Our cover story this week is about an extraordinary woman who was just named a Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem. Luba Saj-Cholhan, now 91 years old, saved her dear friend from the Nazis when they were both very young women. I got to meet her at last Monday’s ceremony at the Jewish Federation of Greater Clifton-Passaic, and I encourage everyone to meet her through our pages.
There is a rare sweetness and warmth and unselfishness about her – an openness. So many people these days are shuttered.
Oddly enough, she is the mother of an old high school friend of mine, George Saj. He never spoke about his mother’s heroism – and she was heroic in so many ways: having her (first) husband taken by the Soviets, bringing her son up alone (and well), and taking any job she could get to support them.
Actually, none of the first-generation American kids I grew up with spoke about our immigrant parents. They were Greek (hi, Ollie), Ukrainian (hi, George), Polish (hi, Lois), Italian (hi, Sal), and Russian-Jewish (hi, Mimi), but we were singularly incurious about them – even about our own parents. In retrospect, that seems typically adolescent, but what a shame it is not to have been introduced to their experiences.
At any rate, Luba Saj-Cholhan’s words, as she accepted the medal and certificate from Yad Vashem and the State of Israel, continue to resonate for me. They were her own words, not ghost-written for her, and they are simple and direct. One phrase, especially, speaks to me: “This life is wonderful.”
I need to be reminded of that. There is so much sorrow in this world, there is so much war, misery, and famine, that we sometimes forget that this life is wonderful.
Ed Schey, the executive director of the federation, said at the ceremony, “Thank you, Luba, for being you.”
I would not presume to use her first name, but I thank her – over and over.