Last week I published excerpts from a letter written by a suffering mother whose rebellious son had not only turned his back on his family but had also rejected his Jewish faith. This woman’s husband had given up on the young man but she was determined to keep the door open in the hope he would yet come back.
When she read my March 15 column in which I emphasized the power of love as the most potent antidote to the poisonous fights that had come to characterize her home, she showed it to her husband. His reacted cynically. He said the love I advocated had no relevance to life today. Subsequently the woman asked that I share with readers one of my own personal experiences to prove her husband wrong.
So last week I began relating the saga of a young man who had rejected his family, left home and was in danger of going to jail. I urged the boy’s mother to do everything in her power to engage an attorney on her son’s behalf and bring him to our Torah class at Hineni. That’s where we left off last week.
Several weeks passed and I hadn’t heard from this mother. Then one morning she called. “Rebbetzin,” she said excitedly, “we brought him back! He’s here with us, but I’m very, very nervous. I’m so afraid he’ll slip back and disappear again. When can we come to see you?”
“Come tonight,” I said. “Come to my Hineni class and, with the help of G-d, Torah will be his cleaning agent.”
Later that evening when I walked into the room, my eyes caught the mother sitting alone in the back row. What could have happened, I wondered? Could he have slipped away again? I didn’t want to have a conversation in a public forum lest someone overhear us. It was late and I had to start my class. But no sooner did I go up to the lectern than I picked him out in the audience. He was tall, dark and handsome and was obviously striving for a “cool” look – it was nighttime and he was wearing designer sunglasses.
I began to teach, but with his eyes hidden behind those glasses I couldn’t tell whether he was listening. His body language told me he was edgy and nervous. After the class I saw his mother prodding him in my direction. She looked upset. There was a lot at stake. But finally, slowly and reluctantly, he made his way toward me with his mother.
“Rebbetzin, this is my son,” she murmured.
“I’m pleased to meet you,” I said, “but remove those shades. You don’t need sunglasses here.”
He muttered something under his breath and said, “The light hurts my eyes.”
“The light here is the light of Torah, and that can only heal your eyes,” I replied.
He took off the sunglasses.
“That’s better,” I said. “What is your name?”
“Mario,” he answered.
“Mario can’t be your name,” I responded. “That’s a façade, a pretense. Tell me your real name, your Jewish name.”
“Anshie,” he muttered.
“Anshie,” I repeated. “That can’t be. Anshie always goes with something else. Now give me your full name.”
“Osher Anshil,” he said.
For a moment I stood there in stunned disbelief. Osher Anshil was the name of my great-great grandfather who was known throughout Hungry as the “Miracle Rabbi.” Some people believed Elijah himself visited him and taught him how to heal injured souls and minds.
All Osher Anshils are somehow connected to my family. My own son as well as my nephew and now my great-grandson are named after him. I asked myself what his connection to us could possibly be.
“How did you get that name?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he shrugged. “Ask my mother.”
“Tell me,” I turned to her, “how did you come to give that name to your son?”
“It’s a long story,” she said, her voice unsteady. “When Osher Anshil was born, he was a twin. His sibling died, and Anshi was very ill. I went to my rabbi and asked him for a blessing and he said I should give the name Osher Anshil, after the ‘Miracle Rabbi,’ so that he might be protected.”
I felt overwhelmed. The entire story was like a jigsaw puzzle spanning oceans and continents and centuries, and now the pieces were all falling into place: the conversation I had with the man I met on my way to a speaking engagement; the mother coming to seek my help; and now, Osher Anshil himself standing in front of me.
“Listen to me,” I said. “I’m the great-great granddaughter of the rebbi after whom you were named. It’s no coincidence you are here. There are no accidents in G-d’s world. The blessing you received when your mother gave you the name Osher Anshil has served you well.”
I invited him to move to our community. He thought it over and consented, though he wasn’t sure how much of a commitment he was ready to make. He learned Torah with us and celebrated Shabbosos and Yomin Tovim. To be sure, the miracle did not occur overnight. There were many ups and downs and days of tension and uncertainty.
But a miracle did occur, and step by step he returned to our Jewish way of life, united with his family and identified with our Torah.
Even as this young man’s name, Osher Anshil, connected him to the great Miracle Rabbi of Chenger, the Menuchas Osherso, so every Jewish name connects every Jew to a zaidie…to a rebbe…to a prophet…to a patriach – going all the way back to our father Abraham.
A Jewish soul is never lost.