Photo Credit:
Mrs. Hench Leiman

As the sun set late Wednesday afternoon on the 28th of Tishrei, Chaya Zissel Braun, a three-month-old infant, was murdered by an Arab terrorist – a horrendously evil act that eliminated the future for this precious neshoma.

The tragedy promoted sentiments among the faithless that the situation in Yerushalayim is hopeless. Yet Rabi Yisroel Salanter ztl is noted to have said, “There is no greater disease than the loss of hope.” Without hope, can there ever be a future? Thus we mourn, continue to multiply, hope for better times, rejoice, and celebrate longevity despite attempts to destroy us.

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A few blocks from the Jerusalem Light Rail station where the infant was murdered and eight others severely wounded, some 180 guests, 5 generations of family and friends, gathered to celebrate the life of my Aunt Hench, Mrs. Harriet Leiman, born October 1914, one hundred years ago in the Hungarian Czech border village, Adzidovic. World War I had started and the family waited anxiously for mother and infant to be in condition to flee invading Russian forces. They could never have imagined that one hundred years later this new infant, like her older sister, would live in Eretz Yisroel, in Yerushalayim, and both daughters would have merited longevity spanning over 100 years.

Aunt Hench was born into the ravages of war, without proper nourishment, growing in a strange environment far from the homestead where the family had lived, where the milk came from the cows, eggs from the chickens, and fish from the pond outside their door. Life for the Gross family had been disrupted by the Great War, and my grandparents worried how the infant or any of their children would survive. But they survived, all of them, and five years later in 1919 my grandfather left his wife and six children in Europe and sailed to America. He understood there was no future for Jews in Europe and was determined to start a new life for his family. He spent five years in America as a rebbi in a Scranton Talmud Torah until he became a U.S. citizen, permitting him to bring his family into the United States.

The family grew, moved to Brooklyn, the children married, all Torah- and mitzvah-observant, and in 1961, after my grandmother passed away, my grandfather fulfilled his dream to live, and die, in Eretz Yisroel. My husband and I were the only members of the immediate family living in Israel, and in 1964 my parents joined us to look after my grandfather. Aunt Hench and her husband, Uncle Heshie Leiman followed in 1966.

As youngsters we all have opportunities to celebrate our birthdays with balloons, colored dopey hats and paper blowers. A three-year-old may have a kiddush for his upsherin and when we reach bar or bat mitzvah age the festivities may be more lavish. All are milestones along the path of hopes and dreams.

Yet, when an envelope with a commemorative postal stamp bearing a picture of an honored matriarch arrives in the mail, the heart skips a beat. Instinctively, we know that this is a different celebration – one of accomplishment, of proof that it is possible, that we can dream and pray, and Hashem hears and sees and also blesses. Here was an invitation to a party that everyone wished to attend, to feel the brocha, to react to the sensation that spread around the hall emanating from the bow of the violin for our matriarch, to the beautiful Eishes Chayil sung by a great-grandson, to a dear friend’s superb rendition of A Yiddishe Mamma. Attendance was not due to good manners or requirement; it was a desire to partake in a siyum upon the completion of Tanach, propagated jointly by all the grandchildren, and some greats. It turned the evening into a Seudat Mitzvah, a gala affair, elegant as the birthday woman herself, where a magic spell enveloped the participants and the honoree.

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Faigie Heiman is an accomplished short story and essay writer, born and raised in Brooklyn, and who made aliya in 1960 where she lives with her husband in Jerusalem. A frequent contributor to Olam Yehudi, she authored a popular memoir titled “Girl For Sale” in which the events of the Six-Day War appear.

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