Many moons ago, when our children were small, my husband and I would spend our summers at Liebowitz’s Pine View Hotel in the Catskill Mountains. It was a special time – before today’s technology -when people actually talked to one another and were happy just to get away from the city and breathe some fresh country air. To me, however, that which was most special was that I had the zechus to host my dear parents every Shabbos. Then my talks took on an added dimension because my beloved, honored parents were there. Many amazing miracles occurred during these Shabbosim.
For now, I will limit myself to one little story, during which I had the great zechus of bringing some young Jews back to Torah. They had become involved in the Jews for J movement, which, in those days, was very popular.
What were these young people doing at the Orthodox Pine View Hotel on Shabbos? I will try to summarize it as concisely as I can.
One summer, while in Jerusalem, a rebbe approached me and told me that back in the States there was a Jewish man who was baptizing unsuspecting young Jews and converting them. “It would be a huge mitzvah if you could reach his heart and bring him and his followers back to Torah,” he said.
I was all too familiar with the Jews for J movement because as I was reaching more young people with a Torah message, they tried to subvert my work and, to confuse issues, they called themselves “Hineni for J.”
When I returned to the States, I called the man whom the rebbe had spoken of and invited him to come see me. Of course, he refused, and tried to persuade me that it was I who was in error.
Undeterred, I persisted with my invitation and told him that I would be leaving for the Catskills the following week with my family, and if he wished, he could join us for Shabbos. “It would be our pleasure to welcome you.” I assured him. And with that, I gave him the phone number of the hotel not knowing if he would ever show.
Several weeks later, he called. “I’m taking you up on your invitation, but I’d like to bring some of my Jewish friends. Will that be all right?”
I readily agreed and prepared the guests at the hotel so that they might help me make them comfortable. They came to missionarize with their Jews for J literature and pamphlets. They tried to debate me to prove that I, as a Torah Jew, was following the wrong path. I told them that I would be happy to discuss the subject, but it was Erev Shabbos, and I had to get ready for the holy day, so it would have to wait until after Shabbos.
On Friday night my husband and my father’s Shalom Aleichem rang out throughout the dining room. It was not only the angels that we greeted that night, but we extended Shalom Aleichem to those lost Yiddishe neshamos who, for the very first time in their lives, sat at a real Shabbos table. As always, before Kiddush, my father and husband blessed all the children. And when my father placed his hands on these young men’s heads, tears flowed from his eyes. He couldn’t bear the thought that Yiddishe neshamos should have come to such a tragic state.
When the young men felt his loving hands on their heads, and saw his tears, their eyes became moist and the pintele Yid, dormant in their souls, came to life. My father always conducted a beautiful Shabbos tisch and the guests would join us in singing and dancing. Suddenly, these young boys were caught up in the joyous sanctity of the moment and danced long into the night. Thus, their transformation commenced.
Shabbos morning, after Kiddush, I spoke on the parshah and the awakening became complete. They no longer had a desire for debate. The only questions that troubled them were how and where they could study Torah and how they could make up for their lost years? Spontaneously, everyone started to sing, Am Yisrael Chai – the Jewish People Lives – Od Avinu Chai – Our Heavenly Father is forever in our neshamos…. and it was with that song that the men danced the boys into the dining room.
On Sunday morning we made plans for their new lives. One of the young men told me that he was engaged to a gentile girl and scheduled to be married in church. He felt it only fair that he go home to personally inform the girl of his new life.
My father overheard the conversation, and in his broken, limited English called out to him, “Sonny, Come here – you go back to girl…. girl cry…give you kiss… you finished man. Send letter and go to New York with Rebbetzin now – study in Yeshiva.”
And so it was. Today, these young men are already zeides with children and grandchildren – all b’nei Torah.
There are myriad stories each connected by the common thread in every Jewish heart. It testifies that no matter how alienated a Jew may be or how far he may have wandered from his roots, in an instant, he can come back. He need only hear words of Torah and experience a Shabbos, and the pintele Yid will be kindled and connect him to the eternal flame of Sinai.
So why, you may ask, am I telling this story now?
My father’s yahrzeit was last week, and he often said to me, “Mein kind, Di kenst schreiben a lebedig Megillah – my child you can write a living Megillah testifying to the eternity of our people.”
In the spirit of kibud Av – honoring my father’s wishes – I related this little story from the past, and in next week’s column, B’Ezrat Hashem, I will share some beautiful stories of today that continue to prove that the Yiddishe neshamah is more powerful than all the forces of assimilation and can bring a Jew back even when it appears that all is lost.
(To Be Continued)