Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

10 Av 5764 - July 28, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

Of Russian Trees, Russian Flowers and Russian Gold

by Rochel Leah Perlman

After the Second World War, my mother wrote letters to people she had known in Russia, who had been neighbors of her parents and their children. Three neighbors answered that they had seen the Germans shooting all the people as they were running away; among them had been my Mother's dear ones. We shared my mother's weeping and tried hard to comfort her. Many years passed before she was able to cease mourning every day.

At the time, we were living in Rochester, New York [some seventy years ago]. After a few years of saving up, my parents moved to Baltimore, where my brothers were learning in Ner Yisroel. My husband and I followed soon after with our children.

My father had started an independent mattress business, where no one had to work on Shabbos, and he continued producing them in Baltimore. But at one point, he began talking about retiring and moving to Eretz Yisroel. "It's what we pray for all the time. `Next year in Jerusalem.' What is stopping me from going?"

My mother could not bear the thought of leaving the children and grandchildren. "When we left Russia, I never saw my family again," she said.

"But travel is much simpler nowadays," my father told her. "They can come and visit us." She was not convinced.

"Alright," he threatened finally. "If you won't come, I'll go alone."

Shortly after his ultimatum, a wonderful letter came from my mother's brother, the only one who remained alive; Uncle Shmuel had not been in Minsk at the time of the German invasion, but away on a business trip. He never contacted his sister, my mother, because he was so devastated by the loss that he forgot her address. It took him five years to remember the name Pheterson and the city Rochester. A conscientious clerk in the post office sent his letter to the only Pheterson in town, my father's brother, who gladly forwarded it to my father in Baltimore.

Many letters followed and even a few phone calls begging our dear Uncle Shmuel to come to us in America, but he echoed my father's dream of moving to Jerusalem.

My parents made aliya, but getting Uncle Shmuel to join them proved impossible. You see, Uncle Shmuel had remarried after having lost his family. The Russian government asked his wife's children whether to grant Uncle Shmuel an exit permit to visit his sister in Israel, but they refused. "What if he decides not to come back? Who will take care of our mother?"

A few years later, when they knew Uncle Shmuel better, they exacted a promise from him that he return after a month's visit, and true to his word, he went, and came back to care for his second wife until she died, many years later.

And so it came about that Uncle Shmuel was scheduled to arrive for a visit. I was in Jerusalem at the time and accompanied my mother to greet him at the airport. When she saw him, she immediately shouted, "Shmuel!" He was so overcome with emotion, that he had to step behind a pillar in order to calm his beating heart.

We finally found ourselves in the sheirut-taxi, speeding through the forest of the Jerusalem Corridor, on our way to Mother's apartment, beaming with joy, when suddenly, he uttered the strangest words. "In Russia, the trees are bigger." Moments later, he said again, "The flowers in Russia are more beautiful."

Mother and I exchanged looks and raised our eyebrows but no one in the car said a word. The moment we entered her apartment, Mother sat Shmuel down, gave him a drink, and then asked, "Why did you praise Russia in the taxi?"

"I was afraid there might be a spy."

We had a lovely visit together. I was thrilled to speak to this uncle who had taught me to sing and dance as a little girl, skills which had made our trip over to the States much easier, since I won the favor of the passengers and staff on the upper class deck. [See "Memoirs" Parshas Noso.] When the time came for me to return to Baltimore, my husband suggested over the phone that I bring Uncle Shmuel over to meet the rest of the family.

He agreed and was most gratified to be able to converse with most of the American members of the family in Yiddish. Uncle Shmuel happened to be in great need of a good dentist and I found him a Jewish one who could also converse with him in Mama loshon. All of Uncle Shmuel's teeth needed to be pulled, and the process would take three visits, he told him.

After each visit, I brought him home, put him to bed, placed an icebag on his cheek and let him rest. When he awoke, I had a soft lunch ready for him. After the third visit, when he came into the kitchen after his nap, he held out a wedding ring in his hand.

"I want you to have this," he said. I refused but he persisted.

"Don't say `no' to me," he said in half anger. "This ring is Russian gold, but this --" and he pointed to my heart -- "Is Rochel gold. I want you to have it!"

I am wearing this ring to this day and I think of my dear uncle often.


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