Growing up, Ed Rosenthal was curious why his family was so small. He had no siblings or cousins, and he had barely any extended family. It wasn’t something that his parents discussed, and Rosenthal never gave it much thought until a recent mission trip to Israel with his wife, Betty.
While in Israel, the Longboat Key residents decided to visit Yad Vashem, the world’s largest Holocaust museum. As part of one exhibit, an audio recording continually plays the names of the 1.5 million children killed during the Holocaust. As the Rosenthals entered the exhibit, the recording began to recite the names of the children also with the last name Rosenthal.
“I never understood why I didn’t have much family,” says Ed Rosenthal. “But, as I was listening to those names, I started to put things together. It really hit home for us.”
He and his wife were sure the timing was more than a coincidence.
“As soon as we stepped in, that was the first name we heard: Esther Rosenthal,” says Ed Rosenthal. “Of all the names that could have been playing, and of all the exhibits we could’ve been in, we just happened to be there when they were reading the Rosenthal names. I don’t know what those odds are.”
When they returned to Sarasota, the couple sought a way to continue to honor the lives of children lost in the Holocaust. During their trip to Israel, they had visited a remembrance orchard and decided to create one of their own at their synagogue, Temple Beth Sholom.
After meeting with Temple Beth Sholom’s executive director, Mitch Weiss, Ed and Betty Rosenthal worked with the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee, the temple and fellow temple members, the Blumenthal family, to bring the orchard to life.
“It’s been a community labor of love,” says Betty Rosenthal.
The Yad Vashem website includes a database of Holocaust victims’ names and brief biographies of each. After finding a story with special significance, donors can commemorate that child’s life by contributing a fruit tree of their choice and plaque to the garden. Dedications cost $180, but a fund is available for those who cannot afford the cost.
The orchard opened in April with a dedication ceremony for the first seven trees, which have already began to yield fruit, such as avocado, mango and pomegranate. Each tree is connected to an Israel-inspired drip-irrigation system and includes a plaque with the child’s name in Hebrew and English, the donor’s name and a symbolic depiction of a young tree, cut down before it had a chance to grow.
In addition to being a place of reflection, the Rosenthals say the organic, chemical-free orchard will eventually provide food for Temple Beth Sholom students, so that as they eat, they can remember a child who was less fortunate.
“As the last witnesses to the Holocaust continue to disappear, we wanted to leave something lasting for the next generation,” says Ed Rosenthal. “It’s so important that they never forget.”