| The Last Flask |

The Last Flask

And then they found it — the last flask, the small bottle that would enable them to start anew. 12 writers share the last flask that lit up their own lives 

Rattle of Hope

Elisheva Luger

Just keep walking, Sara told herself over and over, silently, lest the Nazi soldiers hear her and shoot her on the spot.

But after 13 hours of walking, she couldn’t help but wonder if that would be so terrible.

The soldiers ordered everyone to sit. Sara sat. Just behind a snow-tinseled bush, a speck of white gleamed. She leaned forward and saw a blue-and-white polka-dotted baby rattle.

A baby rattle?

Did babies — pink-cheeked and chubby-legged babies — still exist in this world?

Sara stared at the rattle. It looked new and shiny. That meant that not too long ago, someone was here, someone with a baby, someone who lived without constant hunger, fear, or the prospect of death.

The Nazi guards screamed at them to resume walking. Sara put one foot in front of the other, the image of a baby rattle in front of her.

Liberation came the next day, and within a few months she was living in New York. She was shocked when a shidduch was suggested.

She’d been experimented on by the infamous doctor. Word had already spread about the small, if not miniscule, likelihood of his “patients” having children. But the young man in question had also endured experiments, and so, it was an appropriate match.

Yaakov had a kind face and a quiet strength about him, but he made no mention of children. “I know we probably can’t have children, but somehow I believe we will. I need you to believe it’s possible as well,” Sara told him.

Sara worked as a seamstress and Yaakov built up a small business. A year later, Sara began to feel weak and had no appetite. She soon discovered she was carrying a child, but the doctor warned her that due to the abuses she endured, it was impossible she would carry to term. A miscarriage was inevitable.

As the weeks went on and her baby was still within her, Sara allowed herself the pleasure of wondering whom they would name the baby after. She probably wouldn’t give birth, and even if by some miracle she did, chances were high this baby would be the only one. Out of all of their parents and siblings murdered, whom would they name the baby after?

On a sticky June afternoon, Sara gave birth to a seven-and-a-half pound healthy baby boy. Eight days later, she stood in shul and watched as Yaakov whispered a name, and then heard it aloud: Avraham ben Yaakov.

Avrumie, after her father.

That night, Sara bentshed her husband that he would merit to name their next child after his father.

Less than two years later, they were blessed with another baby boy.

By the time they had over a minyan of boys and a handful of girls as well, the doctors stopped warning Sara about the impending heartaches.

Just before the birth of what would be their youngest, Sara realized that this baby would be named after someone they never in their wildest dreams thought they would name a child after — a grandparent — for they had 16 children, and all of their parents and siblings had been named for already.

Soon after, Sara and Yaakov themselves became grandparents. And through the years, Sara gifted each one of her grandchildren with a baby rattle as a reminder that even the tiniest drop of hope can lead to miracles.

The Gift

Toby Schorr

It had been an incredibly challenging few months, and I was emotionally and physically drained in a way I’d never been before. After our medically fragile two-year-old came down with a virus that landed her in ICU, we’d spent a few weeks in the hospital and then a month in rehab. We’d finally come home, but with a complex medical protocol for her care that put us on duty 24/7.

We decided to send our daughter to a facility for respite care for a few days during the summer, so we could have a break. I was desperate to get away overnight with my husband. We’d been through so much, and I needed, not wanted but needed, to go away, just the two of us. The few days she’d be in the facility would be our only opportunity.

I didn’t think it would be so complicated. We’d find someone to take our other three kids for a Shabbos and we’d go.

But I didn’t realize that up there with other events needing a miracle to make them happen — like marrying off your children or keeping a bunch of little ones sane through quarantine — was finding someone take your children for Shabbos.

The timing was off. It was bein hazmanim, and people’s bochurim were home. One close friend thought she could take the two older ones, but not the toddler, which I totally got, her hands were full, but I couldn’t think of anyone else I could ask. I casually asked a relative, but she said it wasn’t a good week.

I couldn’t bring myself to say to anyone, “I’m falling apart. Please take my children for a Shabbos even if it’s hard for you, before I have a nervous breakdown.”

I was starting to despair of our Shabbos away, and as I watched my desperately needed getaway drift away, I felt myself losing something else too: a basic belief in people’s goodness and willingness to help others.

Oh, the rational part of me knew it wasn’t true, that people’s inability to do a specific, fairly difficult favor, didn’t mean anything about their general goodness and willingness to be there for others.

But the emotional part of me, that was so hurt and scarred from everything that had happened in the past few months, was fast losing faith in humanity.

And then it happened. I don’t remember the details; did my neighbor approach me? Did my husband speak to her husband? I can’t imagine I would have had the courage to approach the mother of a large family and say, “Can you take my three kids for Shabbos?” But one day we were in the stairwell together and she was offering to take all of our three children.

We went away and had a wonderful time, a quiet, relaxed Shabbos, with space to bond and just be.

More than the Shabbos, my neighbor gave me something precious. When I was lost in a whirlpool of hurt and despair, her generous offer pulled me back from the edge, and helped me see what my pain had been obscuring. That people do mean well, though they may be limited in their abilities to assist, but that those who can will.

And that ultimately, Hashem will always make sure we get the help we need.

Fighting Flame

Esther Teichtal

Something is wrong.

I see it in the way his eyes lock on to mine, beseeching. I see it in the way his head cricks to one side, instead of falling on the hospital pillow. Mostly, I see it in his twitching finger.

My father’s hands have always been expressive — the hands of an artist and a consummate giver. Now, they’re riddled with purple bruises; scrawny, wan, and weak. But his fingers, it seems, have a life of their own.

With his right arm raised above his head, his hand flopped over his forehead, his index finger is frantic. It sweeps across his ashen brow: Left, right; left, right; the rhythm of a ticking clock.

It’s a nervous reflex.

But the swishing is repetitive and relentless. It’s telling me something.

I jump up from the bedside couch, where I’ve spent the night in fitful sleep, and check the humming monitors. The room is still and silent. Nothing is beeping. I run my hands down the saline tubes, straightening out kinks, checking whether the valves are all functioning. All is good.

I back away.

Water. That must be it. I grab a sponge and soak it with life-giving liquid. My father sucks for a second, and then pulls away.

His eyes are screaming at me now, and his finger starts jerking slowly, deliberately, with an energy I cannot ignore.

What is he saying?

He is sweeping his forehead. Forehead. Forehead…

“Tefillin?!” I ask, falteringly.

The swishing stops.

“You want to lay tefillin?”

The finger springs into life, and my father tilts his face further. His eyes are sparking.

I rest my hand on his shoulder.

“Okay. It’s okay. I’ll get you tefillin. Don’t worry.”

I comb the room in a hurry. Are his tefillin even here?!

As I search, I worry. Who will put the tefillin on him? I’ve often watched my father wrap the black straps around his arm. Tenderly. Meticulously. Positioning them just so… But still, I wouldn’t know what to do.

I check the metal bed tray, the window ledge, the narrow corner closet. They aren’t here.

I turn back, defeated. His gaze is unwavering. My heart heaves.

“I can’t find your tefillin, Abba. They must have been left at home.” I swallow. “But as soon as Shimmy comes, I’ll go borrow a pair.”

My father is left-handed, it complicates things. But Hadassah hospital’s mashgiach runs a tefillin gemach. I’ll track him down.

I listen to my breathing and count the seconds. There is little more I can do.

I watch my father’s finger give a few final swishes before conceding defeat, and his hand flops back on the mattress.

It’s early. My brother won’t arrive for hours. Locating the mashgiach in this monolithic hospital could take forever, and I won’t leave my father alone.

I’ve just resumed my position on the couch when a pair of angels appear.


Well… almost.

My cousin and her husband ask if they can come in.

They just happened to have passed by, and thinking of Uncle Nachum, decided to pop in, on a whim.

Now I can go look for the mashgiach!

Wait… maybe…?!

“Say, any chance you have a pair of tefillin on you?”

Unbelievably, here, in the room, is a pair of perfectly good tefillin — suitable for a left-handed Yid, no less — and a caring, erlicher visitor ready to lay the batim on my father’s arms and forehead where they so obviously belong.

Because his body might be halfway to dust, but his inner flame burns as fiercely as a final flicker.

It was the last time I ever saw my father wear tefillin.

Bernie’s Last Drop

Shoshana Schwartz

I was 16 when I passed my driver’s test, and the State of New York granted me a “work study” permit, authorizing me to drive to work and school only (ha ha).

My big lug of a car, a yellowish Dodge Coronet named Bernie, was old — hence the name — but not too old to get me to work and back (and, um, other places). Everything functioned except the horn.

Because I was a new driver, the only responsibility my parents gave me was to keep an eye on Bernie’s temperature and gas gauges. Like most new drivers, I was more concerned with making sure my sunglasses were aligned than any old fussy gauges.

So it happened that I was driving along, nearing a major intersection, when a telltale putt-putt sound alerted me that Bernie was down to his last drop of gas. Suddenly, faithful Bernie stopped responding.

Panic rose in my throat, and two thoughts vied for my attention: What should I do? and Dad’s gonna kill me!

Instinct took over. My eyes scanned the road. On my immediate left was a gas station! I simply had to cross the lane of oncoming traffic which, at that moment, was clear.

Since I was in high school, my brain still grasped both math and science. The probability of a car turning off the main road into the oncoming lane was high, so making the turn was risky; the longer I waited, however, the greater the probability. Inertia meant that Bernie was still moving forward, but friction would soon dominate, bringing Bernie to a complete stop.

In short, it was somewhere between improbable and impossible that I would make it safely to the gas station.

But hey, I never found that math or science had much practical application, anyway. I mean, I turned out to be a writer. Very visual. And I was picturing, very, very clearly, my dad’s face. Imagining that face having to come rescue me. Imagining his finger pointing at the big red E on the gas gauge.

Although I knew it would take a miracle to get me across that white line, being 16, I opted for the miracle. I pulled the wheel hard to the left, chanting, “Come on, Bernie, come on, Bernie.”

He tried, he really did. But no power meant no power steering. And Bernie was big, really big. Heavy. Sluggish. It was like trying to steer a submarine through an oil sludge.

We made it about halfway through the lane, when a car came careening off the highway, making a beeline for Bernie. My reflexes kicked in (not bad for a new driver) and I hit the horn. And for some odd reason, Bernie made a loud, beautiful beep! The driver slammed on the brakes. I made it to the gas station and lived to tell the tale (except to my parents, who I hope aren’t reading this).

Lest you think Bernie’s horn was merely stuck and just needed a good zetz to resume normal functioning, that was Bernie’s last beep; his horn never sounded again.

That one last drop, that one last beep… it was enough.

Because all you really need is the One.

The Blessing Between

Devorie Kreiman

Our fourth child, a boy, was born on a wintry Motzaei Shabbos in 1991. He had difficulty breathing and his muscles were slack; the doctors couldn’t tell us why.

He was too weak to have a bris, so we called him “the baby.” For months, our baby without a name battled a malady without a name.

My husband, Nachman, went to the Lubavitcher Rebbe for “Sunday dollars”; the Rebbe handed out dollars to give to tzedakah and gave brachos. Nachman told the Rebbe about our baby, and the Rebbe gave him an extra dollar. “For your wife.”

No brachah for the baby.

People crammed the narrow doorway behind him. Nachman thought quickly. “I’m asking the Rebbe for a brachah for another healthy child.”

The Rebbe held out one more dollar and said, in Yiddish, “May it be a healthy child in the set time and in the proper time.”

Our baby boy died a few weeks later.

We couldn’t understand the Rebbe’s words until our next baby, a girl, was born with muscle weakness and difficulty breathing.

The doctors introduced an ominous new word — heredity.

After extensive testing, we named our monster: fatal infantile mitochondrial myopathy due to cytochrome-c oxidase deficiency. Our babies were missing an enzyme that produces energy.

Nachman and I share a rare defective gene. The odds? In every pregnancy, a 25 percent chance for a sick child, and a 75 percent chance for a healthy child.

Our tiny girl lived five months.

On Gimmel Tammuz, 1994, the Lubavitcher Rebbe was niftar.

Then I was expecting again. When we calculated the due date, we realized our baby was due on Gimmel Tammuz.

In the set time and in the proper time.

When our daughter was born, the doctors checked her, pronounced her healthy, then came back to check her again, to make sure. My friend, who was visiting, had an infant car seat in her car.

I told the nurse, “I’m leaving.”

She said, “At least wait for a wheelchair.”

Instead, I picked up my miracle and walked out of the hospital. As we drove home, I kept turning around, making sure no one was coming to take my baby away from me.

We named her Bracha Leah.

We had two more children after her. Both were diagnosed with the same mitochondrial disorder. Both died as infants.

Our healthy daughter, born between two sets of sick children, is a constant reminder of Hashem’s kindness, a streak of wonder in the midst of blackness.

According to several sources, the miracle of the Chanukah oil wasn’t an increase in quantity; there wasn’t more oil in the menorah. It was the quality of the oil that was miraculous — it lasted and lasted.

When our family faced another loss, the sudden death of our only son, Bracha Leah was a teenager and the only child still living at home. She needed parents who could push through the shock and despair and at least try for “normal.” Her presence at home forced us to make an effort. And in time we found more strength, more hope; our miracle of light is ongoing, showing us the way forward.

For the Record(ing)

Chaia Frishman

The ten months I’d spent in seminary in Israel had been life-altering, and while I’d reluctantly returned home, I was pining to go back. Between the classes, the holy sites and landscapes, and, of course, the drama of surviving the Gulf War, I’d gained so much the previous year.

But my parents, friends, and confidants thought it was time to move on; “Earth to Jennifer. Time to prepare for your future.”

Begrudgingly, I hit the ground running and began college, while struggling to accept my reality. No one could fathom the challenges I privately faced each day. I looked functional on the outside, but I was slowly crumbling on the inside.

My parents noncommittally mentioned that once I finished the semester, I could possibly go back to Israel for half a year. But the seminary I’d attended the year before had no such abbreviated program and offered no scholarships. Where would I possibly go?

I wrote to my rebbi in Israel who knew that the ins and outs of my day-to-day reality were toxic. I mailed the letter, not expecting a response for at least two weeks, and continued going through the days robotically, mourning my unbridgeable distance from the school and Land I loved.

Less than two weeks later, a bulky envelope arrived from my rebbi. I opened it and found a cassette. I popped it into my tape recorder and listened anxiously to each word.

“It’s busy here today. We’re preparing for my son’s bar mitzvah tonight. But this is important for you, so I took out my recorder to send this message.”

He summarily agreed with my assessment that, considering my life circumstances, one year in Israel was not enough. “Do what you can to get back here,” he implored.

Easy for you to say, I thought.

As they promised, my parents agreed to let me go back, and I found a seminary that took girls by the month. I landed in Israel on a snowy February day.

The Nesher taxi dropped me off at school. Since the institution catered to post-college students who intermittently came and went, no one was prepared for my arrival. They eventually located a room for me and handed me a tentative class schedule. Between the jetlag, cold, and loneliness, I was conviced that I should return home.

But my friends, who had returned to my former seminary for shanah beit, dragged me to go visit my teachers. When I arrived, the administrator saw me and smiled.

“Oh, good, you’re here. Let’s go speak to the menahel and get you settled.”

“Settled for what?”

“Speak to him. I’ll arrange a room for you.”

The menahel explained to me that without my knowledge, Rebbi had made arrangements and convinced the hanhalah to ignore school protocol so I could return. Additionally, the school organized an unprecedented scholarship for me.

Those four months strengthened me to withstand my challenges back home. They saved my life.

A short recording. A huge plan. A miraculous salvation, customized by a humble gadol who knew each Jewish soul is a world unto itself.

A Single Jug of Oil

Lea Pavel

There were four of us on that trip to Israel: my parents, my married brother Yechiel, and then-single me. We tended not to be very adventurous on our visits, preferring to stick with the basic religious sites. But on this excursion, our parents decided to join a tour group.

We trudged along with a crowd of Americans dutifully following the guide through Chevron, waving our camera excitedly.

At one spot, as the guide expounded, a woman emerged from one of the homes behind us and quietly set up a stand. She spread a cloth on a kiddie table, then carefully placed out green glass bottles of olive oil. She smiled hopefully at the group, tilting her wares in an attempt to draw interest.

The guide finished his speech, and the crowd began to stream by, nodding politely her way, but none approaching. A sort of collective mindset had settled over the group: Nope.

Maybe they had practical considerations: How would they pack a glass bottle of olive oil in their luggage? And it was something easily acquired in the local supermarket. Or maybe they simply had lunch on their minds, having spent the day plodding along and listening attentively. Or maybe, as souvenirs go, their children and grandchildren were expecting something more exotic.

But one voice said clearly, “Let’s go take a look.” It was Ma. She turned away from the crowd, the lone dissenter. Even I was surprised.

Walking over to the woman, she smiled (our combined Ivrit left much to be desired), and reached for a bottle with two ears, which gave it an almost historical vibe.

The group halted. Wait, she was buying a bottle? The hive mind quickly recalibrated. Hmmm, why not? The horde rotated, and surged the table.

In minutes, the woman’s stock was decimated. When the swarm departed, she blinked dazedly, her fists full of shekels. She seemed to barely comprehend what had happened.

When we returned home, the olive-oil bottle was considered too pretty to use, so it was perched on top of the hutch in the kitchen, sealed. Every time Yechiel visited, his eyes would light up; whenever his gaze fell upon it, he’d retell the story: How Ma spoke up, summoning the many (mi la’Hashem elai) and bringing parnassah to another. He insisted that, one Chanukah, he would use this pach shemen to light his menorah.

Our lives are composed of small yet significant choices. We hear stories of how the smallest of gestures result in limitless sechar, and in this case, I cannot help but wonder what Ma is receiving in Olam Haba — because of a pach shemen.

For years this one remained unopened, despite Yechiel’s proclamations. After Ma died, Yechiel took the bottle home, yet cannot bring himself to use it. He adores that memory of Ma on that sunny day in Chevron, how she couldn’t ignore another, and thus became an unintentional leader of the disaffected masses.

Bar of Comfort

C. Schon

I was still busy removing the bobby pins from the updos my girls wore to the bar mitzvah when the phone call came. My newly bar-mitzvah’d kid brother was seriously ill.

The fatigue and general weakness of the past week or two could no longer be attributed to pre-leining jitters or to post-bar mitzvah excitement. It was attributed to a fast-growing tumor taking up a large portion of his abdomen.

It couldn’t be. We weren’t that type of family. We didn’t even use the “c” word in conversation, and we totally didn’t go for drama.

I hate the metaphor of the roller coaster. It’s overused and overdone. But I have no other way to describe the waves of nausea and heart-stopping moments we experienced. Well… just like on an upside-down, Six Flags roller coaster. Have you ever tried swallowing food on that?

The lump in my throat was the size of my brother’s tumor, and food, as well as everything else around me, felt and tasted like dust.

We received the phone call as we were about to light the first Chanukah candle. We lit, because that’s what Yidden do, and we took solace in the knowledge that Chanukah was a time of miracles.

As the hypochondriac in the family, I knew the most about medicine and became the unofficial family medical liaison. That’s why a couple of nights later, while most of the world was at one Chanukah party or another, I was in Manhattan with my parents and brother meeting a doctor.

Since no one in the family had any appetite since The Phone Call, we didn’t take along anything to eat. All the doughnuts and smoothies people sent over for lack of a better way to show support had been left on the kitchen counter.

The doctor we’d just met was an angel in disguise. He was the very first one to infuse us with hope, and we left the office in significantly better spirits. As we settled into the car, we realized we were hungry.

Hunger was a good sign.

But we were a long way from home…and a kosher eatery. We didn’t know the city, and we needed food now. Coca Cola would have to do. We stopped at the first convenience store, and my mother headed out of the car to buy a bottle of Coke.

She returned five minutes later with a huge smile. She hadn’t smiled in four days!

“It’s kosher. That place is full of yarmulkes. Look! There’s a hechsher on the window!”

And then she withdrew something from the bag she was holding. A Klein’s strawberry fruit bar. My brother absolutely loved those fruit bars. It was the treat he bought every time he had a dollar.

My mother turned to my brother and held out the pop. “There was only one left, for us. For you.”

On that dark Chanukah night, we held that fruit bar high. We knew that the same One who was sending us all the darkness also arranged a kosher eatery on that street corner with a Klein’s freezer and one fruit bar. It was our flask that burned brightly throughout the journey to recovery.

Last Embers

Riki Goldstein

“And my mother said, ‘Di miszt iberleiben dem krieg. — You must survive the war.’ And she left me. I listened. I hear those words my entire life.”

His Yiddish was rich, Galician, something like my own Zeide must have sounded. His childhood memories were so pure: helping his parents care for his seven younger siblings, learning Gemurah with the ruv of the town, traveling to Sanz for the yahrtzeit of the Divrei Chaim and seeing four of his holy children, requesting a bruchah for hasmudeh tzu lernen from Rebbetzin Gitsha, collecting firewood and drawing water in the freezing Galician winters for his mother before going to daven and learn.

Interviewing Reb Aron Tenenbaum in 2016 was an opportunity to connect to one of the last living people with memories of the children of the heilige Sanzer Rebbe, one of the last who had lived and breathed in the vanished world of Galicianer Yiddishkeit.

A successful Italian Jewish businessman, an elderly Yid who spent time each day learning in depth with a chavrusa — within him was preserved one of the last flasks of erliche prewar Galicianer Yiddishkeit, with its simplicity and thirst for Torah still intact, the brachah from his childhood alive.

I was riveted by his story. After his mother’s farewell command, Aron was deported by the Nazis. The following years were spent in seven hellish concentration camps, which he terms “the seven levels of Gehinnom.”

There was the suffering that he didn’t want to speak about, the nissim that he did. He rolls up his shirt sleeve to show a line of blue numbers. I saw them clearly only for a moment, then they blurred with my tears.

As a lone survivor, Aron trekked to Italy. He found employment in Milan and slowly started selling on the side too “…and every day, I went to the beis medrash, to daven and learn.” He married a fellow survivor and built his frum family in the heart of Milan’s small community, building up a business in luxury watches and eventually establishing his own brand.

There was something I had to know. How and why does a teenager, utterly alone, in a place of barbaric degradation, then in a cosmopolitan haven where freedom beckons — for not a single family member survived to take care of Aron or stop him going off into the Italian sunset — hold so tightly on to the ways of his ancestors? He speaks to me of the jug of oil that retained its seal of purity in a defiled Mikdash.

“A pure chinuch is in the bones. I remember that during the hunger in the camps on Pesach, I thought of my father baking matzos and my mother scrubbing and scraping, and I couldn’t touch the chometz. When I came to Milan, the first thing I built myself was a succah like we had at home.

“When a child sees Shamayim in his parents, in his home, that stays inside him forever.”


Ayala Feigenbaum

Monday morning, Tzom Gedalyah, found me strolling happily to work. I was enjoying the quiet after a hectic morning spent trying to find something to keep my four kids, all of whom would be home for the next three weeks of the lockdown, occupied.

I got off the train near City Hall and started walking in the direction of Aish HaTorah, where I worked. The usually bustling streets were empty, the stores were closed, and I walked for another five minutes down Shaar Yaffo before I saw more people. Many people, all standing on line at the entrance to the Old City, hoping the two policemen on duty would let them through the blockade.

I pulled out my working permit and took a place in line, joining the crowds, older, younger, frum, and irreligious, all hoping to enter the Old City for various reasons.

Then the lady in front of me approached the police officer. She was old, very old, and when she spoke, she shook. “Ani tzrichah lalechet laKotel, I need to go to the Kotel,” she said.

The policeman shook his head. “No one can get to the Kotel now, it’s closed to the public,” he said in a soft tone. Then in a stricter voice he continued, “You shouldn’t have left your house! There’s a lockdown!”

The lady became frantic. “You don’t understand!” she burst out, “I’ve been coming to the Kotel for over 60 years during Aseres Yemei Teshuvah with my husband, and this year he was niftar. I need to show him that I didn’t forget to do this. That I didn’t forget him. You need to let me in!”

She was crying by the time she finished explaining. Seeing the tears rolling down her cheek, I choked up.

The policeman looked troubled. “I can’t let you in. I’m sorry. I can’t. You need to go back home.”

I thought for a moment, then approached her. “Excuse me, I’ll be going to the Kosel after I finish work today, and I’d be happy to place a note in the wall for you.”

Her face lit up, and immediately she got busy writing on the back of the crumpled Zara receipt that I found in my purse. As I was waiting, two high school girls approached me, “Can we write something for you to put in also?”

Next was a mother pushing a twin stroller, and then a teenage boy with no yarmulka and an armful of tattoos, who told me that he’d made a deal with Hashem that if he found a job, he’d go to the Kosel and put on tefillin. They all stood writing eagerly as I WhatsApped my boss that I’d be coming in late.

That afternoon I went down to the Kosel. The sight of our massive Kosel standing empty and forlorn on Aseres Yemei Teshuvah was painful. I cried when I looked around and realized I was the only person standing in the Kosel plaza. Then, I unzipped my purse, pulled out a handful of notes, and one by one, placed them in the Wall.

Lingering Love

Hadassah Adler

The summer is dark. The shadow of my mother’s death casts darkness on our hearts, the shock and grief so intense, it’s hard to swallow.

My family and I move in with my father so we can support each other, process what was. What is. What will be.

During the two months of our stay, I’m forced to face the void every moment of the day (and night). My mother’s presence is everywhere, echoing off the silent walls, whispering from her gorgeous closets, her clothing, her siddur, her freezer.

Ai, her freezer.

My mother’s freezer was her baby. She loved hosting, and her greatest joy was a hungry guest. She plied everyone who entered her house with restaurant-worthy food, insisted that you make a brachah.

No matter how much my mother served, her freezer was always stocked to bursting. Soups and mains and challah and knishes and an endless variety of cakes. Plain cakes and cheesecakes and elaborate cream cakes.

Throughout the summer, we work our way through the incredible supply of food. Every bite is a memory. It’s heartwarming — and unnerving. We want to enjoy her food, but at the same time, there’s a sickening dread. The supply will dwindle. And our mother will never restock the freezer. She will never cook or bake for us again.

As the summer fades to autumn, the shelves are nearly empty. And then, my sister has a baby. A girl.

A girl.

A girl is a name and a name is — should be — a comfort. But for me, a name is a slap. It will force me to accept the truth, that this is permanent. My mother will never return.

We gather in our parents’ house, all children and grandchildren. And we set up a kiddush.

L’chayim, mazel tov.

And there, on the center of the table, reserved in the freezer all this time, is a special tray. Chocolate muffins. Mommy’s famous chocolate muffins, which she always kept in stock, always served delighted children when they visited.

There are six muffins left. Six offerings of love.

We slice them in wedges. Every child takes a piece. Recites a brachah out loud, l’illui nishmas Mommy, Bubby.

Our mother is no longer with us. But she is here. Participating in our simchah. Her simchah. A baby, her namesake.

And the sweet taste of her muffins is a hug we will carry with us forever.

Finding the Light

Shevy Weiss

It was Zos Chanukah, and I had just come home from the type of date where you wonder if there is a polite way of suggesting you both call it quits and go home mid-date. (Spoiler alert: there isn’t.)

My phone was buzzing, and thankfully, it was my friend Esther and not the shadchan. “Wanna go to Meron with me…?”

I interrupted with a resounding “Yes!” before she could finish her question.

When we left Yerushalayim the next morning, it was raining so hard we couldn’t see ten feet in front of us. Esther suggested we turn around. I suggested that Hashem just wanted to see how badly we want to daven at kivrei tzaddikim.

But she knew me too well.

“You mean escape our reality?” she asked.

Esther and I had both been “done” with dating for quite some time (years). We were best friends and the best type of friends to have while still dating — brutally honest, supportive, and always ready for a laugh.

Our plan was to stop at the kevarim of Rabi Meir Baal Haneis and Rabi Akiva, and then head to Meron and Tzfas. It was the last day of Chanukah, and we so badly wanted to really believe it was our last Chanukah as single women.

We’d both been down that road before, drained from the endless cycle of suggestions, phone calls, a date or a few, only to end up back at square one. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable, and then hopeful, is exhausting.

Our entire drive up north revolved around the same question: We could keep doing this, keep trying and dating and trying some more, but did we want to?

We arrived at Rabi Akiva’s kever and sat quietly for a few minutes. Someone approached me about buying a letter in a sefer Torah. I instantly burst into tears, crying about segulos and hishtadlus and how I’d just had enough. Esther, my segulah-loving friend, hugged me and bought letters for us both.

Next stop, Rabi Meir Baal Haneis. Now it was Esther’s turn to become emotional. She   began to sing “Al tasteir panecha mimeni,” and then came the tears.

Somewhere between the kevarim of Rashbi and the Arizal, the rain cleared up and our mood began to change. We found a small drop of inner strength to say yes, we wanted to keep going.

The sun was setting in Tzfas when we began our journey home. “It’s Zos Chanukah,” I said to Esther. “There’s light within the darkness. I know it would be easier to wait for our zivug if we both knew the details of who, where, and what, but we just have to keep going in the dark.”

It would be nice to say that by the following Chanukah we were both married, but life isn’t always that convenient. We were both still dating, holding on by a hair’s breadth.

But then, the following summer, Esther did, indeed, meet her bashert.

And then, a few weeks after the Chanukah of the next year, I met my husband.

Like a child’s boppy game, you knock one obstacle down and another springs up in its place. Life still wasn’t smooth sailing.

Zos Chanukah became a code of chizuk between Esther and I. When parnassah is difficult, Esther and I look at each other and say “Zos Chanukah.” Unexpected bad news in the ultrasound room? “Zos Chanukah,” we whisper. A sticky family situation or a challenging child? We know what to say.

Zos Chanukah: A reminder that the tiny flask of oil we need to keep going and find light in a dark and concealed World exists within us.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 721)

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