Dreaming of Moshiach

Monday, July 07, 2008

Am Israel CHAI

Guest post by Reb Yaakov

The gabbai's eyes moved rapidly across the familiar faces of the men packed into shul on this sunny Shabbos morning. Shloime Kaufman, the gabbai, the grandfather of a beautiful, Torah-observant family, had been going through this routine for the past twenty years, looking out over the congregation and glancing, face by face, at his many friends and neighbors.

Mr. Kaufman scanned the rows of men as the Torah was removed from the ark. His eyes rested upon an unfamiliar face, a man about his own age with a short gray beard. He hadn't seen him in shul before. But there was something very familiar about this face. Suddenly, the man's features and expression jarred loose a powerful flash of recognition in Mr. Kaufman's mind.

It was Menachem Reiner, his closest childhood friend. It was Menachem, the boy with whom he had grown up in their small Polish shtetl, with whom he had attended yeshiva in Bialystock. It was Menachem, the young man to whom he had clung, and who had clung to him, as they began their cattle-car journey into the fearsome blackness of Auschwitz They had promised each other to stick together, they had given each other courage and hope. Bearing the numbers the Nazis had tattooed on their arms, they had found in each other the strength to hold onto their humanity and resist becoming only numbers. They had vowed to help each other survive, both in body and soul. And they did survive, Baruch HaShem.

But when the war ended, each went his own way, eager to begin anew. Menachem had settled in Israel, and Shloime Kaufman had obtained a visa for America. That was forty-two years ago. Now, with unbelieving eyes and trembling hands, Mr. Kaufman beheld the unmistakable face of his friend once again. Shlomie decided in his mind: Menachem Reiner would get the sixth aliyah. As the Torah reading began, the gabbai felt as if his heart could not be contained in his chest. He wanted to leap across the rows of men and fall upon his friend in a mighty embrace. 'This must be how Yosef HaTzaddik felt when he finally saw his brother Binyamin, a’h' he thought to himself. 'All these years!'

Nevertheless, he clamped a tight lid on his emotions and performed his duty, calling up each aliyah with the traditional chant of 'Ya'amod' followed by the honoree's Hebrew name. By the fifth aliyah, however, beads of sweat were sparkling on his forehead and tears were welling up in his eyes. He prayed that when the time came to call up number six, his voice would be able to break free of his tight throat.

There was no need to ask Menachem his name because he could never forget Menachem ben Yehoshua. For the first time, he began to wonder how would Menachem react when they came face to face?

It was time to call him up, but Mr. Kaufman could not open his mouth. The congregation began murmuring and looking toward Mr. Kaufman, fearing that the pale, trembling man was becoming ill. Mr. Kaufman turned in the direction of his friend and at last found his voice. 'Yaamod, 57200148!' he called.

The baffled men in the shul did not understand what had happened. What was this number? What had become of Mr. Kaufman? But in the back of the room, one man understood completely. The number was Menachem's number, tattooed on his arm as a lifetime reminder of the darkest period of Jewish history.

Menachem moved slowly toward the bimah. Finally, as they saw him approaching his long-lost brother, they understood the scene that was unfolding in front of them.
Menachem needed no introduction. With tears coursing down his face, he cried out, 'Shloimele! Shloimele! Is it really you?'

'Yes, Menachem, it's really me!' Mr. Kaufman answered, embracing his friend. They wept into each other's shoulders, rocking gently. 'Ay, ay, ay, ay, ay,' Mr. Kaufman breathed. Words were powerless to carry his chaotic emotions.

As these two men stood together it seemed that the Heavens had opened up to declare, through them, that HaShem would never forsake His people. Am Yisrael Chai! The Jewish nation is alive, and Torah has been rebuilt in America. The Holocaust survivors who came to America planted the seeds, and it is up to us to reap the fruits of their labor and continue their legacy.

The foregoing is documented in 'Stories for the Jewish Heart' by Binyamin Pruzansky




והיה השם למלך על כל הארץ, ביום ההוא יהיה השם אחד - ושמו אחד ישתבח שמו לעד לנצח נצחים בכל העולמות Blessed is His name for eternity in all worlds אין עוד מלבדו