More than 700 people gathered Sunday night to celebrate the life and work of Rabbi Zvi Dov Slanger, who 70 years ago escaped the horrors of the Holocaust and went on to dedicate his life to the study and transmission of Torah.
Born in Budapest, Slanger and his immediate family were among those Jews fortunate enough to escape to Switzerland aboard the “Kasztner Train,” the only mass ransom of Jews during the Holocaust. The passage was not direct; for five months, Slanger endured the misery of Bergen-Belsen until the negotiations were finalized. Finally on Dec. 7, 1944, the train crossed into freedom in Switzerland.
From there, the family journeyed to Israel, where Slanger studied under renowned scholars, including Rabbi Elya Lopian. He arrived in the United States in 1965 and became involved in various schools. He founded the Bais Hamedrash and Mesivta of Baltimore 18 years ago.
Just after 6 p.m. attendees of the Gala of Gratitude in Slanger’s honor took their seats at elegantly dressed tables that filled the Beth Tfiloh Congregation ballroom. On stage, the guests of honor sat behind long rows of raised tables.
Gala co-chair Dr. Michael Elman opened the evening by expressing “exceptional, extra thanks” for the life and work of Slanger before turning the microphone over to fellow co-chair Howard Tzvi Friedman, who introduced U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin.
“It is a real honor to be in your presence, and we thank you for the life that you live,” Cardin said, addressing Slanger. “Thank for the legacy you’ve left, the standards you’ve set.”
The Maryland Democrat went on to recognize Switzerland for its part in saving Slanger’s life and for their advancement of human rights.
“In the depths of the Holocaust, there were heroic acts and courage displayed,” said Cardin, who presented a plaque to Swiss Embassy official David Best. “There weren’t any other countries in that area that opened up their doors” to let in Jews.
Best thanked his government and his country.
“My country, which has been spared of the horror of two world wars, is committed [to human rights],” said Best.
As a surprise, Best presented Slanger with copies of the documents from when Slanger entered Switzerland, noting, “You were a very handsome 10 year-old boy!”
Always the teacher, Slanger gave a lesson on whom God shows favor and the importance of gratitude. He related a wartime story of Jews who were starving “and yet, they were thankful and blessed Hashem even when they were still hungry.”
“Gratitude, being grateful for every breath of life … such people deserve special favor,” he said, adding that in committing himself to Jewish
education, he was “trying to follow in footsteps of giants of great generations.”
Before the gala’s close, Elman announced that Slanger’s school has appointed an architect to construct a new building for the institution. The groundbreaking is expected in the spring or early summer of 2015.