| Shul with a View |

A Closed Book

The Rav told my father that learning the sefer would keep our family connected to Yiddishkeit in America


“Are you by any chance a rabbi?” 

I realized my cover was blown. Try as I might to remain incognito, the older man had outed me.

I was spending a rare Shabbos away from the shul at a family simchah. I had awoken early to take advantage of the unusually warm late October weather with a walk around the neighborhood.

Some cyclists sped by, and some older adults were enjoying the pastoral setting. As an elderly gentleman passed me, I smiled and said good morning. 

He replied, “Shabbat Shalom.”

I answered him accordingly, and then he said, “Is it too early to wish you a happy Chanukah? I know it’s about a month away, but who knows if I’ll be here tomorrow?”

It was then that he asked if I was a rabbi. Confronted with a specific and direct indictment, I answered in the affirmative.

“My name is Moishe Katz. But people around here call me Mo.”

“Nice to meet you, Mr. Katz.”

“Please, call me Moishe. I haven’t been called that in a long time.”

“Where were you born, Reb Moishe?”

“Oy, please don’t call me Reb. I’m just a pashute Yid named Moishe. I was born in a very small shtetl in Lita called Eishyshok in 1929. In 1938, my parents and I managed to come here.”

“You grew up in Eishyshok? You must have many stories to share with your grandchildren.”

Moishe Katz said sadly, “Actually, I have no grandchildren. I wanted so much to be American. In 1950 I joined the US Army and served in Korea. While I was there, I met a local girl, and against my parents’ wishes, I married her. After the war, we returned here, and we never had children. My wife passed away five years ago, so I’m all alone. I have nothing. No family, no heritage, no Yiddishkeit.”

“Moishe, you can always come back. It’s never too late," I said.

“It’s too late for me. I live with an aide, and I rarely go out on my own. When I saw you, you reminded me of how my zeide looked in Eishyshok.”

“Do you remember anything else from Eishyshok?” I asked.

“Before we left the town, Rav Shimon Rozowski [Hy”d] gave my father a sefer. The Rav told my father that learning the sefer would keep our family connected to Yiddishkeit in America. My father took the sefer. But since he was forced to work seven days a week, I don’t think he ever opened it.”

“Do you remember which sefer it was?”

“I don’t. I still have it, though. I’ve also never opened it. If you want, I can show it to you.”

I memorized his address. After Shabbos, I drove to Moishe’s home.

He was waiting for me with the sefer in hand. I took the tattered book and turned its brittle pages. I came to an epigraph by the author: “This sefer contains fundamental Jewish concepts. It will help those who go to remote communities maintain their Yiddishkeit.”

As I read those words, Moishe began to cry. “Who knows how different my life would be now if only I had learned that sefer! Please tell me the name of the sefer and its author.”

“The sefer is called Nidchei Yisrael, and its author is the Chofetz Chaim.”

“I never heard of him, but he must have been a prescient man. Rabbi, please take the sefer. I am sure you can use it, and you’ll save it from the trash bin after I die.”

I thanked Moishe Katz for the sefer and bid him goodbye, promising to stay in touch.

As I exited the house, my right hand automatically reached up to touch the mezuzah. Alas, there was nothing there. —


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 887)

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