Peter Ryba (now 89 and living in Sydney, Australia) waved goodbye to his parents and younger brother Gregory in 1938 in Lodz, Poland. He was going to London at age 12 to live with an uncle. He expected to return to Lodz the next year, but it was the last time he would see his family.
Although he still hasn’t learned what happened to his family, he will have an opportunity to honor his younger brother’s memory through an unexpected connection with a young man, Justin Badt, preparing for his Bar Mitzvah in a Philadelphia suburb.
Read it here: http://jewishexponent.com/…/twinning-bar-mitzvah-leads-to-a…?
Twinning’ Bar Mitzvah Leads to an Unlikely Visit
MAY 26, 2015
By: Amishai Gottlieb
Peter Ryba (left) said goodbye to his younger brother, Gregory, in 1938, when he left their home in Poland to study in England. He never saw him again.
Peter Ryba waved goodbye to his parents and 7-year-old brother, Gregory, in 1938 at their home in Lodz, Poland. Having experienced anti-Semitism at his local school, he was reluctantly traveling to London at the age of 12 to live with an uncle. It was the last time he would see his family alive.
They later disappeared into the Holocaust, joining many of the 6 million Jews who perished, whose stories were never learned and have never been told.
“The plan was the following year I would return to Lodz and my family for a vacation,” Ryba, 89, wrote via email from his home in Sydney, Australia, where he now lives with his 84-year-old wife, Edith.
“In spite of years of research after the war, I have been unable to discover where, when or how my parents and brother perished, and the lack of closure has continued to weigh heavily on my mind.”
Though he still hasn’t learned what happened, Ryba will have an opportunity to honor his younger brother’s memory through an unexpected connection with a young man preparing for his Bar Mitzvah in a Philadelphia suburb.
In early June, Ryba will fly to Philadelphia to attend the Bar Mitzvah of Justin Badt, with whom he shares no blood relation and didn’t even know existed until very recently.
Their paths began to intertwine when Badt, a 12-year-old at Bala Cynwyd Middle School, sat down with Cantor Marshall Portnoy of Main Line Reform Temple to discuss his upcoming Bar Mitzvah
Marshall informed Badt of an international program called “Remember Us: The Holocaust Bnai Mitzvah Project,” through which Bar and Bat Mitzvah-aged children are “twinned” with a child who was lost during the Holocaust. The Bar or Bat Mitzvah then does a mitzvah in that lost child’s name or mentions him during a d’var Torah or lights a yahrzeit candle in his memory.
More than two dozen local synagogues participate in the “Remember Us” program, according to the group’s website.
Badt was given the name of Gregory Ryba, Ryba’s younger brother.
“I’m about to become a Jewish man, and to hear about someone who wasn’t able to do that” resonated, Badt said. “I can’t imagine what it would be like to have my Bar Mitzvah taken away with the snap of a finger.”
After some investigative research, he discovered the existence of Ryba, Gregory’s only living relative.
He immediately reached out to Ryba to share what he was doing and to invite Ryba to his Bar Mitzvah on June 6.
“When I received the first letter advising me of Justin’s decision, I was surprised and overcome with emotion,” wrote Ryba, who built up a plastic products manufacturing company after arriving in Sydney in 1950 and now imports pumps, tools and hardware.
“Both my wife and I instantly felt that being fit enough and able to travel despite our advanced years, and appreciating the Badt family’s intensive effort to find Gregory’s living relations and inviting us so warmly, we shall make every effort to make Justin’s big day a special occasion.”
Ryba, who has 4 children, 11 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren, will be accompanied to the Bar Mitzvah by his granddaughter Rebecca.
Badt’s father, Rich, who is a school administrator at a South Jersey middle school, said the family is beyond excited that the Rybas will be attending his son’s Bar Mitzvah.
The Rybas will join in festivities throughout the weekend, including events planned for family and close friends from out of town, and, of course, the Bar Mitzvah ceremony itself.
“It just shows the character of who Justin is as a person — he is a very caring, empathetic individual,” said Rich Badt, adding that as far as he’s concerned, the Rybas are now part of the family.
“To want to honor somebody, it really touches me that this is something he’s chosen to do — it’s not just another step to Jewish manhood, this is something that is important to him.”
Justin Badt said he will mention Gregory in his Bar Mitzvah speech, include him in the names read before the Mourner’s Kaddish, and invite Ryba to light a candle for his brother at the family’s luncheon party.
He also made a poster that includes information about Gregory, Remember Us and the Lower Merion Little League Challenger program — a baseball league for boys and girls with physical and mental challenges with whom he volunteered for his Bar Mitzvah project — that will be displayed at Main Line Reform Temple throughout the weekend.
Since getting in touch, Badt and Ryba have exchanged several emails and even coordinated a phone conversation that lasted 45 minutes, during which they mainly talked about Gregory and Ryba’s past, according to the young Badt.
“To hear about some of the terrible things that happened in the Holocaust firsthand was something completely different to me,” said Badt.
“When I started the Remember Us project, I wanted to take something really big out of it, I didn’t know what at the time; now I’m going to take away the experience of talking about Gregory and meeting Peter face to face.”
Badt added that he’s looking forward to meeting the Rybas and having them join him on his special day.
“It’s incredible, it’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”