Many of us engage in needlework, including myself, crafting unique Judaica items for our children and grandchildren. While all these items are emotionally significant, they can’t begin to approach the significance of the items displayed in the Amud Aish Memorial Museum.
The navy blue tallis bag in the museum belonged to Moshe Shulevitz. In January 1939, at the age of 14, soon after Kristallnacht, Moshe traveled on a Kindertransport from Furth, Germany to England. He took with him the tallis bag his father had so lovingly crafted for him a year earlier in honor of his bar mitzvah. This tallis bag became a precious link to his loved ones whom he never saw again, as well as to his mesorah.
Moshe stayed in youth hostels in England until 1944. When he turned 19, he joined the Jewish Brigade, a military formation of the British Army that was commanded by British-Jewish officers and served in Europe during World War II.
Moshe Lonner left Germany in 1938, at the age of 16, traveling alone to America. His parents were unable to follow; he never saw them again. Upon his departure, his parents presented him with a Tehillim inscribed with the words, “May G-d watch over you,” and his wimpel.
A wimpel is quite an interesting item, associated with the German Ashkenazic tradition. At the time of a bris, a linen cloth is placed beneath the baby. Afterwards, this cloth is cleaned, cut into strips and sewn into a sash. This sash is then embroidered or painted with the child’s name and date of birth, along with the traditional blessing: “May you raise him to Torah, chuppah and righteous deeds.” When the child turns three, the family brings the wimpel to shul on a Shabbos morning. After the Torah reading, the child performs galila and wraps this wimpel around the scroll with the help of his father. The wimpel is then donated to the shul and is used again at his bar mitzvah, his aufruf and other special occasions. The wimpel ceremony is a joyous occasion designed to instill love and enthusiasm for Yiddishkeit and shul attendance within these young, impressionable boys.
There are many families today who still uphold this beautiful tradition. Some young mothers will design and decorate the wimpel themselves; others will commission artists to do it for them. Many of these sashes are also adorned with drawings of chuppahs, birds, and other relevant scenes. Moshe Lonner’s wimpel has a rather whimsical design. The letter “lamed” is embroidered as a mother stork, in keeping with the fairy tale of storks delivering babies to loving parents!
Young Moshe left Germany clutching his siddur tightly, his wimpel packed securely in his satchel. These sacred items were among his most precious possessions. After his long sea journey, Moshe arrived in America, where he enrolled in Yeshiva Torah Vadaath, receiving semicha in 1943 from Rav Shmuel Kushelevitz and Rav Schneider, zichronam livracha. Eventually, he became an administrator in the yeshiva. He lived a life dedicated to Torah, combined with a strong secular education, setting a high standard for his students. He worked closely with the menahel, HaRav Nesanel Quinn zt”l. Rabbi Lonner often served as a substitute teacher and was famous for weaving Torah and Yiddishkeit into his classes on secular subjects! His students remember him fondly, the strict yet loving principal who impacted greatly upon their lives.
The customs that have been adapted throughout our communities are more than just charming traditions. They help to reinforce and enhance our mesorah, the lifeline that has been handed down through generations. Rebbetzin Esther Farbstein, one of our foremost Holocaust historians, in her latest book, The Forgotten Memoirs (Mesorah Publications), shares the writings of rabbinical personalities who lived during that difficult era. Rabbi David Reznik shares memories of his hometown, Pilvishki, located in Lithuania. When his father became the rav of the town, they built him a new house with a large basement spanning the entire length of the house in order to store the fruits and vegetables brought as first fruits to the rav by those who owned tracts of land. The townspeople were symbolically fulfilling the mitzva of bikkurim, bringing the choicest first fruits of the harvest to the Kohen in the Bais HaMikdash. The community members would not send the produce with non-Jewish workers; rather they themselves would carry it to the rav. This remembrance of the days of the Bais HaMikdash symbolized the yearning for Zion and the restoration of the Kingdom of Israel. What a beautiful tradition and what an inspiration it must have been to the young people who observed it.. And how inspiring it is for us to read, even decades later, of these acts of dedication.
To the two young Moshes, this tallis and this wimpel symbolized not only a world left behind, but also a future, a future connected to G-d and to community, a future filled with potential for a meaningful life. May we never take these items for granted, not then, not today.