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I Will Hold Your Empty Hand

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We had just moved to Boro Park, fresh from the DP camps. The community was new and small, but we were settling in nicely. I knew how fortunate I was to have almost my whole family survive; most had so much less. Our family was a draw for many who needed that familiar feeling of home. One Shabbos afternoon I answered the door to find one such friend and a couple I did not recognize.

“This is my friend Nachum Shroen, and his wife Zeesel,” Noach explained. “We were talmidim together in Lita.” He smiled. “I had a feeling they might enjoy coming to your family’s house.”

Noach was right. Like so many others, Nachum and Zeesel felt right at home with us. He was kind, friendly, and, it turned out, a real talmid chacham. It was a taste of de heim for Nachum to meet my father, another genuine talmid chacham, and the feeling was certainly mutual. Zeesel, too, a kind and gentle soul, fit right in. The couple quickly became part of our extended family.

Nachum and Zeesel were cheerful people. But still… there was also something else… a tinge of sadness, a silent sigh, a shared sorrow that darkened their faces.

Nachum and Zeesel were inseparable. Where one went, the other went. They were the epitome of a close couple – one unit, with shared thoughts, joys and sadness. But that unit remained closed. The Shroens had been married for over ten years and they still had no children. As the years passed, and I got married, and had children of my own, the shadow on their faces deepened.

Nachum and Zeesel were dying to have children.

Zeesel had a friend, Shaindy Vogel, who had been childless for ten long years. One day Shaindy told Zeesel that she was going to see the Skverer Rebbe. The Rebbe was known for seeing many suffering Jews. He felt their pain, he absorbed it, and he did whatever was in his power to give, to bless them with the joy and peace they sought.

Soon Zeesel heard the news. Shaindy was expecting a child.

The Shroens could not remain indifferent. Joyous they were for their friends, but it was only natural that their own plight should leap to the forefront. What to do? Nachum was a Litvak. He had not been raised to go to Rebbes. But a tzaddik is a tzaddik, and a yid believes in the power of tzaddikim. The longing for a child is a longing like no other. When one feels that longing, it leaps in front of everything, and pushes its way forward.

Nachum and Zeesel decided to go to the Skverer Rebbe.

“Can you come with me?” Nachum asked my father. Father understood that this was unfamiliar territory for his friend, and that he would need help navigating it. “It would be my pleasure,” he responded. “Froyim will drive us and we’ll go together.”

Father and I were not strangers to the Skverer Rebbe. Before the Rebbe had moved to Williamsburg, he had resided in Boro Park. Hungry for the closeness of a tzaddik, we had gravitated towards this holy man. Sometimes I would go Friday night, to join the Rebbe’s tish for Kiddush. There were few Chassidim in those days; it was not the Rebbe’s court of old. But in a sense, the smallness of the gathering served to draw us in closer, to feel the presence that we craved. I had been raised to cling to a tzaddik, and I missed having a Rebbe. For those few moments Friday night, I felt the illumination of a great presence close to me.

One Erev Yom Kippur my father asked me if I would like to accompany him to the Skverer Rebbe. I was glad of the opportunity, and we went to the Rebbe’s house together. The gabbai showed us in, and we stood in front of the Rebbe.

The Rebbe offered his hand, and we both gave him shalom. For a long moment, he looked us up and down. Then Father took his kvittel, and put it down with a pidyon, some money.

The Rebbe looked at the kvittel, at whatever requests Father had written down. Then he spoke, and wished us a heartfelt blessing for a good year. We then turned to take our leave. I was at the door when I heard the Rebbe’s voice once more.

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