Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

2 Kislev 5761 - November 29, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family
My Mother's Hands
by Anni Rephun Fruchter

We are accustomed to thinking about the HANDS of Eisov. But hands are also the tools for good, the utensils of the Eishes Chayil. "She puts her hands to the distaff..."

There was a time when my mother's hands were soft and white with carefully trimmed and buffed nails. On her left hand gleamed her plain wedding band. It was her only jewelry, even though my father was a successful businessman in Kalsruhe, Germany.

Our lives flowed serenely like a quiet brook. My mother baked every Thurdsay. I can still see her in my mind's eye, walking around the tablecloth on which lay the thinly rolled out dough, sprinkling sugar and cinnamon, then raisins, nuts and small cubed pieces of apples, moving slowly and gracefully, then picking up the tablecloth and rolling up the strudel.

I remember when I was six years old; my father and brothers having gone to daven maariv, my mother took me for a visit. I had watched her pack some beautiful towels, sheets and embroidered pillow cases. We walked about twenty minutes, then up a dark stairway, and rang a bell. I wanted to ask something but was motioned to be quiet. A woman opened the door and looked happy to see my mother.

"Mazel tov!" said my mother. "Soll der shidduch sein gut fur eier tochter und shein far euch," and handed over the package. On the way home I asked why we had gone at night. And who were those people? "There were gifts for a poor bride and we went at night so no one would see us giving the needed items." It was the first of many such kalla visits with money and gifts.


The highlight of our week was our Friday nights. My father, so rushed during the week, sat at the head of the Shabbos table, looking happy and relaxed. After Sholom Aleichem and kiddush, my mother served us delicious meals. My brothers told what they had learned at cheder that week and were smilingly pronounced incipient talmidei chachomim. Then my father would turn to me to hear what I had learned in the Religionschule of the Fromme Shul.

After that, my mother would tell us about the Chassidic dynasties. About the Sadygorer who had yichus brief attesting that they were direct descendants of Dovid Hamelech, they had ridden on horses, wore uniforms and the women wore elegant dresses and jewelry even on weekdays.

We heard how the Rebbe R' Usher of Ropshitz came to Kolbuszowa in a carriage drawn by four horses when the town was plagued by sheidim [demons] and standing in the carriage holding a large whip, had whipped them out of town. How my grandmother's mother traveled to the Wjelepoler Tzaddik after many of her children had perished from childhood diseases and only my six- year-old [future] grandmother was left. She begged the Tzaddik to give her a blessing for a son, a kaddish'l, and ten months later, her son was born. He was named Zalman after the Tzaddik, who had passed away some months earlier.

We were enchanted by these stories. One of our favorites was about the author of Korbon Nesanel who had lived in Karlsruhe and who was elected on October 17, 1750, to be Oberland- rabbiner for both Markgrafschaften of Baden-Durlach and Baden- Baden, and also all of the Unterlande. Like Queen Esther in the annals of Persia, so was R' Nesanel Weill written up in the city archives of Karlsruhe. His life was one of study and good deeds. When Jews fled oppression in Eastern Europe and came to our city, he helped them reestablish themselves and saw to it that their children were sent to cheder.

In those days, as even today, the Germans had ceremonial masked balls, and when the Rov found out that some Jews also attended even when prohibited by him, he went to the Markgraf August and said, "We Jews are forbidden to take part in such festivities. If Jews are, indeed, present, who knows upon whom the wrath of the Lord will fall! I would not wish that some of your citizens suffer..."

"How right you are," said the Markgraf. "I will issue an edict forbidding Jews to be admitted to these masked balls."

By asking people whose families had lived in Karlsruhe for generations, my mother found out about the miracle at the funeral of this Rov. On May 7, 1769, he attended a large meeting in his function as Oberland-rabbiner, representing the Markgraftshaft of Baden-Baden in Rastatt, and passed away there. Immediately, there arose a disagreement between the Jews of Baden-Baden and those of Baden-Durlach about the place of burial. Speedy riders were dispatched to the Markgraf August and he decided that the burial take place in Karlsruhe. The deceased was escorted to Karlsruhe by thousands of mourning Jews accompanied by a brigade of Hussars from Baden-Baden. Wherever the bier passed, the flags of that particular Grafschaft were lowered by soldiers in ceremonial uniforms.

Upon arrival in Karlsruhe, a company of infantry was assigned to escort the bier. The tahara was arranged there, and then, in honor of the Tzaddik, the Markgraf August brought a German marching band to accompany the masses of people to the burial. The Jews were horrified! A marching band! But not being citizens, only with the status of Schutz-Juden, they feared to protest. The oron set off, followed by thousands of Jews and taken up in the rear by a ceremonial marching band. Here is where the miracle occurred: the procession of Jews made record time, as if transported by air, kefitzas haderech, and by the time the marching band caught up with the funeral, it was all over.


Our golden years came to an abrupt end in 1933 when Hitler y'sh and his gangs came into power. The first edict was to forbid ritual slaughter. At first it was possible to obtain chickens for Shabbos from Belgium. One Friday in 1933, the man who sold us the chickens came to us terribly agitated: "The chickens are treife," he said. "The Nazis would not let the butchers rinse them off after the salting. I just found this out."

My mother took the chickens already cooking and put them together with the pot out by the garbage. "Don't be upset," she said to the man. "Let this be the worst that happens to our people in these evil times. My husband will see to it that you don't lose by this." And from then on, we had dairy Shabbosim.

In 1936, on the first day of Av, my father was arrested by the Gestapo and put in jail. We went to the jail a few days later to bring him fresh underclothing and handkerchiefs and were given the used items. My mother looked at them; the handkerchiefs were drenched. "Papa has cried," she exlaimed, and wept aloud all the way home, on the street and in the trolley car.

The day after Tisha B'Av, I was in Religionschule when R' Rabinowitz came into my class and said, "Anni, you can go home. Your father has been released."

We renewed our efforts to obtain an Immigration Certificate for Eretz Yisroel, but it was impossible so on May 3, 1937, we left for the U.S. There was a depression and jobs were hard to come by. My mother was given factory work to do at home -- covering belt buckles with leather. She worked very long hours. The paste she used had harsh chemicals and caused her skin to crack and her nails to split. If ever I yearned for a piece of chocolate, all I had to do was look at my mother's hands and all desire vanished.

Later, my father got a factory job in the Manischewitz company in Jersey City. We were very poor but happy to have escaped the nightmare of Germany.

On most Friday nights, my brothers would come running home from shul to ask my mother, "Can we bring an or'ach? There are more than ten men waiting to be asked." This was one of the results of the depression and unemployment.

"Of course," said my mother.

On Tishrei 28, 1970, my brothers and I sat at my mother's death bed. And for the last time, I kissed my mother's hands...


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