From time-to-time, I share my personal semachos with my extended family, you, my dear readers of The Jewish Press. So it is my zechus (privilege) to publish, in this column, an article that my daughter, Slovie Jungreis Wolff (Hineni lecturer and author of Raising a Child With Soul) wrote for Aish.com, on the occasion of the Bat Mitzvah of her daughter Aliza.
Twelve years ago there was still much sadness in my heart. I missed my Abba, your Zaydie, on whose shoulders you had never been carried. And then, the night that Passover was over, great joy returned. Your sweet soul brought life into this world.
I remember saying the Shema to you that very first moment I held you. Your tiny little hand curled round my one finger. Holding you brought me peace. I was comforted. We asked your bubba for a name. Bubba, your beloved grandmother, is the “keeper of the names.” After surviving Bergen-Belsen as a little girl and losing her zaydie and bubby along with so many cousins, aunts, uncles and life as she knew it, Bubba refused to relinquish their names. Until today, your bubba holds onto their sacred memory and tenaciously remembers each and every name.
Bubba likes to tell the story how, when I was first born, the nurse entered the room and asked for my name to record on hospital records.
“Slova Channah,” Bubba said.
“I’ll come back when you’re feeling better, dear,” was the nurse’s immediate reply.
I have always carried the name of my great-grandmother, Rebbetzin Slova Chana, proudly. Knowing that my name is unusual and certainly not typically American never daunted me. As a little girl my name seemed to whisper to me and remind me of whom I am. And as I grew, I have come to understand that I am the bearer of my bubba’s torch. Her light must shine through me despite the blackness of her death.
She lived her life giving of herself to others, immersed in holiness until her final moments when she perished in the flames of those unbearable times. She left this world with the Shema on her lips. And then years later, the same Shema was on mine as I held you for the first time.
So when you were born, of course, we came to Bubba and asked for your name.
“Your Abba, Zaydie, had a most beautiful sister,” she told us. “She was known to be kind and wise, always with a bright smile and great love for life. She was taken away by the Nazi Gestapo… never married, seen or heard from again. Abba Zayda missed his sister so. Her name was Fraidel, which means joyful. It is a perfect name for our sweet baby. Let’s add the name Aliza,” Bubba advised. “Aliza is the Hebrew version of the Yiddish, Fraidel. With G-d’s help, this baby will always bring us joy.” So the name Aliza Fraidel became your noble legacy.
I tell you all this, my precious Aliza, because now it is your turn to bear the torch. Turning 12 is the age of understanding for you, my sweet child. As you come to embrace the mitzvot with new understanding, it is important that you know from whence you’ve come. It is only when you know where you have come from that you can know where you are going.
We live in such difficult times. I know how hard it is to grow up in today’s world. So many challenges, so many fears. I know that at times your world will seem overwhelming, even frightening. My precious Aliza Fraidel, never forget from whence you’ve come. Never forget your name.
Take this legacy with you, wherever you may go. Remember too, that the root of the word neshamah (soul) is shem (name). If you would like a window onto your soul, grasp onto your name and never allow its presence to leave you. You have been called after a most righteous woman who died al Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying the name of G-d. Her holiness will accompany you throughout your life. You will always be reminded of your noble mission, just as I have been, as your name gently whispers to you and reminds you of your roots.
At your Bat Mitzvah, we asked Bubba to say a few words so that she might give you her blessing. The girls in your class were sitting in front and Bubba took a moment to look at them before she began to speak.
“I know that it seems strange to you that I am crying,” Bubba said, “but you see, when I look at all these beautiful girls sitting together as one, I am overwhelmed. When I was a little girl, there were no Bat Mitzvahs. There were no girls laughing, singing and dancing together. We did not even know if there would ever be more Jewish little girls. We could not imagine that we would survive. And here you are! A new generation ready to stand up and live a life of Torah and mitzvot. Girls who, with G-d’s help, will one day build your own Jewish homes and bring new light into our world. Who would have believed this?”
And so, I want to thank G-d for allowing me the privilege to rebuild. We came from the ashes and now look! G-d has, in His great kindness, blessed me with children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. All loyal to His Torah, all walking in the path of our people.”
Bubba asked you to come up so that she might bless you. As you stood before her, Bubba placed her hands on your head and through her tears gave you her blessing.
As your mother, it seems daunting for me to put my blessings for you into words. Words are so limiting and my hopes and prayers are boundless. I have so much to say, so many supplications rest within my heart.
You know, Aliza, that since you were a baby, we had a tradition together. I would sing you the Shema, and you would fall asleep contentedly in my arms. As you have grown, you still fall asleep with a prayer on your lips but you have added your own traditions. Each night, you conclude your bedtime prayers with a private plea to G-d. You ask G-d to bring refuah sh’leimah, a full recovery and healing to those who are ill. And then I hear you say the names of so many… mothers, fathers, children, babies, all in need of G-d’s healing balm. You do not even know many of these people, but you have heard their Hebrew names being given for Psalms.
I pray that you forever feel compassion for others. I pray that you walk in the ways of our mothers, Sarah, Rebeccah, Rachel and Leah. I pray that you forever remember your name, your legacy for life and your holy roots. And as you grow into a bat Yisrael, a daughter of Israel, may G-d bless you with all His blessings, watch over you, and guide you so that you may be a source of true nachat to our family, our people and our G-d.
I love you forever.