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Bless You!

Brachos are not just reserved for Elul; throughout the year, we’ve been privileged to receive brachos from various sources

The Yamim Noraim are far behind us, but we Sisters are still basking in the glow of what we call oonvinch phone calls. That’s when we “vinch” each other, bless each other, with brachos for the new year that range from the serious to the silly, from the mundane to the momentous.

We generally start with giving each other the brachah of GEFEN, the Yiddish acronym for Gezundt, Parnassah, Nachas. The Basics.

Next, details. All our bakashos should be answered. Hashem should grant us everything we ask for — and He should also give us the things we don’t even realize we need.

Then we move on to our half-serious, half-joking family brachah: We should kimmen tzum seichel (come to our senses) bimheirah beyameinu (quickly and in our days.) Umein!

On to the next brachah: we should celebrate simchahs together. Which brings us to… swimming — we should celebrate simchahs and “schvim-chas”! (Ever notice that in Hebrew the words for pool and blessing — bereichah and brachah — are almost identical?)

We end with one final brachah: We should continue to Schmooze together — on the phone, through Zoom, in person, and in Family First!

Yet brachos are not just reserved for Elul; throughout the year, we’ve been privileged to receive brachos from various sources — friends, family, rebbeim, and even mekubalim. Join us as we recall them.

And, though it’s a bit late for a proper oonvinch call, we’d like to extend our own brachos for GEFEN plus to all our readers.


Miriam talks about...

My Two Little Brachos


Hashem, we know, isn’t an ATM machine: stick a segulah in the slot, key in a brachah in place of the passcode, and voilà! — instant refuos, yeshuos, shidduchim.

It doesn’t work like that. And yet, sometimes…


When Husband and I moved to Eretz Yisrael years ago, we already knew that the blessing of children wasn't going to be simple for us. There are, we knew, three partners in every child, and since two of the partners were in trouble, we were going to turn to our third Partner for help. We were going to the land of kivrei tzaddikim, gedolei Yisrael, and miracles, and we were going to use that opportunity to the fullest.

And we did. We davened at the kever of the Arizal on his yahrtzeit. We went to Meron on Lag B’omer. We rode to the Kosel on the unforgettable Bus #1, flying through the Old City, barely missing scraping the roof of the bus on the arches. We discussed our problems with Mamma Rochel in Beit Lechem and the Avos in Chevron.

We didn’t turn only to those in Shamayim. We stood at the sickbed of the famed kabbalist Rav Kadouri, got a brachah and a bit of gentle mussar from a talmid of the Chofetz Chaim, said specific chapters of Tehillim that chassidic rebbes recommended. Husband drank water that Baba Sali gave him, and I munched on ground gemstones (no taste, weird feeling).

We heard about a man named Rabbi Moshe Ben Tov. He lived in Beer Sheva and was a close disciple of Baba Sali. He was known as the “Ro’eh Hamezuzot — the Seer of Mezuzahs.” People came to him from all over Eretz Yisrael. They handed him their mezuzahs and waited anxiously to see what he’d tell them as he bent over and discovered the secrets that those parchments held.

It’s been more than four decades, and memories have faded. I have a dim recollection of eyes both piercing and kind, a simple apartment. He looked at our mezuzahs and gave us detailed — and surprising — instructions. We were to buy a silver kos and have it inscribed with very specific Hebrew words.

We did what he’d asked us to do and put the kos away.

We couldn’t let one Partner do all the work; we had to contribute as well. So along with our spiritual hishtadlus, we explored many medical and legal avenues.

And so a few years after we’d come to Eretz Yisrael, we left to pick up the beautiful baby boy we would be adopting. We chose his name on the plane. Yisrael, we decided, to remind us that we hoped one day to return to our beloved land. And, remembering that my grandfather Hashem yikom damo and my husband’s great-grandfather were both named Yisrael Moshe, we added the name Moshe — which is what he prefers to be called.

Three years later, it was time to choose a name for our next little boy. Having lost so many relatives in the Holocaust, there were plenty of relatives for whom he could have been named. But none of them seemed quite right.

Suddenly we knew what we’d call this baby. We had said so much Tehillim waiting for him, and we wanted to thank the Sweet Singer. David, we said. The perfect name for this perfect boy.


The years passed, and it was time to return to Eretz Yisrael. As we packed up our possessions, we found a small cardboard box. Opening it, we discovered the kos the Ro’eh Hamezuzot had told us to purchase; the kos we’d completely forgotten about in the excitement of adopting children, starting careers, becoming a family.

We looked at the inscription, and we knew we were seeing some kind of wondrous Hashgachah. What had Rabbi Moshe Ben Tov asked us to write?

“For the bris of the child David and Moshe.”


No, Hashem isn’t an ATM machine. But sometimes, with all the brachos and segulos, and tefillos, the answer is… yes.

And that’s the story of our two blessings — Moshe and David.


Marcia gets an unusual…

Brachah from a Rebbe


I’m on a Zoom call with my techie guru. We share screens, and he magically takes over my cursor, fixing the latest glitches on my new computer.

A knock at the door.

“I’ll get rid of whoever’s there, Chaim, and be right back.”

It’s a meshulach, and he wants to come in. I explain that I’m alone in the house and don’t allow anyone in.

He answers in Yiddish: “Iz Shloimeh Zalmen du?”

Wait a minute. How does he know my husband Sheldon’s name? Clearly, not your usual meshulach.

I explain that my husband passed away more than two years ago. Visibly shaken, he starts firing questions in Yiddish: When was he niftar? What’s his yahrtzeit? What was the English date?

I try to answer as patiently as I can. I explain that someone’s waiting for me on a Zoom call. He leaves.

An hour later I get a call from my son-in-law. He tells me that a famous rebbe from Israel is in his yeshivah and is asking all sorts of questions about Sheldon. The rebbe is on his much-awaited annual visit to the DC area — he missed 2020 because of Covid — and people are clamoring to get appointments for brachos, for advice about their problems. Yet he wants to set up an appointment to meet… with me!

The rebbe arrives next day at the appointed time — and I see before me yesterday’s “meshulach.” Now I recognize him. Sheldon used to invite him in every year. They’d spend time sitting at the table, talking. I’d never participated.

Now it’s my turn to sit at the table with him, with the front door open.

We converse in Yiddish. A gentle conversation with a gentle person. Every few minutes his cell phone rings. Since his translator/gabbai/driver/secretary is outside waiting in the car, the rebbe asks me to answer. I help schedule various brachah appointments.

I confess: I’ve never quite understood why so many Yidden — including Sheldon a”h — feel the need to seek out a brachah from a rebbe. But these callers, many obviously light years apart from the yeshivah world, are so eager to talk with the rebbe. Makes me wonder….


The rebbe pulls out his notes. Lists of Hebrew names. One by one, we go over names. My three older children. Their spouses. Their children. The rebbe keeps giving brachos to them all.

Then he pulls out a familiar-looking tri-folded paper brochure. Its cover has a color photo of a chassan and kallah. Wait — that’s Leah, my fourth child, with her husband Josh! It’s a bentsher made by my mechutanim five years ago, when they hosted a sheva brachos for the new couple.

The bentsher’s cover has handwritten notes — more Hebrew-lettered names. Wait — that’s Sheldon’s handwriting! Obviously, he’d given the rebbe this memento, with the names of our children and grandchildren. Under the chassan/kallah photo is the name “Raizel” — Leah and Josh’s little girl, named after both my mother and mother-in-law a”h.

Under Raizel’s name are three dots.

The rebbe then pulls out something else: a stack of photocopied checks — every donation Sheldon ever made for the rebbe’s yeshivah. He points to the top check. Again, he asks for the exact English date of Sheldon’s petirah.

Puzzled, I answer, “March 31, 2019.”

He points to the date on the check: a day in January 2019. Two months before Sheldon was niftar.

He then points to the three dots Sheldon wrote on the bentsher.

And suddenly I connect the dots. I look into his eyes, and both of us have tears running down our faces as I inform him, “You can write the name ‘Shlomo Zalman’ under those dots.”

When Sheldon added those dots, he knew that Leah was in the early months of her second pregnancy — and he knew how ill he was. Was he wondering… Will that child bear my name?


Before leaving, the rebbe gives me an unsolicited brachah for arichus yamim. Then he adds a brachah that should always go hand in hand with arichus yamim: as I age, I should remain independent. He notes that my maiden name — Stark — is Shtark in Yiddish. Translation: strong.

His parting words: Gezundt und shtark. Shtark gezundt.

Guess I’m now an official Rebbe Brachah Seeker.


Emmy Leah relates…

A Tale of Two Blessings


A rebbe gives his chassid a brachah for parnassah: A new client calls the next day. A mekubal blesses a couple: A child is born the following year. The stories are legendary….

But what about stories of “ordinary” people whose brachos show extraordinary results?


Story Number One:

Aviva, a beautiful kallah, stands under her chuppah. During the ceremony, the sky turns shades of pink, a magnificent sunset contrasting with the darkening green of the trees in the forests of the Judean Mountains, Harei Yehudah.

Shortly before, at the badeken, Aviva’s best friend Nechama whispered in her ear: pray for me to find my bashert. Aviva looked at her and said — you’ll find him. B’ezrat Hashem, you’ll find him this year.

Fast-forward to Aviva’s first anniversary. Which she celebrates… at Nechama’s wedding. A blessing come true.

The story doesn’t end there. For four years, Aviva and Nechama share their anniversaries, with Nechama’s one year behind. But Aviva just gave birth to her second child, a boy, and Nechama hasn’t been blessed with children.

At the bris, Nechama asks Aviva if she and her husband can be kvater and kvaterin. Aviva agrees and gives the couple a brachah. They bring the baby on the lacy pillow to the sandek… and nine months later, Nechama gives birth to a healthy baby girl. Mazel tov!


Story Number Two:

The protagonists in this story aren’t best friends: far from it. Leah is a college lecturer, taking a course in educational administration. Amnon, also an academic, is taking the same two-year course. Besides that, they share nothing in common. Amnon is a left-wing Israeli college instructor: non- (anti-?) religious, post-Zionist, radical leftist politically. Leah, a frum woman, is Amnon’s polar opposite.

Did I say they share nothing? Not quite. They share a weekly “tremp,” with Amnon dropping Leah off at Tel Aviv’s train station. For all their differences, both are friendly, nonconfrontational types. During their short weekly drives together, they tacitly agree not to talk politics or religion.

Which leaves the weather, traffic, vacations… and family. At least, Leah speaks about her family. Amnon never says much.

On this particular day, Leah is bubbling. A new grandson had been born. The whole clan is coming for the bris. Where to put them all? What to feed them?

Suddenly, Leah realizes that Amnon is quieter than usual.

“So, Amnon, tell me about your family.”

That’s when she finds out. No children. Year after year, miscarriage after miscarriage. A short ride becomes very long when the car is fueled by sadness….

Leah swallows hard.

“Amnon,” she says, “I know you don’t share my beliefs. I don’t even know if you believe in G-d. But I believe that at the moment of a bris, Hashem answers prayers. If it’s okay with you, please tell me your wife’s name, and her mother’s name, and I will pray for you.”

Now it’s Amnon’s turn to swallow hard — and to tell Leah his wife’s name, asking for prayer and blessing.

The moment of the bris, an eis ratzon. Leah prays for Amnon and his wife.

Two months later, the students in the course share their vacation plans. Being Israeli academics, all are heading to conferences and vacations outside Israel. All but Leah, who hates leaving the country she loves, and Amnon — who announces that they’ll be staying home… because of his wife’s pregnancy.

And yes, next semester, Amnon announces the birth of his son, Matan.

Leah quietly walks over to Amnon and says simply: Amnon, you remember that I prayed for this. And Amnon quietly answers, “Yes, I remember.”


I can’t help wondering — what gave these ordinary people an extraordinary response to their brachos?

Aviva is a very loving young woman — perhaps her concern for her friend’s happiness at the time of her own reached great heights in Heaven. And Leah felt bad that her cheerful chatter about family had caused a suffering Amnon extra pain: Perhaps that’s why her prayers and blessings were especially strong.

I’ll never really be certain about the how and why of these fulfilled brachos. But one thing I am certain of: These stories aren’t legends — they really did happen.

Because they happened to my daughter, Aviva. And to me (Emmy) Leah.

May we always share blessings.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 765)

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