As told to Malkie Schulman
My oldest daughter, 26, had been dating for many years, and needed a shidduch. I clearly needed to go to a different place in my tefillah. As it happens, I’m an avid frequenter of holy gravesites. So when my sister, Miriam, invited me to join her on a pilgrimage to the kever of the Linitzer-Sokolivker Rebbe, Rav Eliyahu Yosef Rabinowitz ztz”l, I readily agreed to go along.
You may already be picturing an overseas trip to Europe, a bus ride through misty Polish woods to a remote, ancient cemetery. In this case, you’d be mistaken. Our travel plan would take us to Cheektowaga, a suburb of Buffalo, New York.
But first a few words about the Linitzer-Sokolivker Rebbe. Rav Rabinowitz was born in Sokolivka, Ukraine, a great-grandson of Rav Pinchas of Koritz and a brother-in-law and chavrusa of Rav Mordechai Dov Ber of Hornosteipel. Fleeing the frequent pogroms, he became one of the first chassidic rebbes (possibly the first) to move permanently to the United States, settling on the Lower East Side in 1899. In 1908, a small community of Linitzer-Sokolivker immigrants in Buffalo invited him to lead their shul, and he accepted, serving there until his petirah on 13 Cheshvan 5671/1910.
He was buried in the Ahavas Sholem Cemetery on Pine Ridge Road in Cheektowaga, in an ohel that stood out from the surroundings. His grave remained obsure until 1999, when it was discovered by chassidic researchers. A few Orthodox Jews began traveling to Buffalo to pray at his gravesite, and as word spread that they had seen yeshuos, the trickle became a steady stream.
Miriam and I finalized plans to leave our homes in Flatbush and fly from JFK to Buffalo. The flight itself was short, and I passed the time looking around to see if there were any other frum Jews on the plane. I noticed only one other religious person: a dark-suited man in a navy suede yarmulke, typing on a laptop precariously balanced on his knees, seated a few rows behind us. Probably on a business trip, I figured.
Once we arrived at Ahavas Sholem Cemetery, the little brick building housing the Rebbe’s grave was not hard to locate. We entered the silent, empty room and immediately opened up our Tehillim and began to pray. About ten minutes later, the navy suede yarmulke man from our flight walked in.
I have no idea what possessed me, but I actually walked over to ask him if he had been on the noon flight from JFK. Close up, I thought he looked a little familiar.
“Are you Avi Bruck’s son?” I asked on a sudden whim.
“Yes, I’m David,” he replied, clearly taken aback.
When he said those words, the years began to fall away.
“I’m Rafi Green’s daughter,” I responded.
I saw his face turn pale and I was sure I knew why.
My father, Rafi Green, and David Bruck’s father, Avi Bruck, were born in the same hospital on the same day of the same year. Their fathers had been best friends growing up in Vilna, Lithuania, and Avi and Rafi were best friends growing up in Monsey, New York. Avi’s parents would joke that they were ready to file the adoption papers any day, since Rafi practically lived at their house anyway. Even after the boys grew up and married, the close relationship continued between their families, children coming and going between their houses.
Until the day it stopped. Even 35 years later, none of the children from either side knew what caused the sudden rupture. All requests to invite our friends over were met with stony silence.
It was like we had each moved to an alternate universe where the other family no longer existed. Bentshers from their simchahs embossed with their names were suddenly no longer seen in our house, their names never mentioned in conversation again. When the men encountered each other on the street, Avi stared straight ahead and Rafi deliberately crossed the road.
Yet here we were, I thought, the three of us — Miriam and I, with David Bruck — the only ones present at the gravesite of a holy rabbi. I ran out and called my father.
“Abba,” I began agitatedly, “I’m at the Linitz-Sokolivker Rebbe’s kever in Buffalo, and you’ll never guess who I bumped into. Avi Bruck’s son. We’re the only ones here. We arrived on the same flight.”
I heard the wind rustling the leaves in the trees, a bird chirping in the distance. But I did not hear my father.
“Abba, are you there? I think it’s time to think about forgiving each other for the past.”
Finally, he answered, “I hear, I hear. But I have to go now, your mother is calling me.”
I went back to the room and continued reciting Tehillim, but my turbulent thoughts made it difficult to concentrate.
David Bruck must also have been experiencing turmoil, because five minutes later, he closed his Tehillim and approached me.
“We’re Jewish people,” he said without preamble, “and we believe that nothing happens by chance. You’re here because you need a yeshuah, and I’m here because I need a yeshuah. I don’t know what happened between our fathers, but it’s been 35 years, and we have to try to fix it.”
“Yes, I agree. I just called my father. We must do something about this.”
Once again, I left the room to call my father. This time I began to cry into the phone. “Abba, you must make peace with this man.”
But my father was not ready to give in so easily. “You have no idea what went on and how he wronged me,” he said stubbornly.
“But Abba, why does all this matter 35 years later, when we all have older children who desperately need shidduchim?”
“I don’t know, I don’t know,” he said, but would commit to nothing more.
We hung up. I realized that this was all I could hope to achieve at that moment. But before we left the kever, we exchanged phone numbers with David Bruck, and promised each other we would work on bringing peace between our fathers.
Upon my return to Brooklyn, I informed my brother, Aryeh, of what had transpired, and asked him to take over communicating with David Bruck. Aryeh called him the following day, and David told him he had spoken with his parents. His mother, he related, had broken down in tears, but his father was unrelenting.
That’s when Aryeh decided to become more proactive.
“Let’s be like Aharon HaKohein,” he said to me. “We’ll make it seem to each of them that the other one wants to make up.”
We decided to order a lavish fruit basket and send it to our father, with a note attached saying it was from Avi. Only when everything was a fait accompli did we tell our father what we had done.
A few hours later, my father called. But when I answered the phone, all I could hear were muffled sobs.
“He called me,” he finally managed to gasp out. “Avi called me. He said, ‘Mochel lach, mochel lach, mochel lach,’ and I repeated it after him. We are friends again.”
The story could have ended right there. The way the event was orchestrated to the minute, to the hour, under all the circumstances — that we would meet David Bruck, where we would meet him (at the grave of a holy tzaddik, buried in “Ahavas Sholem Cemetery”), that we were the only ones there that day so we’d have the opportunity to meet each other — can only be attributed to the Hand of G-d Who delights in His children’s love for one another. The terrific merit that must surely accrue to us, the children, for bringing peace between our fathers, is incalculable. The fact that instead of getting still more deeply entrenched in their feud, our fathers were able to set their pain aside and make peace, is inspiring.
Happily, though, there is one more wonderful postscript to this story.
My 26-year-old daughter became engaged four months later.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 737)
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