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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
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We Stopped Traffic On Ocean Parkway


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Picture it, a busy Sunday afternoon with traffic moving briskly along Ocean Parkway, a major Brooklyn thoroughfare linking the brownstones of Park Slope in the north with the beaches and amusement parks of Coney Island in the south. Suddenly everything comes to a halt.

To understand why traffic abruptly stopped on Ocean Parkway in 2012 we have to travel back in time to 1951. My family, newly arrived from Europe, was living in a boarding house on West Second Street on the edge of Coney Island. On Simchas Torahmy father took me to a modest little gray-shingled shul around the corner on Seabreeze Avenue, where I fondly recall being given a flag with an apple perched on top and marching around happily with the other little children. I was four years old.

Dr. Joshua Schwimmer, left, and Andrew Schwimmer, carry the Sefer Torah dedicated to their grandparents.

Exactly forty years later fate, destiny, and God’s guiding hand, brought me back to Seabreeze Avenue when I innocently walked through the front door of the home of Rabbi Zushe and Rebbetzin Esther Winner, my husband’s patients who had invited us for Shabbos dinner. Their house is on the site of the original Seabreeze synagogue that was torn down and replaced by a large modern building next door. Their home was built on the empty lot.

A relationship began at that Shabbos table that led to a blessing from the Lubavitcher Rebbe. It was at the Winner’s dining room table that I learned to daven from a lovely young woman Rebbetzin Esther hired specifically to teach a group of eager 40-somethings like myself whose neshamas had been reawakened.

My deepening friendship and admiration for Esther led to our collaboration on the video,  Taste of Shabbos, which was filmed in the Winner home. And it was at the same dining room table that PBS filmed the television program, United Tastes of America. Because of the growing worldwide popularity of “A Taste Of Shabbos,” Esther and her children were the natural choice for the segment on the traditional Jewish family. I joined the project as a script and production assistant.

Dr. Richard Schwimmer, accompanied by Rabbi Zushe Winner, carries the Sefer Torah during the Grand Torah Parade.

And the Rebbe’s blessings continued. My book, Like The Stars of The Heavens, an anthology of inspiring stories about leading Jewish figures in the arts and sciences, which originally appeared in The Jewish Press, was published in 2007 to widespread acclaim.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of our family’s remarkable friendship with the Winner family as well as my father’s twentieth yahrzeit. I wanted to commemorate these events with a special mitzvah, one that would be meaningful for my family and the community. So, my husband and I dedicated a Sefer Torah to the Chabad Neshama Center in loving memory of my parents.

It seemed only fitting that the writing of this Sefer Torahshould be completed where I spent some of the most joyful and meaningful moments of the last twenty years, the home of Rabbi and Rebbetzin Winner.

The Schwimmer and Winner families

So we have come full circle. As a little girl who marched with a flag on Simchas Torah I am grateful to Hashem for giving me the opportunity to see my own children and grandchildren march with flags during the dedication of a Sefer Torah in memory of my mother, Devorah bas Mordechai, and my father, David ben Yerachmiel, survivors of the Holocaust. A living Torah is the most meaningful way of memorializing the survivors because the 3,000-year-old Torah is the ultimate survivor.

The members of the Jewish community from the former Soviet Union, who joined us as we carried the Torah to its new home, were overwhelmed and grateful for the opportunity to march in the street and publicly and proudly proclaim their Jewishness. The camera phones were clicking wildly as even diners and workers in restaurants in Brighton Beach left their tables to watch in awe as the Grand Torah Parade stopped traffic one Sunday afternoon on Ocean Parkway. A Kiddush Hashem.

Please visit Helen Zegerman Schwimmer’s website: helenschwimmer.com.

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