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The Dance

“I haven’t danced since 1938, why should today be different?”

 

The men in the shul called him Laibele Lodzer.

We called him Mr. Shah Shtil.

The year was 1976 and the day was Shemini Atzeres. For us kids, our only care was if the kiddush tomorrow would include cholent or just kugel.

Mr. Shah Shtil was not on our minds.

His moniker was well earned. If anyone near him davened slightly above a whisper, he would cry loudly, “Shah, shtil!”

We never saw him open his siddur or daven.

We did see the numbers on his forearm.

When someone noticed his lack of davening, the rav would respond, “Er iz gevein in di lagern.” (He was in the camps.)

That answered all questions.

On Simchas Torah, Mr. Shah Shtil sat alone.

After the third hakafah, I approached Mr. Shah Shtil and said, “Would you please join me in the next hakafah?”

“I haven’t danced since 1938, why should today be different?”

Naively, I asked, “Why haven’t you danced in 38 years?”

Ignoring my question, he asked, “Vos iz dein nomen?”

“Mein nomen iz Ron Yitzchok.”

“Dein nomen iz Aron Yitzchok ?” he asked incredulously.

Before I was able for the umpteenth time to correct someone on my name, Laibele Lodzer said, “That was my son’s name. He was the last person I ever danced with on Simchas Torah, in 1938. By Simchas Torah 1939, I was hiding in Lodz with my wife, son, and my rebbe, the Akeidas Yitzchak, the Aleksander Rebbe.

“Before Rosh Hashanah 1942, my wife, my son, and my rebbe were sent by cattle car to Treblinka, to the gas chamber. I ended up in Auschwitz, alone, bereft of my family and my rebbe.”

I gently reached out and held his hand and led him into the circle of dancers.

There was an audible gasp from the entire shul.

No one had ever seen Laibele dance.

At first, we moved slowly together.

Suddenly, someone handed me a sefer Torah, and the entire room of 40 men formed a circle around the two of us.

And then the unexpected occurred.

As the niggun changed to “Moshe Emes v’Soraso Emes,” Laibele was transformed into a 45-year-old man.

His 83-year-old feet morphed back to 1938.

Laibele began to dance with a fervor never seen before.

I looked at his face. Tears were streaming from his closed eyes.

He held the Torah and me firmly as he cried, “Aron Yitzchok, lomir tantzen tzuzamen mit a bren! Let us dance together with flaming passion!”

Together with the sefer Torah, I was lifted off my feet as Laibele Lodzer was dancing with an exuberance never before seen and never to be seen again.

He held me so tight our two bodies bonded into one single entity.

And all the time his tear-drenched face shone with an ethereal glow, and as his eyes remained shut, he kept repeating, “Aron Yitzchok, lomir tantzen tzuzamen mit a bren!”

We were no longer in Brooklyn and the year was not 1976.

We were in the Aleksander shtibel in Lodz, and the year was 1938.

The Aleksander Rebbe, Rav Yitzchak Menachem Mendel, was present, as were Laibele’s wife and most precious of all, his son Aron Yitzchok. And Laibele was dancing with him.

As the dancing continued, we reached spiritual heights I never thought attainable.

I have celebrated many Simchas Torahs since then. Some in Yerushalayim, and some as a rav. Yet nothing will ever compare to Simchas Torah of 1976 when 83-year-old Laibele Lodzer, together with a 17-year-old American bochur, transcended our physical world.

My name may be Ron, but that night I was really Aron.

The added alef was essential. The seforim point out that when the word alef is spelled backward, it spells pele — wondrous and amazing.

On that wondrous and amazing Simchas Torah, the added alef fit perfectly.

 (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 781)

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