STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Esther Rodriguez of St. George will play a meaningful role in Berlin next month as the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht is observed, but her story begins much earlier than that terrible night in 1938 that ushered in the Holocaust.
In 1536, her family fled the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal to avoid a forced conversion from Judaism, or its alternative: Death.
Her mother's family settled in Cuba; her father's, in the Canary Islands. Ms. Rodriguez was born in Cuba, where her family did not live as Jews. For years, she did not know her history. Although she said her family was "as Cuban as could be," she later realized many of their traditions were Jewish. Even her father's name, Abreu, means Hebrew in Portuguese.
In 1961, Ms. Rodriguez was among 14,500 children flown out of Cuba -- without their parents -- following the Communist takeover. A great-aunt in Miami opened her home to Ms. Rodriguez and seven cousins. She was reunited with her parents four years later.
Ms. Rodriguez moved to Staten Island in 1985 and converted to Judaism in 2003 in Borough Park, Brooklyn. She now attends services at Congregation Toras Emes in Oakwood and Temple Emanu-El in Port Richmond.
A radio journalist for the United States government, she travels frequently to Berlin and Geneva. In Berlin, she prays at Adass Jisroel, a yeshiva and synagogue opened in the 1800s by a New York rabbi.
Adass Jisroel was one of 92 Berlin synagogues targeted during Kristallnacht; 35 of its 36 Torahs were burned. The synagogue reopened after the fall of the Berlin Wall; its new rabbi brought two Torahs from Israel.
In April 2007, Rodriguez donated a third Torah to the congregation in memory of her mother, Aida Fernandez de Varona, who died the previous month. The congregation had three Torahs, but no crowns. Her two congregations helped her purchase two silver crowns and a friend whose family fled Leipzig on Kristallnacht bought a third. The crowns will be dedicated at Adass Jisroel on November 7, just before Shabbat begins.
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