“I know this might sound strange, but did your father ever mention me before he passed?"
I often receive phone calls before Yom Kippur from people seeking ways of doing teshuvah. However, I never expected the call I received on Tzom Gedaliah.
The call was from Larry Shore (names changed). I had never met Larry. However, I did know his father, Irving.
Irving was a member of my shul for over 50 years, from 1949 until 1999, when he moved to a nursing home. Except for an occasional phone call, I never saw him again. Amid the COVID crises, I found out that he had passed away after Pesach.
On Tzom Gedaliah, his son Larry called me.
“Rabbi, I came across a note from my father. Perhaps you can help me decipher it? It says, ‘After I go, thank the Rabbi and tell him he was right, he forgave me, and I left This World in peace.’ The note is dated Thursday, May 7, the day before he died.”
For a moment, I, too, was baffled by the letter. And then it came to me.
Years ago, Irving came to me before one Yom Kippur very distraught. “Rabbi,” he said, “I served with the US army during the war. I was taken prisoner by the Germans along with other American soldiers. When Jewish soldiers were about to be captured, they’d try to rip off their dog tags, which had the letter H on them symbolizing that we were Jewish, and throw them away or bury them in the snow, as when the Germans lined you up, if you had a Jewish name such as Shapiro or Goldberg, you were separated from the rest of the prisoners. I’d managed to throw away my dog tags, but others hadn’t been so fortunate.
“The Germans announced, ‘Any Jews must come forward now!’ About five other prisoners came forward, and they were marched away.
“As my name was Shore, the Germans did not realize I was Jewish, and I remained with the other American POWs.
“After the war, we found out that those Jews were sent to Berga Concentration Camp, a subcamp of Buchenwald, and many died from malnutrition, torture, and the death march they endured.
“When I moved to Passaic,” Irving continued, “I realized that Murray Cohen, who had been a POW with me, but recognized as a Jew, had also settled in Passaic.
“When we reunited, I said, ‘Shalom Aleichem,’ to which he responded, ‘I will never forgive you for allowing the rest of us to suffer while you hid your Jewish identity!’
“Rabbi,” Irving implored me, “what can I do to get mechilah from Murray?”
I approached Murray and asked him to reconsider and forgive Irving for what he did. I told him, “Remember, the more forgiving we are to each other, the more forgiving Hashem will be to us.”
Murray said he would reconsider, but soon after, Murray relocated to Boston to be near his son.
Earlier this year, I heard that Murray, too, had succumbed to COVID. I located Murray’s son to tell him I was sorry to hear about his father’s passing. Murray’s son Brian thanked me and then went silent.
“Brian,” I said, “I know this might sound strange, but did your father ever mention me before he passed?”
Brian paused. Then he said, “About a week before my father passed, he asked me to write a letter to a former Passaic resident named Irving Shore. He told me to write just one sentence, ‘I forgive you.’ When I asked him for an explanation, he said, “The rabbi will know.”
“Did you receive a reply?” I asked.
“Yes, I have the reply from Irving right here,” Brian said. “It says, ‘Thank you, now I can leave This World in peace.’”
“That was the last time I spoke with my father. On Friday, May 8, he passed away.”
Irving received his forgiveness, and Murray was relieved of his resentment.
They had passed away on precisely the same day, May 8: Pesach Sheini. On the day Hashem gives us a second chance, Irving Shore was privileged to have a second chance.
Think about that as you go into Yom Kippur.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 829)
Oops! We could not locate your form.