The year was 1866. A brother and sister were embarking on a long and treacherous journey from their hometown of Merzig, Germany. Their destination was the New World. Their aim? To start a new life in the United States.
I found a record of their trip in a miniature Hebrew-German siddur they brought with them on their voyage. On the free-ends of the small volume appears a unique personal prayer for their safety written by the chazzan of their town, Chaim Gershon Schnerb.
The Jewish community of Merzig was old but small. The travelers, Mayer and his sister Miriam, were from the Hanau family, a prominent family whose members lived in the town for centuries.
In his prayer, the chazzan beseeches G-d – in the merit of the sacrifice of Isaac, the prophecy of Samuel, Eliyahu, and Elisha, and the holiness of tzaddikim of all generations – to protect Mayer and Miriam from dangerous sea creatures. He also asks that the sea remain calm and that the sailors and captain of the ship work diligently, without laziness.