Leibel could only look at the man and nod once with a teary smile
After the death of their father, Fischel’s brother Leibel left for America.
He had never been on a ship before, and the constant rocking motions made him sick to his stomach. Doubled over in pain for most of the trip, he almost perished during the long journey. When at long last the ship docked, he stumbled off, barely alive, and began looking around for help.
Everyone around him spoke in a foreign language, and he felt despair washing over his weary bones. He stopped several people and tried expressing himself in the few English words that he did know, along with hand motions. People just walked away from him, some of them even smirking and chuckling at his foreign accent.
“I look and sound like a meshugener to them…” Leibel murmured to himself, looking down at his worn and tattered clothing. A blast of cold air traveled up his spine and snuck its way into the holes in his shoes, causing his already aching feet to clench in pain.
“I need to sit down before I pass out…”
Leibel hobbled over to a bench and sat down. His stomach rumbled loudly, and he looked desperately toward a man sitting on the bench next to him, biting into a juicy, red apple. The man took a few bites, decided the apple wasn’t to his liking, and looked like he was about to toss the fruit away. Leibel caught the man’s eyes and nodded, his hand outstretched eagerly. The man grimaced, his eyes traveling over Leibel’s disheveled appearance, and he tossed the apple over his shoulder, where it landed with a splash in the harbor.
Tears sprung to Leibel’s eyes, as he remembered his father’s words on his deathbed. Oh, how his father had urged them to be good to everyone, to never look down on any person, and to help everyone in pain and need. What a country this was! Where the people believed they were superior human beings because their lot in life happened now to be fortuitous! What superiority did that give them? Wasn’t any success they had completely from the hand of Hashem? Wealth, poverty, life and death, health and illness came not from man’s own power, but from Hashem alone.
Suddenly a hand landed on Leibel’s shoulder. Leibel looked up and saw a man with a bushy black beard and a large cap on his head beaming down at him. And then came words that warmed the cold that was seeping through Leibel’s frail body. Familiar words, spoken in the mamma loshen!
“How are you, Reb Yid? From where do you come, and where are you heading?”
Leibel stood up, dragging his satchel of belongings with him. He told the man everything, and the man nodded his head in sympathy.
“Yes, it’s a very hard journey to get here. And when people arrive, they’re usually overwhelmed as they realize that it’s very difficult to acclimate to this country. A foreign land, a foreign language, and parnassah is also difficult. Nu, what can one do but try his hardest and trust in the Eibeshter? Would you accept an invitation to my home? I can help you until you get settled, learn the ways of the land, and get on your feet. What do you say?”
Leibel could only look at the man and nod once with a teary smile.
Mi k’amcha Yisrael!
The kind stranger was true to his word. He allowed Leibel to stay in his home as long as he needed, until he managed to land a job working as a shoemaker. Leibel was not like the other American workers who chatted incessantly during their work and looked for every opportunity to leave the shop early and arrive late. Guided by a powerful urge to do the will of Hashem in all settings of his life, Leibel was meticulous, honest, and worked hard for his new boss. Like the tzaddikim of the past, Leibel worked to earn himself an honest living and at the same time devoted all of his free time — however little it may have been — to learning Torah, saying Tehillim and studying seforim of mussar.
Although the fire of secularism and the fight to survive burnt and sometimes even destroyed many Jewish souls during that period, Leibel was among the few and righteous who withstood the temptations of the secular world and kept every halachah of the Torah fiercely. When his son, Moshe, was born, Leibel instilled within him the same attitude his father had given over to him.
Eventually, Leibel’s lot in life changed: He went from being a simple shoemaker to the owner of a large factory. Now, like his brother Fischel, he was able to give to the poor Jews who needed money, food, and a listening ear. Moshe followed closely in his father’s footsteps, and Leibel made sure Moshe never took their wealth for granted. Unlike Zissy’s upbringing, Leibel made sure that Moshe never fell into the trap of being spoiled or feeling resentful of the poor.
The years flew by, and before long it became time for Moshe to begin shidduchim. But he first wanted to travel to Europe and visit his family there. He had never met Fischel and his family; he wanted to reconnect to his roots and visit the kevarim of his grandparents. Leibel was a bit nervous, because traveling by boat across such great distances was not a simple affair in those days. What if, Heaven forbid, something went wrong and Moshe was harmed… or worse?
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 939)
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