested as you may want them to be? I am just trying to prepare you incase. I know how excited and how much it means to you and don’t want you to be disappointed or upset that’s all, but as long as your prepared for that, then go for it! – what do you have to loose.
On the 21st November 2019 my Yad Vashem twinning pack arrived in the post, I rushed dinner down and sat at the table whilst my parents were still eating, eager and enthusiastic to open it to discover who I had been twinned with. The first thing that struck me was how much information there was for the child I had been twinned with, nearly every box had been filled in, so much information about the child who had perished but also his family too. I felt unbelievably lucky to have this as often information is exceptionally scarce! On the certificate I had been twinned with Menachem Aryeh Feiger, and the testimonial of information had been filled in by his older surviving brother, Eugene Feiger. That was all I needed, I grabbed my laptop about 7pm ish to start searching and to be honest what happens next has changed mine and my family’s life forever! I was so lucky that a simple google search of Eugene Feiger, the surviving brother which started my incredible journey. Very quickly I discovered that Eugene had escaped the holocaust and had written a book about his experience. The book was published in Toronto, Canada a few years earlier. So, did that mean Eugene had settled in Toronto? I begged my parents please, please can you search facebook for me? It was a long shot as Eugene would be old but other family members may show up. My Father was off out so I worked on my Mother who kept saying she could not just message strangers on facebook and insisted on trying to contact the publishers of the book the following day. So I said to my Mother lets compromise lets just search on facebook to see what names appear and then we know who me may have to research!
My mother agreed! On that particular night and never since, only two names appeared, the first name that appeared at the top of the list was Brian Feiger………. could it be a relation? On Brian’s profile it said he lived in California but incredibly was originally from Toronto, wow, this fitted with the information from my Yad Vashem pack. At this stage it could have been an incredible coincidence, but I felt it was certainly worth a private message to Brian. So after much pleading with my Mother and her checking Brian’s profile she agreed reluctantly to privately message him whilst muttering at me I can’t believe I am doing this! My Mother wrote a very apologetic, sorry to bother you, message whilst I paced up and down, time for bed and as I just went up the stairs, ping a reply message, I nearly fell down the stairs in excitement! One hour and 48 mins later and what seemed like a rather shocked Brian messaged back. Yes, I am indeed a very close relation to Menachem, had he survived he would have been my Uncle………!!!! Wow! He said I had no idea my Dad had done this testimony for my Uncle Menachem and have never heard of the Yad Vashem twinning project. Just to make sure we were not crazies from England, Brian quite rightly asked to see the certificate and testimony we had received. So, without hesitation we all scrambled around and sent over the pictures via Brian’s email address. Minutes later Brian messaged to say I have received it; I am so touched.
Brian just could not believe his uncle Menachem was to be honoured in this way. Then the news that shocked us to our core……. not only had we found a living relative of Menachem but Brian said wait till I tell my parents, yes, Menachem’s brother Eugene was still alive at 97 and living with his wife Edith also holocaust survivor in Toronto, Canada.
This became the start of a beautiful journey of incredible friendship with the Feiger family. Thanks to the Yad Vashem Twinning Foundation two family’s had been brought together and we the Frescos had been given the chance to celebrate not only my Bar Mitzvah but now it meant Menachem could have his Bar Mitzvah he rightfully deserved.
The friendship continued into 2020 and many messages and calls and family information was given to me so that I could know all about my twinning. We then asked Brian and his family if they would like to come to my Bar Mitzvah and then they would finally see Menachem truly honoured. They accepted the invitation and flights were booked from California, both families were so excited. The Feiger family were coming to Chigwell and Hainault Synagogue, for my Bar Mitzvah just as I had dreamt of. We also asked Brian would he do the blessings to the State of Israel – he said yes of course, so would be on the bima with me on the day. When I would do my bar mitzvah I would also be doing it for Menachem with his family beside me! We even asked the family if there was anything they particularly wanted to incorporate, and they said a photograph of Menachem. We spoke to Sam the Shul Secretary, who went above and beyond and put everything in place, I still remember my Mother talking about the Shul secretary Sam’s shocked face, when she told her Brian, Menachem’s nephew would be attending!
It is now February 2020 and everyone around the world is talking about Coronavirus or COVID 19 whatever you prefer to call it. If I am honest, I never once believed maybe naively, that this would affect us in May. Why would it? I am sure things would settle down before then.
It’s now March 23rd 2020 and the United Kingdom is in lockdown and so is California, Mr Trump has stopped all flights out of America. Reality sets in and me and my family’s disappointment becomes real. We are going to have to cancel my Bar Mitzvah! I know there are so many more important issues in the world but my Bar Mitzvah for me was many years of planning. It was all cancelled!
Now what? After many discussions with Rabbi Rafi of Chigwell and Hainault Synagogue and seeing the first virtual bar mitzvah on Facebook my Mother was talked into with less than 12 days to go for me to recite my portion on zoom, live from our dining room at home. My Mother said come on if anything we have to do this for the twinning family! We were the first family to have a go at this at Chigwell and Hainault Shul, so it was new to all of us. My piece was Bamidbar which is said 4 times a year, with the next being in October but who knew where the world would be in October so the date of 21st May was agreed and the rehearsals begun.
We rehearsed lots and as we were in full lock down we had to do everything ourselves in the house, no full on production team for us. My Mother made a make shift bima and lots of late nights ordering stuff from the web, help from Rabbi Goodwin and of course Brian and another friend who said she would help us to host! On the day my Mother was on IT and throwing sweets at the end, my Father stood next to me as he would of done in Shul! We even practiced on zoom with friends in America and around the world just to make sure the link would work. So, after one rehearsal where Brian was helping us, it suddenly seemed a no brainer that Brian should be involved just as he would have been in Shul. Brian gratefully accepted our invitation to say the blessing for the State of Israel and with a few more rehearsals arranged it was all set up. Even more incredibly Brian surprised me by arranging for his parents, Menachem’s brother Eugene and his wife Edith to watch from Toronto Canada on zoom to recite my Bar Mitzvah portion in memory of his brother.
This is something that could never been possible had my Bar Mitzvah gone ahead as planned. Yes, Brian would have been in shul, but no way would over 300 people got to witness my big day and Eugene would never have seen his brother honoured in this way. We are truly grateful for all the messages of support we received from the Chigwell & Hainault community and beyond, people were amazed that I had found the family in less than 24 hours and with all the information and photographs they provided me with for me to write my twinning speech, let alone have them so involved on the day.
Thursday 21st May will be a day that will etched in our memories and never be forgotten for us and I hope for the Feiger family too. And like Rabbi Rafi said “despite the holocaust and the suffering the Jewish people have endured, here we are celebrating both Harrison’s and Menachem’s Bar Mitzvah in the presence of not only Brian, his nephew, but also with Menachem’s older brother.”
We could not encourage everyone enough to do a Yad Vashem twinning, it is an incredible experience and you never know what information you will find out and who you could meet, it has given us and the Feiger family all memories that will last a lifetime. To know that Menachem’s memory will be a blessing and always remembered and has created an amazing way for me to learn and enrich my Jewish heritage.
I now must dedicate this story to Eugene Feiger who unfortunately passed away on the 19th October 2020 BDE. I am so unbelievable honored that he was able to see my Bar Mitzvah in May 2020 and cannot thank the Feiger family enough for bringing my dream to life and for being as excited as we were from the minute I found you, your help, support and friendship has been nothing short of miraculous. Our heartfelt thanks go to all the Feiger family for enabling us to have this incredible experience and allowing us to share this amazing story with you all, thank you will never be enough! Thank you Yad Vashem UK for twinning me with the perfect family!!
By Harrison Fresco