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Lag B'omer in Ramat Gan

Friday, 18 May, 2012 - 12:54 pm

Dear friends, 

As some of you may know, I was in Israel last week for a few days. While the main reason for my visit was to be with my mother and siblings for the Yahrtzeit of my father, there was a promise I gave to a community member, which became the highlight of my visit.

It started just over two months ago, on Purim, when a young woman walked into our community Purim party with her sweet children. It was well into the celebration, after I've had my share of "L'chaim", as appropriate for this holiday... Sitting by a table we got into a conversation. When I mentioned that I would be visiting Israel in a short while, she asked for a favour. “I have a great aunt, who lives there; would you visit her in my behalf? I'm sure she'd be very happy to see you". I agreed.

To be quite honest, my agreement didn’t make sense, in fact I have no doubt that on any other day I would have never accepted to do that...I was going to be in Israel for less than three days, I'd never even think to visit on this trip my grandmother who lives in Israel nor many of my aunts and uncles because of the short time, why then would I visit the great aunt of a woman whom I have met a couple of times in my life?...

But after giving her my word - I had no choice, so before leaving for Israel I got the contact information of Mrs. Esther S. in Ramat-Gan.

On my second day in Israel, on Wednesday night, the eve of Lag B'omer, I went with my mother to celebrate the holiday with hundreds of thousands of Jews at the resting place of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in Meron. My flight back to Canada was on Thursday 1:10pm. I decided to leave early in the morning;  hoping that I'd have time to stop by, at least for a short while at Mrs. S's home to give her regards from her niece and family.

As I was getting closer to the center of Israel the traffic became heavier, and it quickly became clear to me that exiting the highway into the city would be risking my flight. While standing in a traffic jam I dialed Esther's number. “It’s Rabbi Meir Kaplan from Victoria, BC. I want to give you warm regards from your family in Victoria and tell you that they are doing great. I was planning on visiting you today, but I need to apologize, due to the slow traffic, I won’t be able to make it this time”.

“I’m expecting you and I’m looking forward to seeing you” I hear the kind but firm voice on the other side of the phone, “where are you now?” I soon realized that I wasn’t being given a choice here...

“OK. I’ll try my best” I said. “I have your address, but I really don’t know how to get to you” I added while taking an exit back south in the direction to Ramat Gan. “Don’t worry, when you get to Ramat Gan just park your car, and take a taxi, I’ll pay for it when you get here”. I looked at the clock; it was 10:10am. My flight was 3 hours away and I was headed in the opposite direction of the airport, sure to get lost in the big city....

I took the exit to Ramat Gan and started looking for an available taxi. “My friend”, I called through the window, “can you show me the way to Tirtza Street? I’ll pay you when we get there”. “Follow me” the driver said, as he started driving through the small streets of the city. As we approached the next traffic light – a driver making an illegal u-turn hit the left front of my car.

“Don’t you see I’m making a u-turn?!” he shouted. After he cooled down, we quickly took pictures and exchanged information. Now, on top of all, I had an accident to deal with, but more importantly I lost 15 precious minutes of my time. After a quick debate with myself I decided that if I made it all the way here, I can’t quit now.

At 10:45am I was knocking at Mrs. S’s door. After a few minutes of silence an elderly woman walked out of the elevator, looking concerned. “I’ve been waiting for you outside, what happened?” “I’m sorry for the delay” I said, “I’m so happy to be here now, Esther. I feel bad, but I have only 10 minutes to be here, I have a flight in just over two hours from Ben-Gurion”...

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Esther took me into her kitchen “I’m extremely excited and I don’t know where to begin... Let me start by telling you that while today I’m not a religious woman – it’s not who I really am. I suffered a lot, like the Jews of my generation, in addition I had my personal 'Tzoros', so I’ve walked away somewhat from my roots... Let me show you who I really am”, she said while picking out an old paper from a big pile of pictures and documents that she had prepared for our meeting.

“You see, here in the front row, this is me soon after the liberation of Bergen-Belsen. I grew up in a Chassidic family, I have been raised in a 'Beit Ya’akov' school”, she said in a shaky voice, while moving the paper closer to me. I looked at the pamphlet, in the picture there were Jewish girls walking in a parade holding a sign stating in Hebrew “Tziyon b’Mishpat Tipade v’Shaveha b’tzdaka” “Zion will be redeemed with Justice and its captives with righteousness”. Then I read the Yiddish headline: “Big Celebration of Lag B’omer in Bergen-Belzen Camp”...

“Do you know what date is today?” I asked. “Today is Lag B’omer, and this is your picture celebrating today’s holiday exactly 66 years ago!...”

Esther's face turned white and tears began streaming down her face. she hadn't realized the significance of this picture today. I took a deep breath and thought of the Divine providence that brought me to meet her that morning. I was overcome with emotion.

Fifteen minutes later I was on my way, but the image of young girls, who lost their families to the Natzis, walking with Jewish pride on Lag B’omer on the soil of a death camp, accompanied me my entire trip back to Canada. I have a story to tell her family when I get back home; I have a Lag B’omer lesson for all of us.

Comments on: Lag B'omer in Ramat Gan

Ireta Fisher Cowall wrote...

Dear Meir,

I know you as a person of integrity and this is one more time that you have come through. You are an inspriation. Gut Shabbos to you Chani and your children.

Elisabeth Gelb wrote...

Dear Rabbi,
Your powerful story illustrates that when we give our word, we're bound to honor the promise to our utmost. As Esther noted, many of our parents' generation are 'not who they really are'. They were torn from religious homes and lost their outward appearance, but never forgot who they really are inside. This is familiar in our family and poignantly highlighted by your visit to dear Esther. An inspiring story to help us mind our words and see others for who they really are inside. Shabbat Shalom.