"It may not be the way you thought it would be, but never forget to thank Hashem for that day”
In the 1970s I worked as a waiter at the famed Lebowitz Pine View Hotel in Fallsburg, New York. Nat and Evelyn Lebowitz owned the hotel, and it was certainly an experience to work there.
Nat was very careful about davening with a minyan. Since the regular hotel minyan began too late for him, he mandated that all of us waiters had to get up at five-thirty to make the waiters’ minyan.
After we waiters had cleaned up from dinner and set the dining room for breakfast, I would sit outside and listen to stories about the alte heim from the guests seated on the front lawn. Almost all of the guests were survivors, and most were in their sixties or seventies. Some had numbers, and some didn’t, but all had memories.
I recall one humid evening when I sat next to Faivel Schwartz. When I met him, Faivel was 62 years old. Faivel had been born in Debrecen, Hungary, in 1913, and reached Auschwitz on July 3, 1944. Miraculously, he survived the war, and in 1946, at the age of 33, he came to the United States. Faivel and I spent many hours together. As we sat together on this humid summer night, Faivel mentioned that he had arrived at Auschwitz on this night, July 3rd, 32 years earlier.
“When I arrived at Auschwitz, I was married with two children. My Briendel was five, and Surka was three. My wife, Perele, was 30 years old.
“There was screaming and dogs barking, and guards pushing and shoving. That was the last time I ever saw my family. They all were sent to the left, while I was sent to the right. After the war, I came here, remarried, and had two daughters. They are the light in my life.”
Being young and socially awkward, I asked Faivel, “Are you bitter over your past?”
“When I was young, I always dreamed of walking my daughters down to the chuppah. This past June, my dream was fulfilled as I walked my youngest daughter to her chuppah. I am sure you noticed that I walk with a cane and have a pronounced limp. That was a parting gift from a vicious SS guard. At the time of the beating, if you had told me that 30 years later I would walk my daughter to her chuppah, I would not have believed you. I had walked them to Mengele, yemach shemo, just months before! Yet, Hashem was good to me, and last month I did walk my daughter down. With my cane and my limp, I proudly walked her down, with gratitude to Hashem. One day you, too, will walk your daughter to the chuppah. It may not be the way you thought it would be, but never forget to thank Hashem for that day.”
Fast-forward 44 years. I am recovering from back surgery less than a month before. I am confined to a walker. Yet, on this day, I am using a cane for the first time. My physical therapist okayed the cane for this one occasion. I am standing in the lobby of the wedding hall. The maître d’ is about to open the doors to allow us to walk in. The door opens as I hold tight to my daughter’s arm.
Suddenly, amid the bright lights of the photographer, I can almost see the face of Reb Faivel Schwartz ztz”l. I feel as if he has come to join me at my simchah. And I can hear him as he whispers, “Remember what I told you? One day you, too, will walk your daughter to the chuppah. It may not be the way you thought it would be, but never forget to thank Hashem for that day.”
I never imagined I would require a cane to walk my daughter down. Yet, tonight I am the most grateful man in the world.
Hodu L’Hashem ki tov.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 845)
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