There was gloom in the atmosphere when my grandmother and her mother stepped out of the door of their home. My grandmother noticed a small coin at the corner of the entranceway. She asked her mother if she should pick it up to take with them? Her mother replied no, better that she leave it there for when my grandmother would return.
This was the day my grandmother and great-grandmother left their hometown in Hungary for the trains that would take them to Auschwitz.
My great-grandmother was correct; the coin was still there when my grandmother returned. Even more so, she was correct, because my grandmother did return and she did not.
My grandmother spoke of her last moments with her mother and her encouragement to remember that she was a Jew and to remain strong. When she returned to her home to find the coin, it was almost like a warm embrace from her mother above, who had perished in the gas chambers. It seemed to say, you have returned, and you will remember and be strong.
As a mother, I am always on the lookout for great teaching moments to best illustrate a moral or value to our children. These are not formal lessons, but ones that kind of sneak up on us every now and then when we least expect them. But they are golden opportunities to share our beliefs with the next generation.
I haven’t been able to attend Synagogue much in the last few months because our youngest son is not up to sitting in place for services (as required per our Synagogue policy of social distancing and remaining in your space). So I stay home with him.
This week was special, as we are commanded to hear the special Torah reading for Parshas Zachor and to remember what the Amaleki people did to us as we left Egypt. There would be numerous opportunities during the day for people to hear the reading at their convenience and comfort level. I convinced our son to go to the 10:45 AM slot at the end of services. This would require minimal time to stay still:)
As we walked to Synagogue on the cold but bright, snowy and sunny morning, our son asked me why we should remember Amalek?
A thoughtful question for an 8-year-old. A true teaching moment.
Well, I responded, because they were bad people who tried to harm us right after G-d took us out of Egypt and saved us from slavery. Instead of helping us, they attacked us! We must remember to uproot evil in this world. We must be wary of them and defend ourselves against them.
But I think there is even more to it.
I think it is also a reminder that even in the darkest moments in history, G-d has come to our aid and saved us. And as with my grandmother, though things may be very difficult, G-d is with us and watching over us. And with G-d’s help, we have the strength within us to rise to any challenge that comes our way.
It is no coincidence that the Amaleki attack happened on the heels of the Exodus from Egypt. We had witnessed all of the miracles of the 10 plagues and G-d’s power and might. He could do anything! He could end hundreds of years-long harsh slavery, and He could do so by bending nature to His will. He could also defeat any army, no matter how strong or how large.
When Amalek attacked us, we were initially frightened, but we quickly realized that G-d is in our corner. Just as He redeemed us and saved us from Egypt, He will continue to come to our aid when we call out to Him. This was G-d’s teaching moment to His people.
We need to remember G-d, be strong and believe.
My great-grandmother believed that her daughter would return. She would survive and rebuild. She would strengthen herself and build a Jewish home of Torah values and morals. And as my grandmother said at her 90th birthday party with over 40 children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren present, that each one of us is a slap in Hitler’s face, may G-d erase his name. She did remember that she was a Jew and did remain strong as her mother encouraged her in that teaching moment, all those years ago.
And today, her descendants are Torah believing Jews thriving in cities throughout the United States, links in the continuing chain of the Jewish people.
We must remember.
But even more so, we must believe.
My great-grandmother believed that her daughter would come back. Was she a prophetess? Not that I know of. But she was a proud Jewish mother doing what we do best, encouraging our children to believe in themselves and to believe in G-d’s love and protection. You will come back and you will be strong. Those words were enough to keep my grandmother going during the worst nightmares of her life.
When I was a single eligible young lady, the first topic of conversation with my grandmother would always be, are you seeing anyone interesting? Unfortunately, many of those conversations didn’t go too well. But my grandmother would always end by saying, don’t worry!! I have a cake in the freezer ready for your engagement party! I would tell her that I wasn’t even dating anyone yet! No worries, she said, it could keep in the freezer! And keep, it did. When she won a food processor in a contest in the Jewish Press, she told me she was holding on to it for me for my bridal shower. I still wasn’t dating anyone interesting yet! She said, no worries, it could keep in the closet. And keep, it did.
Because for my grandmother, there was no if, it was just a matter of when. She believed and she made me believe too.
That cake? Well, Pesach came and went that year, so unfortunately so did the cake. But don’t worry, my grandmother was first on line to bake me a fresh cake for our engagement party. And the food processor? That was one of my most precious bridal shower gifts and had many years of good use.
And our son? Together we fulfilled G-d’s commandment to remember how the Amaleki people tried to annihilate us, how G-d saved us, and how we are to remember that G-d is with us always.
I remember, therefore I believe.