As the years pass, there are some numbers in our consciousness that stand out on their own. Eight accounts, from one to eight
Project Coordinator: Rachel Bachrach
As the years pass, there are some numbers in our consciousness that stand out on their own — maybe it’s the number of children we were blessed with, the number of days we spent waiting for a medical diagnosis, the number of years we held out for a shidduch. As we watch our flames rise and flicker, adding an additional measure of light each night, do any of those numbers hold a special place in your heart?
By Mindel Kassorla
It’s All in the Detail
the kitchen shelf just above my sink, among a clutter of prescriptions and pens and pins, sits a bright green mug with a white strip across the bottom. The text in the white strip reads “Green Pantone no. 376C.” That refers to the Pantone number — a universal color code used by printers and graphic artists — of the mug’s bright green hue.
This mug is a decade-old birthday gift from my coworkers at the Jerusalem graphic design studio where I worked for over seven years. Even though the owner, Ben Gasner, has since retired and we’ve all moved on, the mug still reminds me of what I learned working under my boss Ben: Precision, attention, and detail, in all areas.
On my first day in Ben’s office, I was instructed to prepare a project for the final printing. It was a fundraising ad for B’ezri/American Friends of Yad Eliezer, and it was just about done, save for a few minor text corrections. We had received a printed proof of the ad that morning, and Ben stood there looking at it as if through a magnifying glass. He turned the sheet this way and that, peering at the colors and images in the studio light.
I opened the raw file on the computer. Ben stood behind me, looking at the screen as I lowered and raised the tint of a blue bar of color across the page. I moved the slider to the right.
“No, slow down,” he instructed. “Just one percent more of the color, that’s all.”
So ever-so-slowly, with my hand nervously poised on the mouse, I increased the color tint by one measly percent. Then two percent. Then down two percent. Up one percent.
This is a little nutty, I thought. I could see no difference between each move of the slider.
But the sharp eye of this creative genius detected the slightest adjustments.
Later that day, Ben asked me to shift an object on the screen over “one more to the right.” I moved it one centimeter.
“In this office, we work in millimeters,” he said with a smile.
Precision, detail, attention.
Ben’s attention to detail in no way detracted from his attentiveness to every person he encountered. He put up with our idiosyncrasies on a daily basis, and showed in so many ways how much he cared about us as individuals. Ben gave us bonuses before each Yom Tov, days off when we needed, and a parshah derashah break every Thursday, complete with his own chiddushei Torah.
I’ll never forget the winter of 2013, when I was stuck in the maternity ward at Bikur Cholim hospital with my baby in the NICU, and, due to one of the worst snowstorms Israel has ever seen, no visitors aside from my husband. Ben and his wife Dvora — both in their late 60s at the time — trekked through the snow from Shaarei Chesed to Strauss Street.
“Bubby and Zeidy are here for a visit,” they told the staff.
Precision, attention, detail.
But the moment that made the biggest impression on me was the time a huge mistake in a file I sent to print caused Ben a significant financial loss. I anxiously waited for the man who thought in millimeters to exactingly deduct the loss from my salary — but Ben barely even mentioned the fiasco to me. He didn’t want to make me feel any worse than I already did.
Once again, Ben — “Shift it over one millimeter” Ben — showed me the value of precision, that when you pay attention to the nitty-gritty details, sensitivity is best measured in millimeters.
Mindel Kassorla is a seminary mechaneches and graphic designer in Jerusalem.
As told by Eli Schlossberg to Sandy Eller
They Came to Learn
been almost 60 years, but I can still see them clearly.
It was February 1966, and even though it was the middle of the winter and there was snow on the ground, someone had opened the windows of our ninth-grade classroom to let in the fresh air.
We needed that fresh breeze; there was a heaviness that permeated every corner of our yeshivah building on that day. To be honest, it had nothing to do with the weather.
I was a student at Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim – Talmudical Academy of Baltimore, Maryland, a wonderful place that drew boys from the local community and beyond. While TA had a dormitory, an eight-alarm fire two years prior had left the school unable to house all of its out-of-town talmidim. Instead, some stayed in rebbeim’s houses, including three who slept in the Park Heights Avenue home of my rebbi, Rabbi Boruch Milikowsky.
A musmach of the Mir who had learned in the yeshivah as it transitioned from Europe to Shanghai and then to New York, Rabbi Milikowsky was that rare European rebbi who could relate to American boys, and it was only logical for him to become the mashgiach of all of the out of towners, whether they stayed in the dorm or in private homes.
And then one night, the unthinkable happened. A fast-moving fire broke out at the Milikowsky residence in the predawn hours. Rebbi, his wife, and their four children made it out safely, as did one of their TA boarders. But Rabbi Milikowsky was beside himself knowing that the other two boys, 14-year-old cousins Shmuel Katz from the Bronx, New York, and Meir Katz from Clifton, New Jersey, were trapped on the second floor. He tried to go back into the house to save them, but the fire was so intense, firefighters literally had to restrain him because there was no safe way to rescue the boys.
By the time they were brought to Sinai Hospital some 90 minutes later, there was nothing the doctors could do.
I’ll never forget the atmosphere the next morning in TA. Almost all of us had heard about the fire on the news. We knew there were two fatalities, but hearing the names of the victims when we got to school plunged us into a sea of grief.
I played knock-hockey with Meir a few days ago, I couldn’t stop thinking.
It was just days after Tu B’Shevat, but in TA it felt like Tishah B’Av. Back then, there were no trauma teams and grief counselors, and we students all walked around in a daze, hoping to wake up from the nightmare that our lives had become.
Well, not all of us. There was one person who wasn’t walking around TA at all and whose absence was very obvious — Rabbi Milikowsky. Rebbi didn’t show up to yeshivah that day, or the next, or even the one after that. It must have been four or five days until he finally came back.
A collective hush enveloped the room the day Rabbi Milikowsky returned. For a moment, it felt like we were all holding our breaths, afraid that saying or doing the wrong thing would only add to Rebbi’s palpable grief. He was a shell of his former self, his face swollen and his eyes completely bloodshot. Even to a bunch of teenage boys, it was obvious that Rabbi Milikowsky had probably shed more tears in the past few days than he had in his entire life, which is saying a lot for someone who lived through World War II. Rebbi was completely tzubrochen. To add insult to injury, he had lost his dentures in the fire, making the simple act of speaking difficult.
Did any of us understand just how much it had taken for Rabbi Milikowsky to pull himself together enough to come to yeshivah? Probably not. But we all knew instinctively that we needed to be on our best behavior.
I watched Rebbi up close from my seat on the left side of his desk — a location that afforded him the ability to give me a well-deserved but loving zetz when I was out of line without having to get up from his chair — and, as the morning passed, I could see up close how shattered he was.
Still, Rebbi was there to teach and we were there to learn, so we forged ahead, doing the best we could under extremely difficult circumstances. It was during Chumash when I looked up and saw two pigeons perched on the ledge outside the open window. Far from the grey color that you typically associate with pigeons, these two birds were white and small. There was something very pure-looking about them.
I glanced at Rebbi and saw that, like me, he, too, had seen the pigeons. Tears welled up in his eyes as he looked at the two birds.
“The neshamos have come to learn,” he said softly.
And then just like that, it was over. The pigeons flew away and Rabbi Milikowsky continued teaching.
As the only student sitting close enough to Rebbi to hear the words he’d said under his breath, no one but I was aware of what happened. But for the rest of my life, I will never forget how Rebbi felt the presence of his two lost students on that day, taking comfort in the fact that their neshamos had returned to TA, even if just for a moment, to learn.
Eli W. Schlossberg is a Baltimore business executive and community askan. He is the author of The World of Orthodox Judaism (Jason Aronson 1995) and My Shtetl Baltimore (Targum Press 2017).
By Rabbi Yosef Sorotzkin
IT took three months for the truth to hit me.
When my wife, Leah, was diagnosed with a fatal illness, we decided to travel from our home in Israel to New York for treatment. I dispersed my younger children among family in Israel so I could accompany my wife to America unencumbered and dedicate myself to her care without distraction.
That didn’t work out. Finding out your mother is sick is difficult enough, but to have both of your parents snatched thousands of miles away just pulls the rug out from under your feet. Our seven unmarried children, ranging in age from five to 20, weren’t doing well, and their hosts urged me to bring them to America, where they could be closer to me and to our two married daughters in Brooklyn and Lakewood.
I rented a basement apartment in Boro Park, registered the children in local schools, and set up house. Every morning I’d put them on the school bus before taking the Bikur Cholim bus to Memorial Sloan Kettering. I made every effort to be back by the time my younger ones returned, but that wasn’t always possible, so we had a rotation of babysitters. My mother-in-law tried to bring dinner most nights, but that didn’t always work, so there were other volunteers. There were also various tutors to help the children with their homework.
We were blessed with the beneficence of friends and family; it was Klal Yisrael at its finest. But our children felt like gypsies, never knowing who would greet them when they came home, nor who would feed them and do homework with them. They desperately craved stability.
After Leah’s petirah several months later, we stayed in New York, where my children now had friends and were comfortable in school. I was determined to give our family the stability we’d been lacking.
I will be their father and mother, I thought. I’ll tend to all their needs.
When I caught my children crying I assured them it was okay. I took them to a therapist who specializes in grief and loss, and he did exercises with them like writing a letter to their mother, which revealed unexpressed pain.
I come from a can-do family. Our parents instilled in us the conviction that with determination we can accomplish anything — and determined I was. Over the next couple of months, I forged ahead with confidence that I was doing a great job infusing our home with simchah.
Then one evening, my five-year old son began vomiting. This was a pure Ima situation — I’d never dealt with this, and I really didn’t know where to start.
Do you clean him or do you bring him to the toilet so he can finish vomiting? I thought frantically. How do you know when he’s finished? How do you clean up the bed while comforting a distressed child?
My son sensed that I was unsure and out of my element, that his confident, capable father was suddenly a klutz.
“Ima, I want Ima,” he wailed.
The realization hit me like a ton of bricks: I will never be an Ima.
Our family needed a real live Ima, not a make-believe mom.
The next day, three months after Leah’s petirah, I called my children together. I was determined to make this a family project and not a dark hidden secret.
“You children need a new mother,” I said. “Should I start looking for one?” (I did not say, “I need to remarry” — I still could not allow myself to think in that direction.)
“Abba, that’s a good idea,” my older children said. They were very supportive.
But the younger ones were more apprehensive. “What will happen to Ima once we have a new mommy?” they asked fearfully.
“Ima will always have a place in our home,” I assured them.
Next, out of consideration of her raw feelings, I went to speak to my mother-in-law. I told her what happened, and added my concern that at her age, carrying the burden of surrogate Ima to my children was too much. “My children need a mother,” I ended my little speech.
My mother-in-law looked me straight in the eye and declared, “And you need a wife.”
I was taken aback by her blunt statement, but it served as a reality check. Perhaps — rather conveniently — I had been hiding behind my children. This thought demanded introspection.
Maybe I do need a wife, I thought. I don’t want a mother for my children — in fact, what I want is a wife who will be a good mother to my children.
This was an epiphany, but then I felt guilty.
Isn’t three months too soon for that?
The question loomed.
As long as this was about the children, no one — including me — could question the timing. But how could a grieving husband consider replacing his beloved wife after only three short months?
I phoned my brother Dr. Benzion Sorotzkin, a respected psychologist in yeshivish circles.
“The happier the marriage, the more anxious one is to repeat the experience,” he explained (there are studies that back this observation).
And so I entered the world of shidduchim. Six months later, I married Chana, and we have a unique home in which Leah has had a place of honor from the beginning. Over the years, the children would speak about their “Ima in Shamayim” and the “mother who is raising us.” When he lived at home, my son made a yahrtzeit siyum every year, catered by Chana, and he would get up to speak about his two mothers. Every yahrtzeit, Chana has sent me off to be with my children at Leah’s kever.
My marriage to Chana was the right move at the right time, giving our family a new lease on life. It may have been only three months between Leah’s petirah and when I started dating, but that timeframe was appropriate — not just for my children, who needed a mother — but for me, who needed a wife.
When I was contemplating reentering shidduchim, I had this imaginary conversation with Leah, seeking her sage counsel. True to her selfless and caring nature, Leah encouraged me.
“My mother is right” — she really enjoyed saying that — “you need a wife. Go for it — even if it’s been only three months.”
Rabbi Yosef Sorotzkin is the rosh yeshivah of Meor Eliyohu in Kiryat Telz Stone, Israel, and the author of Meged Yosef Al HaTorah.
By Rabbi Moshe Dov Heber
One sunny winter day a few years ago, I was teaching Chumash to my sixth grade class in Yeshiva K’tana of Waterbury in Waterbury, Connecticut. We were learning parshas B’haalosecha and I was going to present the Rashi on Korban Pesach and Pesach Sheini that explains why the parshah of Korban Pesach is related here, even though it actually happened before the counting of Bnei Yisrael in the beginning of Sefer Bamidbar.
Rashi explains the concept of “Ein mukdam ume’uchar baTorah,” the events of the Torah aren’t necessarily relayed in chronological order, rather they’re arranged in the order Hashem wants. In this case, Hashem wants to start with something that reflects positively on Klal Yisrael — the counting of Bnei Yisrael — and not the Korban Pesach, of which they brought only one over the course of 40 years in the desert, a fact that doesn’t reflect positively on Klal Yisrael.
I stood in front of my talmidim, but I was transported to my fourth-grade classroom in Yeshivas Kochav Yitzchok of Baltimore, Maryland, a quarter-century ago. Near the blackboard stood my legendary rebbi, Rabbi Boruch Braun.
Rabbi Braun was way ahead of his time, using innovative methods to keep us involved. He made the pesukim in parshas Mishpatim come alive with animated storytelling, so much so that many of his talmidim, decades later, can recount the tales he spun. There was the one where the shogeg killed the meizid in the hotel, and the one with the man who dug a hole in his neighbor’s property.
“He slowly makes his way through the tunnel, light affixed to his worker man’s hat,” Rebbi would say, walking around the classroom as he raised and lowered his voice just so.
Rabbi Braun showed such love, in all areas — even with his daily mug of coffee. He kept a coffeepot in the back of the classroom to brew fresh coffee daily, so every morning it was one boy’s job to fill the pot with fresh water. By nature, boys want to be involved in something unique that their beloved rebbi has in the classroom — it’s an extension of the relationship. Over the years, many students bought Rabbi Braun coffee mugs, and come Purim, a lot of us brought him coffee to brew in his classroom coffeepot.
Rabbi Braun prepared us for our years in yeshivah by focusing on fundamental concepts in Chumash and Mishnayos. He presented chart after chart to ensure we understood, really understood, the four shomrim and the different types of damages that come up all over Shas.
And one day, when we were learning about Matan Torah in parshas Mishpatim, Rebbi introduced this timeless concept: Ein mukdam ume’uchar baTorah, the Torah isn’t necessarily in chronological order.
It was a lesson Rabbi Braun drilled into us all year long.
“The Torah is exact, the Torah is perfect, in the order that Hashem made it,” he’d say. “It’s not necessarily in chronological order, which means the events are not recorded in the timeline order, but it is the right order!”
Now, close to 25 years later, I was about to introduce this yesod to my class. It’s not an easy concept to grasp, so it has to be explained with perfect clarity. Who better than Rabbi Braun himself to present it? I pulled out my phone and dialed my rebbi from long ago. Baruch Hashem, I caught him on a break.
With his permission, I put Rabbi Braun on speaker.
“I’m teaching parshas B’haalosecha, and we’re about to learn the Rashi with a yesod we reviewed many times,” I said. “Rebbi, can you please share this lesson with my talmidim?”
Without further elaboration, Rabbi Braun caught on, and the pleasure was evident as his voice filled the room.
“The Torah is exact, the Torah is perfect, in the order that Hashem made it. It’s not necessarily in chronological order, which means the events are not recorded in the timeline order, but it is the right order!”
Ever since then, every year when we get to this Rashi, we call my fourth-grade rebbi. And every year, after marveling that it feels like just yesterday that he was teaching their rebbi, Rabbi Braun happily explains this yesod to another class of my talmidim.
I close my eyes as he speaks to a new generation of boys with the same vigor and geshmak he did almost 25 years ago. I am in fourth grade again; I can almost smell the coffee in the back of the room. Rebbi to talmid, rebbi to talmid’s talmidim, the mesorah continues.
Rabbi Moshe Dov Heber is a middle school rebbi in Yeshiva K’tana of Waterbury, director of Boys Mishmar of Waterbury, and a division head in Camp Romimu.
As told by Yossi Ostreicher to Sandy Eller
Be My Guest
NOone should have to spend Shabbos or Yom Tov alone.
My wife, Aviva, and I have been hosting unmarried individuals — be they single, divorced, or widowed — for Shabbos each week for the past six years. The two of us have a great system in place: I do all the cooking, while Aviva bakes the challahs, cakes, and cookies. Our home in New City, New York, a Monsey-area community that has taken off pretty recently, can accommodate ten sleeping guests, although we sometimes put up more at neighbors and often have additional singles joining us for Shabbos meals.
We’ve been married for more than 11 years, but having gone through two divorces, I understand all too well how the most beautiful day of the week can be incredibly difficult for someone who is alone. Many singles don’t have where to go for Shabbos — and Shabbos comes every week, so even if you do get set up one week, it is the same challenge the following week, again and again and again.
But just before Pesach 2022 things changed. Until that point, we didn’t host singles for Yamim Tovim — we usually stayed home by ourselves — but that year, quite a few people had reached out to us for Yom Tov meals and accommodations. We decided that instead of hosting company for Yom Tov, we’d partially subsidize their stays at a Pesach program. I figured they would pay what they could, and I would come up with the rest. Somehow we made it work, placing 40 singles at a particular program that seemed to be a good fit.
It was the perfect solution — until the program closed unexpectedly right before Pesach. I started working the phones, making new arrangements for my singles. I also got calls from others who were stuck and, baruch Hashem, we helped set up 500 unmarried individuals in time for Pesach.
Last year, as spring rolled around, hosting request calls started coming in again. This time I had a different idea.
I know enough hosts, plus I can network to find people who will take in guests, I thought.
I created an ad and posted it on my WhatsApp status, figuring we were talking about a few hundred singles.
“If you have space in your house to take in guests, please reach out to us and let us know. Pesach is the hardest Yom Tov to be alone, so if you can take people in, please let us know how many guests you can host,” read the post, which ended up going viral.
And then I found myself facing an even bigger challenge: Most guest requests were from the tristate area, but there were plenty in Israel and London, too. There was even a mashgiach who got stuck in Germany and wasn’t able to fly home in time for Yom Tov (thankfully, I had a friend who lives right around the corner and was happy to host the mashgiach).
By the time Pesach was over, we had placed nearly 5,000 people who would have otherwise been alone, making obvious the need for a more formal system to accommodate the massive demand. With our significant hosting experience, we’d accumulated enough knowledge to understand what protocols would have to be put in place. Guests would have to be soft-screened, with necessary information taken down and references contacted. Hosts needed to be checked out as well, to ensure compatibility and other factors. And for the sake of efficiency, the process would need to be automated with a central database to keep track of our hosts and our guests, so we could arrange Shabbos meals for singles.
We officially launched Orchim.org two weeks after Pesach, complete with a board of directors and with Rabbi Usher Labin of Toms River, New Jersey, serving as our rav. Our website was up and running five weeks later, in time for Shavuos, with guests and hosts encouraged to register online.
We proudly advertise that we have 5,000+ families all over the world who are ready, willing, and able to host complete strangers in their home. In addition to vetting hosts and guests, Orchim’s staff of four plus its seven volunteers do a lot of legwork, reaching out to hosts on Mondays to find out if they are available for the coming Shabbos to get a clearer picture of how many singles we can accommodate each week.
Shabbos invites can be requested, accepted, and denied on the website, whose software compares addresses to place guests at meals that are close to home, affording them the opportunity to sleep in their own beds. Guests and hosts are asked to leave feedback on their shared Shabbos experience, with Orchim’s staff fine-tuning their information based on those responses so we can make even more targeted matches on subsequent Shabbosos.
Orchim currently places 7,000 guests each week. I’m grateful to friends who share Orchim’s messages on their WhatsApp status, an effort that gets significant responses, and marvel at board member David Ben Arush’s ability to find hosts in all locations, from Missouri to France and everywhere in between. That skill was a godsend for two Israeli bochurim vacationing in France several months ago who miscalculated their zemanim and found themselves far from their intended destination an hour before Shabbos. They contacted a friend in London, who reached out to Orchim. I didn’t have anyone there, but I posted a message on our WhatsApp groups.
“What’s their live location?” David Ben Arush asked. As soon as he saw my response, he shot back, “I have someone who lives 15 minutes away — he’ll take them in for Shabbos.”
Orchim’s services were also instrumental after the October 7th terror attacks, when many people who left Israel via Cyprus still had to find ways back to their respective homes. We were flooded with calls, making arrangements for close to 200 people who were suddenly spending Shabbos in a place where we’d never had hosts before. (Of course, I saved their contact information in case we ever get calls from Cyprus again.)
The story of a guest placed at a Ramat Eshkol home is another Orchim classic. Both he and the host had the same last name, and over Shabbos they discovered that they were actually first cousins who had never met before.
These types of stories are the icing on the cake. Because at the end of the day, Orchim isn’t about heaven-sent matches or last minute salvation. It’s about making sure that Shabbos is a highlight of the week for those whose lives aren’t always easy, matching them up with any one of 5,000 hosts around the world.
Yossi Ostreicher is the founder of Orchim and the original founder of Achim Baderech, an organization that supports divorced men.
By Bracha Rosman
took more than two decades to see tangible proof of the tzaddik’s greatness.
I gave birth to my fifth child, a boy, soon after my grandfather was niftar. I had a special bond with this grandfather, because my two sisters and I were the only living links to his son, my father, who died after a difficult illness at the young age of 27, when I was four years old.
My sisters and I often spent Shabbos in Baba and Zeidy Beer’s tiny Williamsburg apartment in the building on the corner of Bedford and Taylor. It was our most beloved place to be; they adored and pampered us as though we were royalty, and our visits infused them with life, resilience, and laughter. They were the epitome of love and simchas hachayim, never asking questions and accepting what Hashem gave them.
You can imagine my great joy and eagerness to give my new son Zeidy Beer’s name. I could hardly wait for the bris — for the name Yisrael to resonate at krias hasheim — a testimony of my love, respect, and gratitude to my grandfather.
I knew it would mean the world to Baba, too. I had a Shimi after her beloved son, my father, and now, I would have a Yisrael after her husband.
Of course, my husband and I called the Kashau Rebbe, Harav Refael Blum ztz”l, for his approval. He had been an important presence in our lives, guiding and bentshing us through the years. I closed my eyes as my husband spoke, not wanting to miss even a word. I waited for the Rebbe’s soft voice to give us a brachah and wish us mazel tov, but instead of his consent, the Rebbe asked if we had an alternative name. My surprised husband threw out the first name — a family name — that came to mind: “Moishe Aryeh.”
“Geb der numin Moishe Aryeh, give the name Moishe Aryeh. Se vet zein noch, you will have another son to name Yisrael.”
MY husband’s stunned face mirrored mine, but he didn’t question the Rebbe. He accepted what the Rebbe said: That our new son would be Moishe Aryeh and that we’d have another son, whom we’d name Yisrael.
I was shocked and terribly disappointed. But my feelings aside, there was another pressing matter at hand. What would I tell Baba?
While my grandmother never asked us what the baby’s name would be, she was flying to Los Angeles, where we lived, for the bris. Her husband had recently died. How could we give any name other than Yisrael?
I quickly mouthed two frantic words to my husband: “Baba’s coming.”
He gave me an assuring “I’ve got this” look while voicing my concern to the Rebbe. The Kashau Rebbe’s compassion and caring for another Jew was legendary. Of course, he would appreciate the gravity of the situation.
My husband carefully explained the situation. I held my breath and hoped, but it didn’t do any good. The Rebbe’s ruling didn’t change.
“Zorg zech nisht,” he said. “Zei vet farshtein — Don’t worry, she’ll understand.”
With that, we hung up. Tears prickled at the back of my eyes.
“Baruch Hashem, you were on the phone and heard every word,” my husband said. “There’s no way I would have been able to explain this to you, because I myself don’t understand. It was something you had to hear directly from the Rebbe.”
The Rebbe’s response had been loud and clear. Of that, there was no doubt. My heart, though, was having a hard time with it.
“He has never led us wrong,” my husband said. “Why would now be any different?”
“You’re a hundred percent right,” I responded.
Famous last words. The tears came anyway.
“I know you’re upset,” my husband said gently, “but emunas tzaddikim….”
His words slowly hit their mark. I dried my eyes and squared my shoulders.
I’m a believer, and believers can’t pick and choose to believe only when it’s convenient. After some soul-searching and a little disappointment squelching, I was okay.
My mindset changed to Moishe Aryeh. It was a nice name. Plus, we were given a consolation prize — a brachah for another son.
True to the Rebbe’s word, my grandmother was fine. She hugged me and celebrated.
Baruch Hashem, she lived to see our next son’s birth. We were delighted to name him Yisrael. So what if there were many Yisraels by now?
Fast-forward 20 years. Moishi, as we call him, is a chassan. His future father-in-law’s name is Yisrael.
It wasn’t until the vort that my husband and I remembered the conversation with the Rebbe — and we were floored. We would never have considered the shidduch had our son’s name been Yisrael.
Although the Rebbe was no longer with us, our admiration and reverence grew.
Great story. We thought so, too — but wait, there’s more.
Fast-forward another year. True to the Rebbe’s brachah, Sruli, our sixth child, became a chassan. And if you haven’t guessed it by now, his father-in-law’s name is Moishe!
Bracha Rosman lives in Los Angeles, California, where she is a freelance writer and author of 12 books for kids, teens, and adults.
By Ahava Ehrenpreis
iriam is hosting a get-together in her house tonight,” I told my neighbor. “We should go — it’s midweek, she might not have a big turnout.”
We’re a friendly block, and I know what it’s like to set up and hope people show up.
We walked into Miriam’s house together. I listened with a half an ear to the speaker, a young woman who shared the challenges — physical, emotional, and financial — of dealing with trying to start a family, something so many couples take as a given as their home fills year after year with new arrivals. But this soft-spoken young woman shared the other scenario: A constant cycle of raised hope and cruel disappointment, each procedure difficult, painful, and ending in failure, leaving the couple to face another Shabbos, another Yom Tov, another family simchah with new additions to every branch in the family but their own.
It was a scenario I could identify with, as my daughter and her husband had been married for seven years, watching siblings, neighbors, friends build their families with what seemed an ease taken for granted or at a speed that left them feeling “overburdened.”
I turned my attention away from the fruit platters and petit fours as the young woman began to speak about a rabbi she and her husband had met. Though this rabbi had never succeeded in starting a family of his own, he and his wife had used their experiences to form a support group and ultimately an organization to provide emotional support and medical advice to couples dealing with infertility.
With the help of this organization, the speaker and her husband have been blessed with a beautiful little girl, and since then, they’ve seen their family grow. She had come this evening to ask for help in a major fundraising effort, a Chinese auction in Flatbush, in an attempt to expand services and to help more couples with the massive financial costs required by many of the medical procedures.
After the meeting, I went over to the speaker. She gave me Rabbi Shlomo Bochner’s contact information, as well as a telephone number for Bonei Olam.
Though I tried to avoid sharing all the suggestions I often received from well-meaning friends, I wanted to follow up on the previous evening’s discussion. When I dialed the number the following day, Rabbi Bochner himself answered the phone. I told him a bit about my children. My son-in-law had made aliyah from after college, and when my daughter met him on a visit to Israel, he made it clear he would only consider a life in Israel. Since their marriage, they had encountered many challenges and setbacks in their attempts to build a family.
“Would they relocate to America to seek medical help here?” Rabbi Bochner suggested, the warmth and concern evident in his voice.
I told him I doubted that was realistic as they both had full-time jobs, and I was certain they could not uproot their lives, even with an overwhelming desire to start a family.
“Okay,” he responded. “There are medical facilities in Israel.”
I assured him they had exhausted those paths these previous seven years.
“Well,” Rabbi Bochner said thoughtfully, “there is one more option. Bonei Olam sometimes brings specialists from America for a limited period to help couples in Israel. Perhaps that might something for them to pursue.”
He gave me the number of the Israeli office and kindly told me to stay in touch.
I mentally prepared myself to make yet another suggestion to my emotionally and physically depleted daughter.
When we spoke the next morning, I tentatively brought it up.
“I heard this speaker, last night, she didn’t have children for several years….”
My daughter seemed to have no real interest in the topic — I sensed her negative reaction, even in her silence — but I persevered, risking her annoyance with another neighbor’s “amazing suggestion, definitely.”
“Their organization is called Bonei Olam, and with their help, this speaker now has a beautiful family.”
“Really? That’s so nice,” was my daughter’s highly unenthusiastic answer.
“Well, they have an office in Israel and ah… they bring in specialists from America and well, maybe that would be helpful for you to check out.”
“I’ve never heard of Bonei Olam, it doesn’t sound familiar,” she said. “I don’t know….” Her voice trailed off.
“Please, indulge me just one more time,” I said urgently. “Call them, see what they have to say.”
To my surprise, my daughter called back a few days later.
“They have this specialist coming from America for three days at the end of January, and they take only a limited number of couples,” she explained. “The deadline to submit medical records is the end of this week, and then they review it all to see who’s the best fit for their doctor.”
“I don’t know how we can get all the information in one week.”
Heart beating, but trying not to sound overly interfering, I murmured, “Well, you can try.”
In what was clearly a major effort, my daughter and son-in-law raced around, gathering medical records and files to meet the deadline. I didn’t get involved any more regarding the whole episode.
Several weeks later, my daughter called with the news.
“We were accepted. We have an appointment to begin the protocols required before the doctor arrives,” she said. “He’ll be here the last week of January.”
The following Succos, on the first day of Chol Hamoed, my daughter and son-in-law were scheduled for lunch at my other daughter’s house. They were very late — when suddenly, there was a loud series of knocks. It was my daughter’s Israeli neighbor, banging on the door while excitedly announcing “Mazal tov!”
Though it was Yom Tov for the Americans, as olim, my daughter and her husband were able to call her neighbor and inform him that after seven long years, they were baruch Hashem the parents of a beautiful, healthy baby girl.
Two days later, my husband and I were on the last plane out of Newark that could reach Israel in time for Shabbos Chol Hamoed. Our suitcases were filled with anything pink that could be purchased in 48 hours. We went straight to Shaare Zedek Medical Center to escort mother and baby home; two days later, on Hoshana Rabbah, in a high-domed shul overlooking the wide expanse of the Judean hills, this seven-year miracle was named.
I looked at my new granddaughter and thought about those long seven years. We waited, and we prayed, for seven years for this little girl.
Until one evening, on a tree-lined street in Brooklyn, New York, a casual act of neighborly friendship resulted in an encounter with the right shaliach, and in the miracle of the Seventh Year, the Ribbono shel Olam’s gift revealed itself.
Ahava Ehrenpreis is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of On My Own… But Not Alone: Practical Advice and Personal Stories (ArtScroll 2019), More Than Special: Perspectives from the World of Special Needs (ArtScroll 2021), and My Special Uncle (Mosaica Press 2022).
8 Sifrei Torah
By Reva Kaiser Barbalatt
IT all began with the story retold by our rabbi in his mesmerizing speech last year on Simchas Torah morning. A new family who joined our shul that summer from Detroit, Michigan, had brought a century-old sefer Torah with them.
Originally from Pryluky, Ukraine, it was one of only eight sifrei Torah retrieved after the Holocaust by the town’s few survivors. They’d searched upstairs attics and basement cellars, inside walls and outside fields, in their quest to recover anything that remained.
Those who returned tried to resume their Torah lives. Under Communist rule, they founded an illegal shul and leined regularly from the Torahs they had unearthed. But in 1955, the Soviet government ordered the closure of all shuls, and the congregation in Pryluky was ordered to relinquish its eight holy scrolls.
The surviving Jews of Pryluky, one of whom was Daniel Sobolnitsky, would not willingly abide the decree. These testaments to mesorah and Jewish survival had evaded the Nazis’ destruction and the Jewish community refused to entirely surrender them now. Instead, they took four of the scrolls, likely those in the worst condition, cut them in half, rolled each part up individually to yield eight small scrolls, and presented these to the government officials, who knew no better. The remaining four Torahs were relegated to many more years of concealment in Communist Russia.
Thirty years later, one of these sifrei Torah was eventually smuggled out to the United States by the Sobolnitsky family. There it was repaired, restored, and then welcomed into a shul in Oak Park, Michigan. But after a handful of years, the family reclaimed it when the shul could not procure the funds to purchase it.
Once again, the sefer Torah was consigned to an attic for safekeeping, where it lay unused, uncelebrated, and forgotten for more than two decades, until another worldwide catastrophic upheaval: Covid.
During the 2020 lockdowns, Galina Sobolnitsky, Daniel’s daughter-in-law, decided to move to Florida, an “open” state. As she packed, she rediscovered the Torah in her attic. Unobservant herself, Galina still recognized its religious value. She knew only one Orthodox Jew — Michael Feldman, a coworker’s son — and offered it to him for sale. He did not say no.
In the summer of 2022, the Feldman family themselves relocated to our community of Boca Raton, Florida, and the Pryluky sefer Torah joined them. More than anything, they wanted it to be leined from regularly, to be loved and cherished and revered once again. And Rabbi Yaakov Gibber, the mara d’asra of our shul, Boca Jewish Center, knew exactly how best to welcome this treasure into its new home.
“What better way is there to celebrate the survival of the sefer Torah and what is eternal about the sefer Torah than to link it to our Chef Meir, a living sefer Torah himself, a person who survived the Holocaust?” Rabbi Gibber announced to the kehillah.
Chef Meir Rapaport, a beloved fixture of our community, is a clear connection to the past. With his twinkling eyes, round cheeks, and steady presence in our shul, he is everyone’s zeidy, reveling in the surging growth of our community. A brachah from Chef Meir is coveted and cherished, because of who he is and what he embodies.
And so, last Simchas Torah, there was a procession from the aron kodesh, a singing, pulsing throng of men, holding this sefer Torah high. The mass slowly edged its way to the center of the room, where, under a canopy of overlapping talleisim, our revered Chef Meir tenderly took hold of the Torah, whose history is our history.
Five generations of Jewish men and boys circled and celebrated for hours, the Torah held tightly by a beaming Holocaust survivor. Five generations laced arms with each other, floating in the ecstasy of the moment’s import.
Whether we danced or we watched, we were all reeled in: From the inner circle, from the fringes of the crowd, from the other side of the mechitzah. What we witnessed was palpable and electrifying: The power of the Torah’s endurance. Eighty, ninety, one hundred years ago, Jews on the other side of the world, from a different world, held this Torah aloft with love and delight, and now their shadows linked arms with our own fathers and sons.
Chef Meir was honored with Chassan Bereishis, and he waited before the aron kodesh, his face luminous. As canopies of cloud-white talleisim were held aloft, Chef Meir was brought forth to greet and unite with this Torah whose history he shared, whose common faith was unfaltering, whose values and doctrines were flawlessly aligned.
No longer mere onlookers, we were all ushered into the pair’s tight embrace. It was an eerie but destined union, Chef Meir and this aged, hidden, found, and rescued Torah. It was a renewal for both.
Gone were the resentment and fatigue from the physical demands of the chag; in their place was an electrifying reverence for the ethereal, transcendent power of the Torah. The moment was alive, reverberating and throbbing — an artery, our artery.
We have kept this Torah breathing not just in our shuls, but in our homes and our souls — for our families, for our children, for our future. And in turn, this surviving Torah, one of eight, illuminates, its inspiration radiating in all locations, in every generation, for all of time.
Reva Kaiser Barbalatt lives in Boca Raton, Florida, with her husband and children. She has a background in public relations and publishing, and her writing has appeared in various print and online media outlets.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 989)
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