2018-05-23 / Federation

The Light in the Darkness

JIM AND BESS SOFFER JIM AND BESS SOFFER Jim and Bess Soffer have been a part of our Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey since 1975. In the last two years, the loving couple moved to Margate, but still consider Cherry Hill as their home.

“We’ve always been contributors to the South Jersey Federation—always, forever,” Jim says. “But we did decide to increase our donation because of the mission trip to Poland, Berlin, and Prague in April.”

So what happened on their mission trip?

“I explained it to people as a roller coaster experience,” Bess says. “It had darkness, but being with a certain group of people brought light.”

They began their journey in Poland, touring the concentration camps— Majdanek, Birkenau, and Auschwitz. “You see the wooden beds, the bath house, the showers. The doctor’s house, where he separated the women and children from men and boys. And the women and children went right to the showers. It was horrible.”

Following the concentration camps, was the March of the Living, where they marched out of Auschwitz, into Birkenau.

But everything changed once they headed to Berlin, Germany.

“There were so many memorials,” they both say. “When we saw what the Berlin government was doing to help memorialize the atrocities, it opened my eyes… they are doing what they can to help people remember what went on.”

“We even had this beautiful experience for Shabbat in Berlin,” Jim recalls. “And it was in the back of my head—I said, ‘Hey, Hitler— look where we are now. We’re celebrating our Judaism at a Shabbat service in Berlin.’ That was a turning point, emotionally.”

“For me, it was a gradual turning point,” Bess explains. “But we saw the place of the Wannsee Conference. It’s this beautiful, magnificent villa built in the early 1900’s. Where it’s situated is in the most gorgeous area, resting on a lake. I was not aware that this was the place where 15 of the elite leaders got together to create the final ‘solution.’ It was a very powerful moment for me because this is where they came up with this…disgusting, horrific plan. And the irony is, it’s gorgeous.”

“To a certain extent—going on this trip gave me some closure and peace about all the questions I had,” Jim says. “I was always so uncomfortable discussing anything about the Holocaust. But here, we had to confront it.”

“I’m just so grateful we were able to participate in this journey,” Bess says. “I never imagined the intensity that I would feel about being Jewish. And my heritage. And all the people before us, that left.”

“It reminded us—since we moved—of the importance of all the agencies at the South Jersey Federation, and for them to continue doing all the good jobs that they do.” 

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