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When Worlds Collide

They say it’s a small world – and an even smaller Jewish world (although as comedian Steven Wright once quipped, “Yes, but I wouldn’t want to paint it!”).

And I discovered the truth to this saying once again … ironically in the midst of close to 1,000 other attendees at the Pesach program at the Armon Hotel in Stamford,  where our family celebrated the holiday.

We met a second cousin … we connected with a relative of the former head of school at our local day school … and when we met folks from Teaneck, Riverdale, and the Five Towns, it was not hard to make an immediate connection with someone we both knew.

However, there was one person in particular who we met, which might be one of the most interesting examples of two worlds colliding.

Here’s the story…

Tziri Preis is a lovely young woman who was at the hotel for Pesach helping to run the day camp for kids.  We met her the first day of Pesach, and when we told her we lived in Stamford, she casually mentioned that her father taught at Bi-Cultural Hebrew Academy in Stamford for several years, while she was a toddler.

Of course, when she told us that, we immediately asked what her father’s name is, and she replied, “Rabbi Doniel Frank.”   Rabbi Frank was our son Yosef’s fourth grade teacher, and Yosef loved him as a teacher!  He is also a mohel.  In fact, when our grandson was born and a mohel was needed, Yosef decided to reach out to Rabbi Frank to ask him to perform the bris, which he did.  So there is a huge family connection here, and we were delighted to meet Rabbi Frank’s daughter, given the admiration the members of our family’s have for him.

But here is where it gets even more interesting. Tziri’s mother grew up in Los Angeles, and her maiden name is Gottesman.  That fact alone might be insignificant, except that my wife Sharon, whose family is from Phoenix, AZ, spent a year in Los Angeles attending the Jewish high school there.  That year, she boarded at the home of one of the teachers at the school, Rabbi Menachem Gottesman, Tziri’s grandfather.  Sharon remembered Tziri’s mom as a very active and verbal three-year-old child!

But wait, there’s more…

Tziri, who lives in Baltimore, hosts a very successful podcast called InKredible Kids, which is designed to help empower youngsters to develop a growth mindset, motivating them to believe in themselves and to recognize their own self-worth.  Immediately after the October 7th massacre in Israel, Tziri gathered several hundred children from various backgrounds and countries, including some children who were staying in safe rooms in Israel, to jointly recite Tehillim together. Since then, at 6PM every evening, thousands of children tune in to a live stream Zoom call to say Tehillim on behalf of the IDF soldiers and those living in Israel.

When Sharon heard that Tziri hosted a nightly podcast, she mentioned that a young girl from Florida (who happens to be a relative of ours) was recently connected to an Israeli soldier who was looking for her – and the shidduch was facilitated by a podcast host.

“That was me!” Tziri told us.

If you haven’t heard the inspiring story of Emma Platt (the young girl from Florida, who is our nephew’s niece) and Eitan Turgeman, the IDF soldier who regained the will to survive after reading a letter he received from Emma, you definitely want to learn more … it’s quite a story!

Turgeman was called up early in the Gaza War, and before he went out to battle, he remembered that he had received a letter from a young girl in America, which he kept inside his combat vest. The letter was written by Emma Platt and read as follows: “Thank you for fighting for us. I am davening for you. Am Yisrael Chai.”

Unfortunately, Turgeman suffered severe injuries while fighting – a broken hand, two broken vertebrae in his back, a facial injury, and shrapnel in both of his legs.  On the verge of death, he remembered the letter from Platt, which gave him the determination to survive. He turned to the visitors at his bedside and expressed his heartfelt wish to find Emma Platt so that he could properly thank her and meet the girl who had given him the strength when he needed it the most.

Immediately, the visitors sprang into action. They recorded a short video of the soldier, with an appeal to help him find Emma Platt. One of the men, Avi Pruzansky of Passaic, NJ, sent the video to his daughter-in-law Leah in Baltimore, who reached out to Tziri Preis for assistance in locating Emma Platt.  Within an hour, Preis had located Emma Platt in Florida.

That evening on her nightly Tehillim call, Preis phoned Emma Platt and her parents, so that all her podcast listeners could share in the emotional moment of having found the youngster who wrote the letter to the soldier.

The following morning, Preis was able to connect Emma Platt with Turgeman, and the meeting between the IDF soldier who wished to give thanks to the young girl who had written him the note was held through the magic of Zoom technology.

Indeed, it’s a small Jewish world.

About the Author
Michael Feldstein, who lives in Stamford, CT, is the author of "Meet Me in the Middle," a collection of essays on contemporary Jewish life. His articles and letters have appeared in The Jewish Link, The Jewish Week, The Forward, and The Jewish Press. He can be reached at michaelgfeldstein@gmail.com