How do we hold onto the light as days grow cold and dark? How do we ignite the spark of faith that lies within our souls?
Whenever I hope to draw upon the emunah that sustains us, I am reminded of my zaida, HaRav Avraham Halevy Jungreis, zt’l. I never in my entire life saw my zaida lose his temper. I never heard a harsh word uttered from his mouth. Though he was put through the gehenim of Bergen Belsen, suffered indescribable pain, had his beautiful beard torn out by the Gestapo, lost an entire world before his eyes, somehow my zaida never became bitter. He always had the kindest words for me. Growing up I realized that this compassion was not just reserved for family – any Jew who ever came across his path was greeted as a long lost relative; enveloped with love. His unshakable faith that I witnessed, despite all the painful suffering, has sustained me in dark times until today. One of my favorite memories is standing under zaida’s long white beard, his hands covering my head as he blessed me, feeling his hot tears fall softly. For me this was my place of peace; my shelter of protection.
When I was expecting my first child I showed the doctor a small lump that I had felt in my neck. Concerned with what he saw, I was told to consult with a nearby surgeon right away. My husband was away and it was my mother who had accompanied me to the appointment. The doctor insisted that I not go home. He wanted me to be seen ASAP. Quite honestly, I thought that I would collapse. The excitement and joy of the day had just been dissipated in an instant. I left with a feeling of deep dread.
We entered the surgeon’s office and I was immediately taken into the examination room. After a few minutes of poking and measuring, I was told that I would require surgery within the next few days. The room began to spin.
As we got into the car, we made a decision. We would go to see my zaida and my bubby, whom we called Mama, a”h. I needed their brachos, I needed to receive their blessings.
Zaida and Mama had always been my greatest source of comfort. They were my link back to a world that had nearly been extinguished. When I looked at Zaida with his soft eyes and long white beard I felt as if I was in the presence of holiness. Once, when my siblings and I spent Yom Tov with my grandparents, my brother asked Zaida why he always cried so deeply as he davened the tefillah of ‘Asarah Harugai Malchus’ from the bimah. Zaida responded that he was seeing before his eyes the scene of his own father being taken away holding a sefer Torah in one hand and his infant grandchild in the other. They departed this world Al Kiddush Hashem. How could he not cry?
My Mama was a tiny woman with sparkling eyes who was always exploding with never-ending energy. Her miniscule living room was constantly filled with bags of gently used clothing that people would drop off at the front door. Mama would patiently sift through skirts, pants, suits and jackets and then call families to pick up their new wardrobes. No one left before making a bracha on Mama’s homemade Hungarian cakes and then receiving Zaida’s bracha. Mama and Zaida’s lives were filled with an understanding that no matter the darkness that life brings we have the ability to kindle a light. We must never sit in ‘choshech.’ Of course, it was to their home that I needed to go. Though they were not very tall physically, they were giants of emunah. I desperately wanted to be in their presence and submerge myself in their faith.
I walked into their apartment burdened by the events of the day. I had always felt a special bond with Zaida, having been named for his mother who had died Al Kiddush Hashem. As my story tumbled out, I found myself sobbing on Zaida’s shoulders.
My grandfather slowly placed his hands on my head. His hot tears mingled with mine. Our pain was palpable. He cried:” Yevarechcha Hashem Veyishmerecha….May Hashem bless you and safeguard you…” As Zaida gave me his blessing, I felt as if I had been transported to a different universe. A place where one can rise above the worry that eats away at your insides and tortures your soul. A place where my zaidas and bubbys all stood in line before me and paved a road; empowering me as I tried to find my way. I wanted to remain beneath my grandfather’s shelter forever.
Mama approached and she, too, placed her hands on my head and gave me her blessing. She whispered softly in my ear. “You will see my zeesah sheifelah, you will have a most beautiful little one. I know it.”
Her eyes filled as she looked at me. I embraced the moment and felt renewed. Hope was born within. That night and the entire next day were spent at home immersed in intense prayer. Though I felt anxious and afraid, the blessings of my grandparents kept me going.
The following afternoon, our phone rang. It was the surgeon. He cleared his throat and then began to speak.
“Well,” he began. “You will never believe this. Your blood work just came back from the lab. After all this it turns out that you have mono. That lump in your neck is a huge swollen gland.”
I thought that I was dreaming. I was filled with immeasurable gratitude to Hashem for His incredible kindness. How could I ever adequately say ‘thank You’?
“There is one more thing, though,” said the doctor. “You have a virus in your first trimester. This can be great cause for concern. You need to see a specialist.”
I knew that our prayers and tefillos had just begun. Many times throughout the next few months I found myself going back, seeking the shelter of Zaida’s brachos. Baruch Hashem we were blessed with a son who continues to give us nachas as he walks in the ways of his zaidas and bubbys. It was my grandfather’s faith that nourished me, sustained me, and never allowed me to give up hope.
Before Zaida left this world he asked to say goodbye to his holy sefarim. He tenderly kissed each one and then he gave every child, grandchild and great grandchild his final blessing.
I think back to that time of my life and wonder how it is possible to feel strength in moments of fear simply by being in the presence of a zaida. And then I realize that this zaida of mine held the key to emunah shelaimah. To receive his bracha was a transmission of fiery faith that sustained our people despite the devastation of pogroms, inquisition, crusades, and holocaust. To stand in his presence meant that I was standing on the bedrock of steadfast belief in the One Above. I learned what it means to live with the trust that ultimately, we are the children of Hashem who guides us, watches over us, and protects us.
Each one of us should recognize that we have the ability to ignite a spark that rests within our soul. As we strengthen our bond to HaKadosh Baruch Hu we transmit our legacy to the next generation. Every child must be nourished with this genuine faith. Peace envelops us when we discover the tranquility that trust in Hashem brings. This is the eternal message given to us, to nourish our souls throughout the year.