Huge crystal chandeliers sparkled with points of light that shone like diamonds. Hundreds of ornate, gilded chairs had been arranged on the ballroom’s thick, blue and brown carpet in the palatial Miami Beach hotel. This elegant space had been converted into a temporary synagogue for the holiday.
Guests marking the first day of Passover packed the shul and vacant places were quickly becoming scarce, especially on the men’s side of the mechitzah.
In unison my husband Abe and the stranger seated to his right greeted a slight, older man who was attempting to locate an available chair somewhere closer to the front, perhaps because of a hearing problem.
“A Polisher,” the neighbor, dressed in a black silk coat, casually mentioned to Abe. He lifted his chin to indicate the seat-seeker. “I myself am a Galicianer,” he said smiling.
“Oh, really?” my husband asked, gazing at the man with greater interest. “From where in Galicia?”
Abe is president of the Chrzanower Society, and he is always attuned to the possibility of meeting landsleit or their children.
“I’m Henri R.,” the man continued, extending his hand. “I was born in Belgium after the war, but my mother and father came from Chrzanow.”
“I am from Chrzanow,” my husband declared, his voice rising. “What were the names of your parents?” Abe turned sideways to face this newly discovered kinsman with a smiling, friendly face.
Henri quickly supplied two familiar names.
“You’re kidding!” Abe exclaimed in delighted amazement. “Your grandfather, your mother’s father, was my rebbe during the war!”
This erudite scholar had taught in the famous Yeshiva Keser Torah before the Shoah. During the German occupation, when the great yeshiva was shuttered by the Nazis, Rabbi Chaim Tobias taught small groups of young boys. My husband still remembered how they had studied Gemara and commentaries, and had learned from the great teacher who was later martyred at Auschwitz.
What were the chances, except through hashgachah pratis, that in this vast sea of white talleisim Abe would be seated next to his rebbe’s grandson, and that this Chrzanower einekel would be able to hear about the greatness of his grandfather directly from one who had been privileged to bask in the light of this brilliant scholar? What were the odds that Abe would have the zechut to behold a descendant of his teacher, and to joyously ascertain that he had followed in the path of his illustrious grandfather?
On Pesach, a holiday of miracles, one can only conclude that as we come closer to Hashem, many wondrous happenings are possible.