Yesterday, Shabbos Chanukkah – Parshas Mikeitz – my shull‘s Rabbi, Rav Chaim Aryeh Stamm ended his drosho with a story, as he always does. There was something about it that made me want to repeat here; it is a true story that happened not too long ago in upstate New York, only the names have been changed.
Harry Jones, the local town’s mechanic, had achieved the American dream through had work and dedication. He had a beautiful wife and two sons, a nice house, a dog, a successful business and two late model cars. Life was good, his neighbors liked him; his two boys were studious and had many friends. But… Harry… had a secret that no one in town suspected. Harry was born in Warsaw and named Hershl Miller or Heshy, as his parents and siblings called him. Harry Jones was really a Holocaust survivor, a Jew!
Heshy was the youngest of five brothers and three sisters. His siblings were always teaching him games, walking him to cheder or just happened to be there whenever he’d get in trouble. all that idyllic life ended abruptly when the Nazi hordes marched into Warsaw. Rav Yerucham Miller and the whole family were crammed into a small apartment with three other families. There was never enough food; daily “selections” soon became the norm and families were torn from each other to be sent to different labor camps. Through all these tribulations, the Millers managed to maintain a semblance of normalcy; Shabbos was still a fairly joyful day, and whatever food was available somehow tasted better.
Three days before Channkkah the Nazis barged into the apartment and took Heshy and three of his brothers with them. A few hours later the boy found himself in the Auschwitz death camp. Thirteen year old Heshy grew up very quickly during the next three year of horror, surrounded by sickness, death and the stench from the crematoria. He couldn’t understand why Hashem did not deliver his people as he’d done many a time before. How could the Almighty ignore the voices, the cries, the prayers of thousands of Jews? Somehow, he managed to survive and as soon as the war ended he set out to find his family. Once again, he told himself, the Millers would sit together on Shabbos amidst song and delicious foods as the candlelight and its warmth surrounded them. All too soon he realized that no one but him was left, his life, his dreams had all been destroyed.
Whatever faith he still had, now crumbled. If Hashem had so utterly abandoned him, he would abandon Hashem. On reaching America, his connection to anything Jewish was discarded. Harry Jones as he now called himself soon learned the trade of mechanic earning enough to pay for college and room and board. After a while he met a girl with a very similar life story, and married her. They moved to upstate New York and kept the secret of their origins deep within their hearts, never revealing it to anyone. Being hard working, honest, and dependable, Harry built a reputable and successful business. For the next 15 years, all went well and the memories in his heart started to become blurred, but then something happened…
As Jason – Harry’s oldest – was about to turn 13, his father told him that on his birthday he would take him to the mall to choose whatever young Jason might like – price would not be a consideration. Of couse the young boy was excited with the idea and couldn’t wait for the day.They had barely entered the mall when Harry realized Jason was not at his side. He found him a short distance away, his face glued to the window of an antiques store.
“Dad, this is amazing! Come see this!”
“Come, Jason, why would I care about some old junk? Besides, the toy store is nearby.”
“But Dad, look at it, this is soo cool! What is it?”
Harry gave a quick glance and saw his son looking at a handcrafted wood menorah. Some long buried memories painfully emerged in his mind, but he wasn’t ready to face the past…
“I’m gonna check it out,” Jason hurried into the shop and headed straight for the wooden menorah.
Harry followed his son hoping to dissuade him. “Dad I want this for my birthday,” said Jason, as he held the menorah in his hand and looked at it in fascination. Nothing his father said, could dissuade the boy. “You said I could have anything, this is what I want!” Harry couldn’t understand what could possibly draw the boy to an object he could not even play with and which he had no idea how to use? But he’d made a promise to his son, and however distasteful it might prove, he would keep his word. As he approached the counter, the man behind said, “That item is not for sale, sir. You see, it’s actually a ritual Jewish lamp, a menorah. Jews light it on the holiday of Chanukkah. This one was handcrafted from woodchips during WWII, and will likely be worth a great deal of money for its historical value someday.”
Harry did not want the menorah, but his son pressed on, “Dad, you said I could have anything no matter the price. This is what I want!” Harry had no choice, he had given his word and was not about to break it. He haggled with the man until he reached $1400, at which point the storekeeper realized that he couldn’t ask for much more, or he would risk getting nothing.
Jason was all smiles as, together with his father, he left for home. Jason went to his room with his new toy and tried to figure how to play with it, while Harry sat down in the kitchen to talk to to his wife. Suddenly a loud crush from the upstairs room was heard, Harry fearing the worst run up. His fears realized, the menorah had fallen and shattered into many pieces. He was about to berate his son, but saw on the boy’s face that he was already punishing himself. “Let me help you clean this up,” muttered Harry. As he was picking up the pieces, he found a rolled up piece of paper in one of the hollowed arms of the menorah. Curious, he fished it out and found a note in Yiddish. He read it as he became gradually pale and paler. Harry screamed and fainted. It took a while before he could recover enough to stay conscious without fainting again.
“What did the note say?” asked his wife; Harry read it to her: I made this menorah with the hope that I will light it on the first day of Chanukkah. I don’t know if I will make it through the next seven, or to the next Chanukkah. I have concealed this note in the hope that whoever finds it will say Mishnayos for my soul, and try to perform as many mitzvos as possible for me. it is the only hope I have left.
- Rabbi Yerucham Miller, son of Rabbi Hershel Miller.
“My father’s name was Yerucham Miller,” Harry said, though his tears, “and I was named Hershel, after my grandfather. My own father made this menorah!”
“Does that mean we are Jewish?” asked Jason
“Yes,” said Harry, “and today is a special day for you. It was your Bar Mitzvah, something I never thought you’d have, but things are going to change now. The Almighty sent me this note and the message burned itself directly into my heart.”
Harry Jones, once again became Heshy Miller; he moved his family to a Jewish community where they slowly began to practice what Harry and his wife had once discarded from their lives. Heshy Miller is today a talmid chochom…
Gentle reader, is there such a thing as a coincidence?!? Is not Hashem‘s hand guiding us every minute of our lives, even if we don’t see it?
[When I asked Rabbi Chaim Aryeh Stamm where this powerful story came from, he told me he found it in Stories That Warm the Heart by Rabbi Binyomin Pruzansky.]