People of the Book
Updated: Dec 18, 2018
With Tisha B’Av - which commemorates the destruction of the Temple primarily due to sinat chinam, or unjustified hatred - in the rear-view mirror, and Rosh Hashanah just around the corner, I want to share with you an inspiring story that my client recently told me.
My client, let’s call him Reuven, has a passion for Jewish books, of which he is an avid collector. Reuven mentioned that his book collection fills up three rooms, and that in his Israel apartment, he would need to devote at least one room for his Jewish books.
The following week, while showing Reuven properties in Jerusalem, I mentioned hearing about a custom in some European communities of writing important family dates in holy books, and asked whether he had come across any of these books. Reuven answered affirmatively and proceeded to share with me the following fascinating story.
On a recent trip to Israel visiting children and grandchildren, Reuven brought a Bible printed in Germany in the early 1700s to review the weekly Torah portion. That Shabbat, a family in the community celebrating their son’s Bar Mitzvah noticed Reuven in the synagogue and, realizing he was a guest, graciously invited him to join their simcha. While exchanging pleasantries, Reuven mentioned his love of Jewish books. The Bar Mitzvah boy’s father remarked this his father works with the German government to create order in its Jewish cemeteries, and that the secular German courts accord these Jewish books legally binding status and accept the birth and death dates inscribed in them.
Reuven responded that, coincidentally, the Bible that he was reading that morning was printed in Germany, and a German family’s birth dates were listed on the front page and the death dates were recorded on the rear page. The Bar Mitzvah boy’s father gently brushed him off, having seen countless similar books that had been used to report family milestones.
After prayers, Reuven showed the Chumash again to the father, who examined the sacred book and then excused himself – taking the book with him – returning a minute later with his crying wife at his side. The mystery was solved when she explained that the names inscribed in this Bible were her great grandparents.
On Saturday night, Reuven walked over to the family’s home. When the mother of the Bar Mitzvah boy answered the door, Reuven handed her the Chumash and said, “I am returning the inheritance to the heirs.”
Reuven then turned to me and said, “what are the chances that a Litvak from New York attends a Bar Mitzvah in Israel – which he wasn’t even originally invited to! – and, while reading a Chumash at the celebration, meets the mother of the Bar Mitzvah boy whose Yekke great grandparents’ lives were chronicled in that book? Obviously, the Almighty wanted this book returned to the family and created an improbable and remarkably delightful story to achieve this goal.”
I think there’s an additional takeaway from this story: The Jews are a very small nation and all of us are connected in many obvious and not so obvious ways. We are too small to splinter; to survive in this mad world, we must stand united, which can only be accomplished by respecting all members of our extended family. Through rebuilding Jewish unity, may we be privileged to fulfill the wistful prayer: Next Year in the Rebuilt Jerusalem!
Postscript: I sent an early draft of this article to Reuven to confirm its veracity, and included the accompanying photo, which I selected after viewing over a hundred pictures. Reuven asked incredulously, “how did you know that I bought the Chumash at that store?” Coincidence? I think not.
Gedaliah Borvick is the founder of My Israel Home (www.myisraelhome.com), a real estate agency focused on helping people from abroad buy and sell homes in Israel. To sign up for his monthly market updates, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.