I wasn’t “supposed” to be in Milwaukee on that Shabbos in early November, but my plans in Chicago had fallen through, and this was a chance to spend quality time with my cousin, Shayna Hunt, also a frequent contributor to this periodical. My father, z”l, and Shayna’s grandfather, z”l, were brothers.
Although Shayna and I have a strong family connection, it is our soul connection which is the most pronounced, as well as the many things we have in common, although none of them seem to come from the gene pool which we share. We do share a family history, however, and that links us to Jewish history in ways that are both unique and universal.
Years ago, Shayna published a story called The Velvet Tablecloth, which I republished in some of my books. It tells how she was gifted by her uncle with a tablecloth which was given as a wedding present from my grandparents to hers. It was one of only two family heirlooms that were rescued from the Holocaust. The other was a mantle clock.
But it was the tablecloth that Shayna cared about; a rich burgundy velvet and brocade that has adorned Shayna’s Shabbos table ever since. And, by virtue of spending Shabbos with her in early November, I, for the first time, both saw and ate on the tablecloth that my grandmother had meticulously selected in Belgium before the the war for her second son and his new wife.
I never knew my paternal grandparents. They died in Auschwitz, Hy”d. My father didn’t speak much of his life before the war, and much of what I’ve learned about my family has been supplied by Shayna. For example, I knew my grandfather owned a farm, but I didn’t know that he bred horses for the King of Poland. So my grandparents were wealthy, and the tablecloth was obviously expensive.
Today, it is priceless, not only because it is an antique, but because of what it represents, what it survived, and what it symbolizes. My grandparents could never have envisioned that their great-great-great grandchildren, Shayna’s grandchildren, would one day be eating off that tablecloth in Milwaukee, or that their granddaughter would one day fly in from Israel, to share a Shabbos with them.
But when we talk about the eternal people, there are a lot of things that defy the imagination, stand the test of time, and make up our legacy.
L’illui nishmat the souls of our family who perished in the Holocaust.