On Friday, April 13th, I traveled to Hillel at Miami University in Oxford for a very special Shabbat. Patty and Mike Caruso, Debbie and Bruce Feldman, Gayle and Irv Moscowitz, David and Lisa Pierce, and I joined students and other guests from all walks of life for Hillel’s annual diversity program.
The guest speaker for the evening was Pastor Chris Edmonds, who is the son of WWII hero Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds. Sergeant Edmonds was captured and taken to Stalag IXA, a camp near Ziegenhain, Germany. In January 1945, he refused a Commandant’s order to separate the Jewish POWs from the non-Jewish POWs. Instead Sergeant Edmonds ordered all the POWs to stand together. When the Commandant saw them, he told Sergeant Edmonds, “They cannot all be Jews.” Sergeant Edmonds replied, “We are all Jews.”
Even as the Commandant took out his gun and threatened Sergeant Edmonds, his bravery never wavered. He told the Commandant, “If you shoot me, you will have to shoot all of us, and after the war you will be tried for war crimes.” The Germans abandoned the POW camp shortly thereafter.
Sergeant Edmonds is one of only five Americans ~ and the first U.S. soldier ~ to receive the Righteous Among the Nations Award from the nation of Israel and Yad Vashem. The award was presented posthumously to his son Chris.
As I listened to Pastor Edmonds, I was in awe of the courage his father displayed. His one act saved over 200 lives. Men he didn’t know; men he would probably never see again. He was willing to stand up for what was right, even if it meant losing his life at the hands of the Commandant.
During Pastor Edmonds’ presentation, he played a video which included interviews with several of the Jewish soldiers who were saved because of his father. As they sat surrounded by their loved ones, the soldiers expressed thanks to Sergeant Edmonds for not only saving their lives, but for the lives of their extended family members who not exist today without his brave actions.
After the speaker presentation, we left the auditorium and headed to dinner. The atmosphere in the room was warm and comforting. The food, which was prepared by the husband of Miami Hillel’s Executive Director Marcy Miller and one of the school’s culinary students, was delicious. I’m sure the students were excited to have something homemade and not typical college cuisine! There was an overwhelming feeling of family in the room.
That is the beauty of having a Hillel on campus. For the 1,000 Jewish students who attend Miami University, Hillel provides them the opportunity to engage in vibrant and enriching Jewish life while away from home. They are able to connect with other Jewish students, celebrate holidays, educate other students about Judaism, and advocate when issues such as BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) come up on campus.
Interestingly enough, when I was looking at colleges, I considered Miami University in Oxford. Little did I know that years’ later, I would have the opportunity to work for an organization that provides critical financial support to their Hillel program. I am so proud to be a part of this generous community.
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