Gregory was always a musician first and a soldier second. Although that was always the brunt of many jokes within his combat unit, no one was laughing today. Gregory's unit in the Soviet Red Army had done the unthinkable while at the Battle of Stalingrad… they had survived. And that really was, not only HIS story, but the eternal and tragic story of his entire people.
Gregory was a Jew, and survival was his birthright. This war, what some were calling the second great war to end all wars, was no different. It was just one more calamity that he and his people would have to survive.
Gregory's unit had pushed through Ukraine and were now upon the heartland of the Third Reich. A sea of German tanks lay before them. Gregory dove into a ditch at the last second while a barrage of tank and mortar fire came screaming through the air. It was then that he noticed something. Although terrifying as the sound of the incoming artillery fire was, it also resembled something extraordinary… music.
Gregory shifted his thinking from soldier to musician. The incoming rounds were transformed within his mind to notes and stanzas on a sheet of carefully conducted music. It had order, it had purpose — and more importantly — it had predictability.
Gregory's musical mind allowed he and his unit to tell where the German rounds where going to strike. He survived.
Gregory would go on into Germany and participated in the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp. Like himself, the Jews liberated from — at least — this camp would also survive, but their persecution was far from over.
Jews caught behind the Iron Curtain lived in a state of fear and denial. Stalin required all Jews to register as such on their state papers. Everytime Gregory applied for a job or looked for a place to live, an employer or housing official would take one look at his papers and turn him down over those three letters: J - E - W.
Would the same thing that happened to their people under Adolf Hitler continue under Joseph Stalin? Gregory, and every other Jew living in the Soviet Union, couldn't eat kosher, they couldn't become Rabbis… they couldn't live as God had commanded them. For them, the story was the same as it had been for thousands of years… just survive.
That all changed in 1989… 40 years after the Battle of Stalingrad. The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society was helping Jews get out of the Soviet Union and immigrate to Israel and the United States. They provided lawyers, money to find homes, food and even language classes to help them assimilate in their new country. For the first time ever, Gregory and the rest of the Jews that had survived both Hitler and Stalin, could concentrate on more than just survival. They could practice their faith. They could be proud of being who they were. They could finally live.
The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society is the oldest refugee assistance organization in the world. Established in the late 19th century, they're responsible for assisting thousands upon thousands of Jews. A few years ago, they opened up their services, not just to Jews, but to people of all faiths.
Their current CEO was asked recently why they decided to do this and his answer couldn't be more perfect. He said that his organization no longer helps refugees because quote, "THEY are Jewish, but because WE are Jewish."
This is the organization that was attacked on Saturday morning at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Eleven people were killed in the deadliest attack on Jews in our country's history. Stories like Gregory's filled the Synagogue that Saturday morning. The horrors they've collectively endured are absolutely unimaginable, and yet here they were again with one thing on their minds… SURVIVE.
Anti-Semitism is on the rise all over the world. We have to stand shoulder to shoulder with our Jewish brothers and sisters. This several thousand-year-old cycle of hate and living just to survive has got to stop. Let it be OUR generation that ends it.