The bulk of my father’s childhood was spent in Russia during the second WW. His father had passed away while the family was on the run escaping from the war front. His sister also passed away at that time. She was sixteen years old. His mother was left alone with three young boys.
At the end of the war, my grandmother had the merit, the miraculous opportunity, to leave Russia along with many Chassidim who were leaving with forged Polish passports. My grandmother actually spoke Polish, unlike many of her fellow escapees, and she was able to be of great help to them. But a day before she was set to travel with her boys something happened that could have been the end, G-d forbid, of all her hopes and dreams.
In Russia in those days it was illegal for people to sell anything. My grandmother was desperate for some money to feed her children. So, for a short time she sold stockings on the black market. It was how the family could survive. She would wrap the stockings around herself and walk around the market. People knew they could approach her and buy what she offered. They would signal to her and she would then casually walk over to some corner and there they would make the trade.
On that fateful day, the last day before she and her children were set to get on a train that would take them away from Russia, she was in the market with the stockings, when, suddenly, she was arrested. A police officer came over to her and took her along with her goods, the evidence, to the police station. He left her in the room where she stood before the investigating officer. She was standing there at the desk in the office of investigation. The officer was busy writing up the charges against her, and all she could think about is her children, and the fact that she really needs to be there for them. They have no one else in the world. She cannot afford to be jailed and sent away to a labor camp, or, G-d forbid, worse. She cannot afford to be harmed. She really needs to get out of here NOW. But how?? She was in the police station surrounded by officers in every direction.
You may remember from other stories about my grandmother that she was in constant conversation with G-d. In that moment, deep in her heart, she asked G-d to help her. He is the father of her children and He knows that she needs to get out of the police station immediately and safely. As she is talking to G-d in her heart, she suddenly got this idea to take her things and walk away. It was a wild idea – walk away?! How could she? There were policemen all around. She was standing in front of an officer who was in the middle of writing the report of her arrest.
As she would retell the story, she would say, “Elijah, the prophet, started pushing her from deep inside her. GO! JUST GO!
She gently moved the pile of her stockings that were sitting on the desk. She moved them and part of her was expecting the officer to yell at her: “Don’t touch, don’t move!” But the officer didn’t react at all. It was as if he suddenly froze. She picked up her entire bundle, lifted her chin, straightened her back, and walked out of the door of the office. She continued walking down the hallway passing many policemen along the way; passing office after office, until she reached the main entrance which was heavily guarded. She smiled to the policeman and said, “Excuse me, please – Paszaliste.” And she walked out the door and into the sunshine. She continued walking like that until she was out of sight of the police station. And then she ran and ran and ran. She did not go home that night. It was too dangerous. But, thank G-d, the next morning she and her three boys were on that train together – on their way to freedom and a new life.
I am here today because of her courage, her determination, and her strength. But more than that our family is here because of her connection to G-d. She constantly invited G-d into every situation she was facing. Today, thank G-d, we are not faced with life or death challenges that our grandparents faced every day. But we still need courage and determination. And today more than ever the difference between having G-d in our story or the opposite – is the difference between stress, misery, helplessness, and despair or inner peace, strength, courage, and empowerment. It’s the difference between night and day!
May our lives be filled with light, hope, and faith in G-d as we usher in a New Year filled with G-d’s abundant and revealed Blessings!
As heard from Shterna Ginsberg, Shlucha to Boro Park, Bklyn, NY and author of Your Awesome Self.