Every bar mitzvah is special, but some are more special than others. Thirteen years ago, our son was born with a rare and life-threatening condition. The first few years were touch and go. Each milestone in his life carried extra significance.
These days, even people with a bad sense of direction can travel with ease. Since the invention of the GPS, people have confidence that they will find their way.
It was the first Sunday in April when my son called with the following query: "Abba," he asked. "What's the name of the '80s music group that rediscovered one of Bob Dylan's greatest hits?" I immediately answered him. As it turned out, my son was in a car at the time with a classmate's father and the father's friend.
I live in the Ramot neighborhood of Jerusalem. Just up the road from my house is Kever Shmuel Hanavi (the Prophet Samuel's tomb). This landmark is situated in a very strategic spot. It is 885 meters above sea level, affording a panoramic vista of Jerusalem and its surrounding areas. For hundreds of years, it was in Jewish hands.
I joined the Jewish Press Emunah family four years ago when I wrote about my fall down a flight of stairs while holding my granddaughter. Baruch Hashem, my 16-month-old granddaughter came out without a scratch, but I became paralyzed and needed six months of rehab. Hashem saw fit to save me, and to help me recuperate.
She walked into my husband's office, accompanied by her father. They were clearly from Israel's lower socioeconomic class. The father was a large, frightening man who reeked of alcohol, and his daughter was a recent ba'alat teshuvah.
I was visiting a shul I formerly attended during my previous marriage. My former husband worked on Shabbos, and did what he could to pull my children away from Yiddishkeit.
We were making good time on Erev Pesach. The back of our car was packed with coolers filled with homemade foods for the Seder - savory Moroccan gefilte fish balls, sweet and sour turkey balls, and trays of delicious baked goods. My husband's white kittel lay atop our suitcases, together with the afikomen toys for our grandchildren. Everything felt just right. Then we heard the sound.
It was Erev Pesach, three hours before Yom Tov. I was at the checkout counter at the local supermarket. The gentleman in front of me was trying to pay his $48 bill. I noticed that he gave the clerk a credit card that was declined. He offered a second credit card, with the same result. The saleswoman then asked the young man how he planned to pay, to which he sheepishly replied, "May I write a check?"
I recently returned from a visit to Eretz Yisrael, where I go yearly for my father's yahrzeit. As always, my husband, and my sister and her family accompanied me. On the way to the cemetery, we were fortunate to hail a taxi driver who spoke fluent English. He had made aliyah many years before from East Flatbush, where my husband and I lived.
The land of Israel's holiness features four cities that are singled out as exceptionally holy, and which are imbued with special qualities. I have had the good fortune to visit all four - Hebron, Jerusalem, Tiberias and Safed - if only for a short time. Each of these cities is associated with a particular kind of holiness, corresponding to the four basic elements: Jerusalem - fire; Hebron - earth; Tiberias - water; and, my favorite, Safed - air.
I believe that everything happens for a reason. Even the seemingly smallest of occurrences has a purpose. I recently had a doctor's appointment in Yerushalayim. Once finished, I decided to do some shopping in a nearby grocery store. This spur-of-the- moment decision led to an encounter with someone from my past, who was to teach me invaluable lessons in life.
This story was told by Mrs. T., a woman in her 60s who I've known for three years. Mrs. T. attends my synagogue and sisterhood functions. Over the years, Mrs. T. always appeared to be shy and tense. She rarely spoke and usually had worry lines between her eyes and around her mouth. When she and her family first moved to our neighborhood, her husband also attended synagogue. However, he suffered from a chronic illness that kept him home on many a Shabbat.
On December 31, 2009, my father was diagnosed with cancer. Sadly, almost everyone will be touched by this horrible disease in one fashion or another. I have had many friends who have been affected by cancer, but they were younger and stronger than my dad, or Tatinke, who is 84.
Fifteen years ago, on a Shabbos Mevorchim leading up to a new month, my husband was leading the davening. I heard him intone, "Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av will be on..." But it wasn't the month of Av, as the upcoming month was Mar Cheshvan. An audible gasp swept through the shul, and he immediately corrected himself.
I was walking down Coney Island Ave. when I saw an old acquaintance eating in a non-kosher restaurant. I wanted to approach him and ask him if he would be interested in putting on tefillin. But I felt hesitant, and wrestled internally to overcome my embarrassment. Finally I gathered enough confidence to enter the restaurant and approach my friend. Greeting him warmly, I gently asked if he would like to put on tefillin. He politely refused and, after a brief conversation, I was on my way.
There are many things in our lives for which we pray to Hashem. These include health, shalom bayit, nachat from our children, and parnassah. In Israel, we have been praying for rain for a while. Israel has been suffering from a dearth of rainfall for a number of years. The waterline in the Kinneret is visibly dropping, and the government has been scrambling for ways to conserve our dwindling water supply.
A young man and 12 of his friends went to Kever Rachel to daven for his very sick mother. She had leukemia and needed a bone marrow transplant. The mother's family was tested to see if someone was a match. One relative's marrow matched with 9 out of 10 factors. This was good, but the optimum was 10 out of 10 factors.
Something beautiful happened last summer while I was visiting my daughter and her family in Toronto. I was shopping at Sears and did not realize that I had accidentally dropped my wallet on the floor. I only realized what had happened after returning home. It was upsetting when upon returning to the store to inquire, no one had turned it in. But I then had to return home to Montreal.
This is a story about my father-in-law. On the 12th of Tevet, the yahrzeit of his father, Yaakov Eliezer ben Yosef Dov, took place. Rav Yaakov passed away 44 years ago. That night, my wife hosted a yahrzeit seudah (meal) in our home. My father-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Lazarus, told stories about his father, accompanied by divrei Torah.
We were very excited about attending our dear nephew's aufruf (ceremony in shul the Shabbos preceding a wedding). We didn't know where we were being put up, but somehow the address sounded familiar. When we got to the house, I recognized it immediately. It was the Brooklyn office of the Hebron community in Israel. The bar mitzvah of my son, of blessed memory, had been Parshas Chayei Sarah, the Torah portion that describes how Abraham buried his wife Sarah in Hebron. His bar mitzvah theme had been "Hebron."
It is unsettling to be locked out of your home. My nine-year-old daughter recently locked us out of our home twice in one evening. Not having been raised in Jewish observance, I did not know about Hashgacha Pratis (Divine Providence) - the personal involvement that God had in my life. In this discovery, I found the very key to my life.
My brother lives in Haifa. Despite his advanced age of 96, his mind is still sharp and his memory is keen. In a recent letter, he related the following episode. I was not aware of this incident since I was married and living in France when it happened.
Tefillah is a powerful tool. When we see Hashem's hand at work, we are overwhelmed. One of my neighbors recently experienced Hashem's answer to her tefillah firsthand. She had brought her car in for repairs to the local auto shop. Rather than wait for it to be repaired, she decided to walk a mile to the nearest pizza shop for lunch. As she walked down a busy street, she passed a shopping center. Suddenly, she literally didn't know what hit her.
Our forefather Yaakov is considered to have been the patriarch who endured the most suffering. Although our rabbis look to the binding of Yitzchak and the trial of Avraham as the epitome of suffering in the form of self-sacrifice, Yaakov is our greatest teacher in the difficult subject of dealing with life's hardships.