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April 18, 2014 / 18 Nisan, 5774
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German Bullies, A Milk Bucket, And Divine Providence

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Judaism holds that nothing happens by chance, that everything is orchestrated by Hashem. And so it was long ago on a Sunday morning, about a month after Pesach when my father ran an errand for his parents.

It was the early 1930s and my father, Kurt Lion, then seven or eight years old, was still living in the southwest German farming village where he had been born. His parents had asked him to take a bucket full of milk, drawn from their cow, and deliver it to an uncle who lived nearby. At the time, with the rise of Hitler and hatred of Jews pervading even the most rural of German villages, my father was fearful of running into gangs of Gentile kids in the street – as they might bully him for being Jewish.

But on this Sunday a group of five youths followed my father stubbornly, even as he tried to evade them. They spewed anti-Semitic taunts at him, although he kept pleading that he wanted no trouble. They continued to bear down on him and the group’s leader, several years older than my father, lunged forward to throw a punch.

For the rest of his life my father had vivid memories of what happened next, and he always recounted it with a smile. He ducked away from the punch but at the same time flung the bucket of milk toward his attacker. The milk spilled all over the anti-Semite’s clothing, which incidentally had been his “Sunday finest” for churchgoing.

“My mother is going to kill me!” the attacker cried out, retreating. “Then you should have left me alone,” my father responded.

Some of the other youths again moved toward my father. But he raised the bucket, still half-filled with milk, and sloshed it menacingly.

“I’ll get you too if you don’t leave me alone,” he warned. The group, now also fearing a milk shower on their Sunday clothes, ran away.

My father returned home, said he needed more milk for his uncle and told his parents what had happened. His father, Philip, laughed and joked that the milk had not been wasted; their cow would have approved that its milk was used for this purpose. And he complimented my father for keeping up his courage, “staying brave, and using his Yiddishe kop.

The lesson my father learned that spring morning boosted his confidence and helped him survive the hard times ahead. In the subsequent years, he became adept at defending himself and his Jewish friends in neighborhood fights with anti-Semitic bullies.

During the war he lost his parents but though left an orphan, this fighting spirit kept him going. He joined the French Resistance and continued to fight back against the Germans who inflicted such horrors against his family and our people.

This spring, a few months after my father’s first yahrzeit, when I thought of his amused memories at chasing off the anti-Semitic gang with a bucket of milk, I pondered Divine Providence. A childhood incident that could have ended with my father being beaten badly, humiliated, and perpetually fearful wound up boosting his confidence instead – ultimately instilling in him the bravery to fight and survive.

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