Inspirational Jewish leader celebrated by many for his decades of service by Voices of Hope at an event at Emanuel Synagogue in West Hartford.
By Mike Savino
Rabbi Philip Lazowski has been serving Greater Hartford for nearly 70 years, using the story of his miraculous escape from the Holocaust to educate and inspire others.
Voices of Hope said his story is especially relevant as Israel continues to fight with Hamas.
The organization Thursday honored Lazowski with a L’dor V’dor Lifetime Achievement Award.
“We are all indebted to him for the goodness he has brought to the world,” President Peter Fishman said.
Lazowski was born in Poland in 1930. Germans invaded his hometown in 1941 and began killing Jewish residents the following year.
During one selection – when Nazi soldiers would designate Jews for death – Lazowski was separated from his family. He quickly found a woman who agreed to pretend he was her son, likely saving him from death.
He was reunited with his family but later that year, Nazis ushered Jews into a local theater for execution. Lazowski’s grandmother pushed him out a window, urging him to flee to safety.
A German soldier saw Lazowski and a second boy as they made their escape, but, Lazowski said, the man looked the other way.
“He chose good over evil; that is a miracle,” Lazowski said.
He fled to the woods, where he was reunited with his father and one of his brothers. Lazowski came to the U.S. in 1947 and eventually became a rabbi.
“God blessed me to serve three congregations for 68 years,” Lazowski said about his career.
He started as a rabbi at Beth Shalom Synagogue, then at Beth Hillel before becoming rabbi emeritus at Emanuel Synagogue in West Hartford.
He’s also been chaplain for the Institute of Living at Hartford Hospital, the state Senate, and the Hartford Police Department.
Speakers during a ceremony at Emanuel Synagogue, titled An Evening of Hope, said Lazowski’s story is a reminder of a dark moment in history.
They also said that reminder is important now, as Israel has been fighting Hamas for roughly a month and as reports of antisemitism continue to rise in the U.S.
“There are those who want to whitewash our history; that’s when mistakes happen, and that’s when we repeat the evils of the past,” Gov. Ned Lamont said.
Rabbi David Small used his remarks to lead a sermon praying for Israel. He compared Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack that started the ongoing conflict to Babyn Yar, a ravine in Kyiv, Ukraine, where the Nazis killed more than 33,000 Jewish residents before using the site to murder an estimated 100,000 people.
“We pray for a day when Hamas and other terror armies and their state sponsors are utterly vanquished,” Small said.
Speakers also said Lazowski has served as an inspiration, telling his story as a reason for hope.
“Hope is so absolutely necessary right now,” U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said.
Joella Asapokhai, a student at Kingswood Oxford School, said she was inspired after hearing Lazowski tell his story during a school assembly.
“One thing Rabbi Lazowski has helped make clear for me is that I need and want to do my part in creating a compassionate and peaceful world,” she said.
Family and friends, meanwhile, said Lazowski has set an example for them all to follow.
“I know that I can speak for everyone here when I say that you have inspired us all to continue your mission of awareness, hope, and love,” granddaughter Jesse Lazowski said.
Lazowski said he’s tried to live up to his mother’s last words before his escape from the Polish theater, and he’s made his life’s mission “encouraging the lessons of the Holocaust to live on forever so that future generations can live on from the past.”
He also said he was honored by Thursday’s ceremony. “You are all dear to me and I’m happy to have you all in my life,” he said.
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