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Moshe Sternleib* was born in pre-war Europe before all the havoc of the two World Wars. His family was frum and close-knit. Life was challenging due to the economic reality of the time, but the family, like many others, managed somehow.

When the horrors of the Holocaust hit, Moshe and his family were not spared. Some made it through the death camps, and some did not. Moshe survived the concentration camp. He retained his deep faith in Hashem despite what he had seen and despite what he had experienced. Many Jews became disbelievers and cannot be blamed.


Moshe, along with family members, managed to move to America after the Holocaust. Life was not simple, but at least, in America, Jews were not persecuted as they had been in Europe. He managed to find a job which did not entail working on Shabbat and chagim. He managed to put kosher food on his family’s table. All of the children were educated in a frum setting, which was not so simple in those years.

No one who had gone through the Holocaust came out unscathed. Moshe often had nightmares and would wake up screaming. He dreamt of family members being forcibly taken away by the Nazis. He dreamt of the cruel and barbaric treatment of the Jews in the concentration camp. He dreamt of being slowly starved and of the pieces of rats that were cooked in the so-called soup which the camp inmates were served.

But during the day, except for the number which had been branded onto his arm, similar to what used to be done to cattle, no one would know that the smiling, sweet, hard-working Moshe had such a nightmarish past. Like many Holocaust survivors, he did not share most of what he underwent, except with his wife. His children grew up in a loving, protective and peaceful home atmosphere. The children and grandchildren loved Moshe deeply. Whenever Moshe needed help with almost anything, his kids would help out. Moshe was so grateful to Hashem for all the blessings that had been bestowed upon him and upon his family.

Decades passed and Moshe was no longer young. There were more occasions when Moshe sought out help from family members. Along with the ticking of the clock, Moshe became more fragile, and he had some health issues. He would get ferried to the various doctors and hospitals by children and grandchildren. No one was burdened by it. They loved Moshe so much and felt that it was a privilege to help him out.

One time at a medical check-up, he was accompanied by one of his children. Among other things, the doctor took out his stethoscope and checked Moshe’s heart. The physician spent longer than usual with the stethoscope part of the exam. The doctor told them that Moshe might need an operation on his heart, and he was sending him for more tests.

Moshe went for various tests, and it was determined that he would need to undergo a procedure on his hear. At the age of 102, any medical procedure was not to be taken lightly!

One of the children accompanied Moshe to the hospital for the pre-op tests, which were the day before the actual procedure. The next morning, several other children came to see their father. By the worried looks on their faces, Moshe exclaimed, “I know that you are worried and concerned that I may not make it through the operation, but I will. It is not my time to die!” When questioned as to how he knows that he will survive the operation, Moshe related the following story to his concerned kinderlach.

“One month, when I was seventeen years old, I was at shul on Shabbos mavorchin. It is customary to announce the time that the molad – birth of the new moon – occurs in Yerushalayim, so that it can be kept in mind while saying the tefillah. According to tradition , the time is announced in hours, minutes and chalakim (1080th of an hour, or 3.33 seconds). The time came for Birchas HaChodesh, and one of the gabbais called out on what day Rosh Chodesh would fall and exactly when the new moon would appear in the sky. He announced the hour and the minutes. We waited for the chalakim, but the announcement didn’t come. The gabbai understood that people were puzzled by the absence of the chalakim, and so he explained that this happens once every eighty-seven years. Then he blessed the congregation that they should be alive in eighty-seven years to hear this again. I excitedly said ‘Amen’ to his blessing. So dear children, at 102, I still have two more years of life!”

Moshe underwent the operation successfully and, two years later he was at shul for the rare occurrence. Several days later, Moshe passed away.

Chazal teach us that the word amen equals 91. The word malach (angel) also equals 91. When we say amen with intent, we create angels.


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Adina Hershberg is a freelance writer who has been living in Israel since 1981.