During the past several weeks I have shared many of my own personal experiences and those of others. I am referring not only to my recent hospitalization following the breaking of a hip, but also to my series of articles on hashgachah pratis – events that befall us that can easily be attributed to random happenings but upon closer scrutiny and honest introspection testify to the ever-guiding Hand and mercy of Hashem.
In this column I will share yet another hashgachah pratis occurrence.
This past year our Hineni organization expanded its activities and established a young leadership program for Sephardic youth. Before I embarked on my Pesach schedule, we designated a date for a Young Leadership Sephardic/Ashkenazic Shabbaton.
This event was supposed to take place at the end of May, but my presence and participation became questionable after I had my accident.
Nevertheless, I was determined to be there and Hashem granted me that privilege. So while my first public address following my surgery took place at Hineni’s 40th Anniversary Dinner celebration, this Sephardic/Ashkenazic Shabbaton would mark my first Shabbos program.
The event was scheduled to take place at a hotel in Connecticut, not too far from New York but far enough for me. Little things that under normal circumstances one would never consider, like sitting in a car for two hours or finding a place for one’s swollen legs, all became challenges. My mother, Rebbetzin Miriam Jungreis of blessed memory, would always quip in Yiddish, “Far ah kranker – for someone who is not feeling well, no matter how and where you place them, it’s never comfortable.” And that was very much my situation that erev Shabbos.
Just the same, I was determined to go and was so worried about getting there on time that I managed to overlook my aches and pains without making a stop so that we might get there on time.
Two hundred young people, representing Hineni and Go Sephardic, had signed up. To me, that itself was inspiring. At our Hineni classes on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, I always feel uplifted when I look out at the audience and see how Jews from every segment of our population – from secular to strictly observant, Ashkenazim to Sephardim, young to old – are all there, united in a desire to study Torah. And now I felt strengthened and buoyed by this very special Shabbos that would unite our beautiful Sephardic and Ashkenazic young people.
As our car pulled up to the hotel, I noticed some chassidim pulling up as well. Could it be, I wondered, that our committee wanted to surprise me and invited some chassidim to participate? But then, as more and more chassidim arrived, I realized something else was happening.
“Are you having a convention here?” I asked in Yiddish.
“No,” came the reply. “We are here for a private family event.”
When I found out what that “family event” was, my eyes became moist with tears of joy. These chassidim had come to the hotel to celebrate the 90th birthday of their mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She was a survivor of Auschwitz, and the family had gathered to give her berochos and naches on this momentous occasion.
When I learned that this survivor of Hitler’s concentration was surrounded by 400 children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, I was simply overwhelmed. As many of you know, I too am a survivor of Hitler’s Holocaust, and for me this was not only a declaration of triumph over the Nazis, but grand testimony to the eternity of our people – an eternity that no force, no power on earth, can ever destroy.
The celebration took on an even greater dimension Shabbos afternoon. The family dedicated a Sefer Torah in honor of “Mama/Bubba.” It was a scene to behold. There was Bubba, seated in a wheelchair, her face covered by a veil in honor of the Sefer Torah, as four hundred children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren danced around her with the Sefer Torah they were dedicating in her honor.
Through that hachnassas Sefer Torah, all of us who were present – Sephardim, Ashkenazim, Satmar chassidim – became one. If you just think about it, you too will feel chills running up and down your spine.