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Right Place, Right Time 

 The conductor told him the next stop would be in a number of hours, long after Yom Kippur would begin

The year was circa 1902, the place was rural Hungary. My great-grandfather, Rabbi Psachya Lamm z”l, was a young man, roughly 20 years old, and a student of Rabbi Yehuda Greenwald ztz”l, the rav of Satmar.

He sank back into his seat on the train taking him to the small village in the countryside where he was slated to be the chazzan for Yom Kippur. Serving as a baal tefillah provided him with much-needed income.

Exhausted, he promptly fell asleep. When he woke a few hours later and asked the conductor how much further to the town he was headed to, he was dismayed to hear they had long since passed it by.

His distress only intensified when the conductor told him the next stop would be in a number of hours, long after Yom Kippur would begin.

Then, in passing, the conductor mentioned that in 30 minutes they would be slowing down to swap mailbags at a tiny hamlet. Incoming mail would be thrown onto the train, and outgoing mail would dropped on the platform. If he wanted to, the conductor said, he could jump off the moving train then.

That was what he did, jumping off with his hat and satchel in tow. He asked local townspeople where the closest synagogue was and set out on foot, arriving shortly before shkiah.

It was indeed a hamlet worthy of the title, and the synagogue turned out to be a tiny hut, where a group of Jews had gathered to daven Kol Nidrei. They eagerly greeted my great-grandfather, but shared their problem: There were only nine men in the village, and the chazzan they had hired to complete the minyan and lead the services had not shown up.

My great-grandfather gladly agreed to lead the services, and spent a most inspiring Yom Kippur in the hamlet, leading all the tefillos from Kol Nidrei to Neillah. The villagers were very grateful, amazed at the good fortunate they had just seen and the beautiful davening they had experienced.

The morning after Yom Kippur they walked him to the train station. As they walked, my great-grandfather heard people in the background whispering to their children, “Look at the chazzan before he leaves us. Indeed, he is Eliyahu Hanavi!”

My great-grandfather would go on to marry, raise a family, and after a tip-off from a friend, escaped to the US before he was imprisoned during the White Terror of September 1922. He became a rav in Bayonne, New Jersey, and in 1938 he moved his family to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where he opened Lamm’s Glatt Kosher Meats on Lee Avenue.

Whenever he heard stories of people saying they had seen Eliyahu Hanavi, he would smile, and with a glint in his eye, would say in Yiddish, “Ich hub oich amol geven Eliyahu Hanavi! Once I was also Eliyahu Hanavi!”

And he would, with much flourish, recount this very story, in its fine detail.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 977)

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