A kiruv professional named Rabbi Friedman was on a plane next to a man ordering a non-kosher meal. Rabbi Friedman normally would not have said anything, but he noticed this man’s last name was Weinstein.
Weinstein’s gotta be a Jew, Rabbi Friedman thought.
After deliberating for a moment, Rabbi Friedman turned to Mr. Weinstein and said casually, “I don’t mean to be rude, but did you know you can order kosher meals on airplanes nowadays?”
Mr. Weinstein responded, “I know, but whatever G-d tells me to do, I do the exact opposite.” Mr. Weinstein started rolling up his sleeve to reveal the numbers tattooed on his arm in Auschwitz, one of the Holocaust’s most brutal concentration camps.
Rabbi Friedman stared at his arm, and realized there was nothing he could say. Mr. Weinstein continued passionately, “If G-d says keep Shabbos, I drive. If Hashem says keep kosher, I eat shrimp. And let me tell you why.” He paused for a moment while choking up. “It was my Kasriel Menachem that finished me…” His voice trailed off as a look of pain overtook his face.
“I was in Auschwitz when we heard the planes of liberation overhead. We were almost free, but the Nazis demanded one final roll call. Every other member of my family had been ruthlessly murdered. The only one left was my son, Kasriel Menachem. He was my life. I lived for him, because of him, and through him. We could see the finish line, and I was squeezing his hand tightly as we ran towards roll call.
“Suddenly, there was a stampede, and everyone scattered, trampling one another. Soon after, my son’s hand began to turn limp. I tried to tighten my grip, but ultimately my hand loosened and we were separated. That was the last time I saw my Kasriel Menachem.
“Subsequently, I heard that my last child was taken, and some said he was killed. If G-d can do that to my Kasriel Menachem, then whatever G-d says to do, I do the opposite.”
That ended the conversation. As the flight continued, Rabbi Friedman attempted some lighter conversation, but after the plane landed, they went their separate ways.
Four years later, Rabbi Friedman was in Israel with his family for the yamim nora’im. They had traveled the land and enjoyed visiting a variety of holy sites, hikes, and tourist attractions.
Yom Kippur arrived, and Rabbi Friedman was davening in a small shtiebel in Yerushalayim. There was a break in the prayer service, and he took a walk outside to get some fresh air. As he left the shtiebel, he saw an older man sitting at a bus stop, smoking a cigarette. This was an extremely unusual sight for such a religious neighborhood on Yom Kippur day.
Rabbi Friedman walked closer and realized it was Mr. Weinstein, father of Kasriel Menachem, the man he met years prior on the airplane. He couldn’t believe his eyes! He took a moment to quietly pray, Hashem, if you are orchestrating this meeting for a second time, please help me succeed in softening his heart towards Yiddishkeit.
He cautiously approached Mr. Weinstein and said, “Hi there. I think we may have met before.”
Mr. Weinstein gazed at him with his deep grey eyes and said, “You look vaguely familiar.”
“My name is Rabbi Friedman. I remember you from a plane ride a few years back. I spoke to you about kosher food, and you told me the story about Kasriel Menachem and how you always do the opposite of what Hashem wants.”
He continued before Mr. Weinstein could respond. “Listen to me, today is Yom Kippur! Have you ever made a Kel Maleh for your son? Come with me to a shul! There are hundreds of them here in Yerushalayim. Let’s just go into the first one we see.”
Mr. Weinstein paused, his resolve weakening. He began to put out his cigarette, but stopped himself, perhaps remembering one isn’t allowed to extinguish a cigarette on Yom Kippur. He reluctantly started walking with Rabbi Friedman, but as they arrived at the entrance of the first shul, Mr. Weinstein changed his mind and began to walk away.
“I haven’t been inside a synagogue in years. I wouldn’t even know what to do.”
Rabbi Friedman pleaded, “Don’t worry. I will guide you step by step. Just come and make that Kel Maleh for your son, Kasriel Menachem.”
Rabbi Friedman took him into the shul. There was a break in the davening, and they approached the chazzan. Rabbi Friedman held Mr. Weinstein’s hand and said to the chazzan, “This man is my friend. He wants to make a Kel Maleh for his son who died in the war.”
“Of course!” the chazzan replied. He began, “Kel maleh rachamim…” and turned toward the elderly man, awaiting the name of the deceased.
Mr. Weinstein quietly responded, “Kasriel Menachem ben Yecheskel Shraga.” He repeated the name again and again, before doubling over and sobbing into his hands.
Mr. Weinstein finally looked toward the chazzan, who had turned white and was sweating profusely. The chazzan started to faint, but before he fell, he looked up at Mr. Weinstein and screamed, “Tatty!”
This is how a father was reunited with his son.
Just like Yecheskel Shraga longed to be reunited with Kasriel Menachem, so too Hashem longs to be reunited and connected to us through prayer. Thankfully, as Jews, we always have an address for our prayers. I try to conjure up this story before praying because it reminds me that Hashem can make anything happen – hakol yachol.
Direct prayer is our most powerful weapon. Finding a way to remove the calluses on our hearts and open a dialogue each day can help get us to the place where we can experience the joy of a reunion with Hashem. May we all be reunited with our wishes and prayers, speedily in our days, and live to see the ultimate reunion with Hashem with the building of the Beit HaMikdash.