Determined!

Yesterday was the 36th Yahrtzait of my maternal grandfather, Yehoshua Aaron Herzberg o.b.m.

Fate had it that before and at the onset of WWII he was living in Paris and for a while was able to send food packages to his family back home in Warsaw, Poland. Sadly, all his eight siblings and their families were murdered by the Nazis during the war.

My grandfather was introduced to my grandmother, Faiga Glicksman, and they got married and resided in Lille, France. Her siblings also lived in Lille. They had three children, Shoshana, Malka (my mother) and Asher. When the Nazis entered France, my grandparents fled to Switzerland. The Swiss granted refuge to couples who had at least one child. My grandparents gave two of their children to other couples so that they would also be permitted to enter Switzerland.

While in Switzerland, my grandmother became ill and was hospitalized for two years before she passed away. During this trying time, her young children were placed in foster care. Although this wasn’t a pleasant experience, because of their great attitude, humor and the opportunity to commiserate with one another, they endured. Years later the siblings would laughingly reminisce about their unpleasant experiences rather than being bitter about it; this positive trait was instilled in them by their father.

After my grandmother passed away, my grandfather made a tough but determined decision to relocate and sail to New York so that his children could receive a top notch Jewish education.

Although he was a widower and did not know the language, he had no relatives and had no job lined up, he was not deterred from his decision.

He settled on the upper west side of New York sending his girls to the Samson Rafael Hirsh school and Bais Yaacov. For a few years, his son, Asher was cared for by the Adler family in Scranton Pa and was educated in the newly established Scranton Hebrew Day School.

His children married and today they have KN”H many, many descendants.

I recall his reaction upon seeing his children and grandchildren when we gathered for a celebration. He would spread out his arms and almost in disbelief blurt out in his rich European accent, “This is my family!” He never took his family for granted and always attributed his experiences, challenges, kindnesses and blessings as a direct result of the Almighty’s graces. His belief was unwavering and inspiring.

Yesterday I took time to pause and think. Here was the only surviving child, the youngest of a large family, who devotedly understood his mission and responsibility to recreate that what was lost. He made tough decisions that charted the course for his offspring and future generations to enjoy and live a Torah observant lifestyle. – I considered what his reaction would be today.

I recall driving him through the streets of Borough Park in Brooklyn before the Holidays, and seeing the hustle bustle in the streets, he couldn’t contain his joy. He would point this out as he was thrilled to witness a resurgence of what he had seen back in his home town before the war.

When he arrived at these shores he reconnected himself to the Gerrer Chasidic movement to which his family belonged. He also benefited from the Rebbe, Rabbi Yisroel Alter o.b.m., through his lessons, teachings and personal guidance. The Gerrer Rebbe was known for his razor sharp mind.

One story which recently caught my eye depicts the Rebbe’s sharp acuity. A grandfather brought his four year old grandchild to the Rebbe for a blessing. The Rebbe asked the boy in Yiddish – “Vus is dain Numen – what is your name?”

The boy froze as he was mesmerized by the Rebbe, and did not respond.

So the Rebbe asked again, this time in Ivrit – Hebrew, “Mah Hasheim Shelacha? – what is your name?”

The child finally got the courage to respond said to the Rebbe, “Ich Vais Yiddish – I understand Yiddish!” (you don’t have to speak in Hebrew)!

The Rebbe responded in his inimitable sharp manner, which penetrated and stayed with the child for the rest of his life. The Rebbe cried out: “Yiddish, daf men nish visin – Yiddish you don’t have to know.” – “Yiddish darf men zein – Yiddish (Jewish) you have to be!”

In this week’s Portion the Torah details the offerings and gifts that each prince of the Tribes of Israel contributed to the dedication of the newly erected Tabernacle.

Interestingly, although they each brought a personal gift, each prince offered the exact same gifts. The Torah uncharacteristically repeats the details of each of the prince’s gifts. Why?

Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin o.b.m. explains that had each of the tribes offered a different gift, the Torah would surely have listed each one. So now, even though they were all identical, since each one gave his gift personally, the Torah still lists it.

Why didn’t they change the details of their gifts? An answer offered is that when the first prince of the Tribe of Yehudah contributed his gifts, they saw that each detail of his gift had a deep and true symbolism that encompassed all the facets that needed to be represented. They felt that his gift reached the pinnacle of their spiritual goal and they did not feel they had to outdo one another.

Our silent daily Amida prayers share the same idea. We all stand silently enunciating the words that our Great Sages composed – we may have different needs in mind but we say the same words as everyone else. Some may take a longer time or sway more intensely. The bottom line is that we all have a unified and perfect structure of prayer to which G-d listens and responds!