A Life Lesson Comes Full Circle

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Shabbos Candles
06 Aug 2010

Sharone was my teacher that summer. She came to us along with three other bright young women from seminaries in Israel to hone their teaching skills in Jewish Atlanta. Their foray into the thick heat of our city, suffering yet another year of drought, poured refreshing insights and quenching words of Torah into a community of women thirsty for its wisdom.

It was an intense and uplifting period, with classes every morning and evening that we could not bear to miss. The teachers’ schedules were packed as they worked hard to satisfy our requests for individualized lessons on parsha, women’s mitzvot, Hebrew, Pirkei Avot and more. Each week the 40 or so of their student-moms (like me), singles of all ages, and even our grandmothers, came together for Shalosh Seudos in one of our homes. Then our young and beautiful teachers led us in zemirot and nourished us with morsels of Divrei Torah in the slowly, waning Shabbos afternoons that we never wanted to end.

Torah in Atlanta blossomed that summer under the tutelage of these able women. On every block, in dozens of homes, they were helping us to reclaim our heritage. They nurtured our understanding that the middos we refine and mitzvos we observe today, not only enhance our relationship with our Creator, but they also bear fruit in yet another generation of children who will learn and grow in Torah.

Eyes flashing intelligence and her smile wide with warmth, Sharone quickly found her way into our hearts. Each of us thought we were Sharone’s special student, but probably her favorite group to learn with was the “bubbies.”

The “bubbies” were proof that it’s never too late to reclaim our heritage. They were the friends of Mrs. Weiselman (A”H), who opened her home each week to half a dozen women with limited Jewish background but a great amount of interest (and although I won’t give away their ages, the Shulchan Aruch says we must stand when most of these women enter a room). A treasured relationship was growing between the “bubbies” and their young teacher. She shared her knowledge with an enthusiasm that was magnetic, often weaving in personal stories to emphasize the points she was trying to make. They shared with her their combined centuries of wisdom, gleaned from lives well lived.

As the summer came to a close, Mrs. Weiselman decided to invite a young neighbor to join the very last meeting of these special women. Julie and her husband had recently purchased their home from a couple whose story typified Jewish life after the war. Holocaust survivors, they raised three sons without access to a Jewish education; sadly, two had intermarried. This was the trend we, with our learning, were trying to reverse.

The “bubbies” were thrilled to have another young face at the table. They had been poring over the Parsha of Yitro and had finally reached the giving of the Ten Commandments. Sharone thought it was appropriate to leave them with a mitzvah they all could connect to and deepen their appreciation for, “Zachor Es Yom Ha-Shabbos L’kadsho.” Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy. To punctuate how vital the Shabbos is to the eternity of the Jewish people, she shared a personal story, as told to her by her own bubby:

“My grandmother and her sister were counted among the survivors of World War II. After the war, my grandmother and her husband arrived in Israel. It was not easy to rebuild their shattered lives. Food was scarce and living conditions were wretchedly inadequate. Meanwhile, Bubby’s sister married and made her way to America. Sometimes, they were able to send my grandparents money. But as living in Israel became progressively more difficult, my grandfather sent Bubby to see how her sister was faring and to see they should also consider relocating to America.

Bubby found her sister and family living in comfort; they owned a modest home and had plenty to eat. On Shabbos, however, that home did not glow with mitzvah observance. The meat on the table was not kosher, even though my great-uncle had been trained as a schochet. My grandmother wrote all this in a letter to my grandfather. When he told her to take the first boat back to Israel, she was not surprised.”

Sharone continued, “It was hard, but eventually, they were able to make ends meet and build a fine life in Israel. My grandparents’ children all married Jews and today, they have many observant grandchildren. Our family here in America did not fare so well, and most of the children intermarried.”

Tears filled the eyes of many in the room. “Zachor Es Yom Ha-Shabbos L’Kadsho.” Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy. More than the Jew keeps the Sabbath, it is the Sabbath that keeps the Jew. After seeing their reaction, Sharon added, “There is one more thing you might want to know. My great-aunt in is a nursing home here in Atlanta, and I am going to visit her this afternoon. “

Mrs. Weiselman then spoke up, “ Sharone, do you mind if I ask your aunt’s name?”

“Lillian Gold*,” she replied.

Mrs. Weiselman took a deep breath, in a shaking voice she said, “Sharone, your aunt is my dear friend. Look out of the window,” She pointed to the house directly across the street, “that is where she lived for forty years. We were neighbors, and now, I visit her every week.”

Julie, too, was visibly shaken and crying. “ I have something for you,” she said, and then proceeded to walk out of the front door across the lawn to her home, the very house toward which Mrs. Weiselman had pointed.

The women sat around the table speechless, stunned by the coincidence. Sharone’s grandmother and great aunt Lillian, both survived the fires of Hitler (Y”S). Their lives took separate paths, but now, fifty years later, a young guest teacher sat in a sunny suburban living room looking across the street at the very house her grandmother had visited; where she made the pivotal decision to reject the perceived security of the golden medina and accept a more difficult life, albeit one with a much brighter future for her children.

Julie returned moments later, cradling several items in her arms. “These are yours,” she carefully placed the objects on the table before Sharone. “They were left in the house after the movers took all the belongings. I called, but the family never came to claim them…until now.”

Before Sharone’s eyes, there rested a worn sefer on ritual slaughter and a candelabra. Inscribed on the base of the candelabra were the words “Zachor Es Yom Ha-Shabbos L’kadsho.” Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy. Sharone had helped dozens of women she’d never met before, in a city far from her own home, lay claim to their legacy– in the very neighborhood her own relatives became lost to theirs! Placed before her were the objects of their inheritance: Kashrus and Shabbos.

She was the survivor.

*not her real name

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.