These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

[Guest Post] Reflections of the Alex Singer Hike in 2012, the Year of his 25th Yahrtzeit and a Poem

Posted on November 2, 2012 by The Director of Digital Media

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by Suzanne Singer, Alex’s mom

Three events happened this year that gave us a theme for the Alex Hike.  Benjy joined around 250 IDF officers on their trip to Germany and Poland to learn about and see the physical remains of the Shoah. Benjy’s son Itai went with his 12th grade class to Poland to witness the physical remains of the Shoah. Alex’s unpublished thesis from Cornell, Letters from the Diaspora, went up on the Alex website complete with all his drawings–available to everyone for the first time at

Because Alex’s year in Europe studying and traveling to places where Jewish communities had once thrived led to the thesis, and because writing the thesis led to Alex’s decision to make aliyah and join the IDF after college—that became the theme for the hike.

Glenn Cohen who has led and inspired all our hikes put the theme on the ground by planning a hike through the Martyr’s Forest that covers the slopes from the Scroll of Fire sculpture to the recently installed Anne Frank monument and the Bnai Brith caves in the valley below.  The huge Nathan Rappaport sculpture is in the shape of a standing Torah scroll. On one side the relief sculptures focus on the early history of the Jewish people and the Shoah and its survivors; the other half of the rolled scroll depicts the struggle to reestablish the Jews in their homeland. The sculptural details are both literal and symbolic.  The Martyr’s Forest contains one and a half million pine trees representing the adult Jews murdered by the Nazis and one and a half million cypress trees in memory of the slaughtered children.

Half way along our walk we all stopped at a large clearing. There we formed a circle in the middle of which were laminated cards, each containing something Alex wrote during his year of travels in Europe and on the opposite side a drawing from that time. Glenn’s wife Orit invited people to come to the circle and take a stick or a bell and then tell people about their name or something they remembered about Alex or a reaction to the card they chose.

John Atlas, who knew Alex well, spoke about how funny Alex was even though he often wrote about serious things. He even brought along a letter Alex had written to John and Toby and their kids shortly after we had returned to DC after 4 years living in the same building where John lived.  It was a blue air letter that asked about the family, had little drawings, talked about the architectural drawing course he was taking in high school, and said that he planned to make money by selling drawings of houses in the area where we lived in DC. Alex asked, “Why don’t you ever send me cookies?”

Although I don’t remember all the things people said, this year’s hike was recorded by Meni, a cameraman with a sensitive microphone. Meni was there so that the hike may become a small part of a documentary film about Alex. The film will be produced by Yael Luttwak who knew Alex when she was a little girl, was influenced by him in her life choices, and is now both our friend and an accomplished documentary film maker.

Max read Benjy’s poem, “Villa Wannsee,” [below] that he wrote after being at this terrible place where the “final solution” was decided by the Nazis.

50 people walked together, 13 had known Alex. Five were present or former Pardes students. Gideon Herscher returned to us this year with his mini-guitar. The African song he taught us was beautiful, but sadly we could not spend more time singing because erev Simchat Torah was pushing us to return home for the last day of chag.

The downhill walk into the valley from the ridge, while fairly short and beautiful was noticeably steep.  Some of us with less powerful thigh muscles limped around for a couple of days afterwards. But I, for one, felt the day of memories, stories and friendships made and renewed was worth the aches.

We look forward to seeing many of you at next year’s hike. We will try to plan it on a day that doesn’t have a chag at its end. Perhaps in moonlight…

Love to all from Max and Sue

Villa Wannsee

by Benji Singer

The birds.  The birds singing and chirping.

They don’t know what happened here.


The trees. The multitude of colors and the rustling of the leaves.

The moist smell of green.

They don’t know what happened here.


The lake. The quiet flow of the water.  The colors of the boats sailing by.

It knows not what happened here.


I apologize to G-d and nature for seeing no beauty and no glory.

I know what happened here.