July 14, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Emunah From a Time Gone By

The author’s Opa.

“If you could choose any three people to have dinner with, who would you choose?” In considering this common question often asked of interviewees, my mind travels back to an unforgettable Sukkot dinner in 1992, my late Opa’s 92nd birthday.

Opa was my hero, a pillar amongst a glorious generation of a time gone by. Opa lived in Kosice where he was married with four daughters, was part of a prominent family and had a successful lumber business. Like many of his generation the Shoah brought crushing tragedy as he lost his wife, three of his daughters, much of his extended family, his business and his hopes and dreams.

After the war, Opa eventually found his one surviving young daughter and joined a few of his surviving siblings in America to pick up the shattered pieces and rebuild again. Realizing that the southern states he visited (hoping to start a lumber business) did not have a minyan or much Jewish infrastructure, he decided to settle in New York where he had the best chance to raise a frum family. Opa eventually remarried, my mother was born and eventually lost my grandmother (who I never had the opportunity to meet) to illness before remarrying again.

While Opa endured immense tragedies and hardships that would break most others, he relied on his ever-increasing and unbreakable emunah in Hashem to endure and keep growing. The more trials and tribulations that came Opa’s way, the more he turned to Hashem. Until his final week at age 101 (in 2001), Opa woke up at 4:00 a.m. every morning to spend a few hours toiling over his Gemara (Talmud) before going to minyan and heading off to work.

Opa modeled his day with equal parts learning, working in real estate, and time with his family. An immensely disciplined and well-rounded person, Opa practically knew all of Shas by heart and could equally conduct a high level conversation with the greatest rabbis, business people and worldly people regarding matters of his day.

It was late in the Sukkot evening meal during Opa’s 92nd birthday that he uncharacteristically called his children and grandchildren back to the table to share the indelible words that continue to frame my outlook till this day.

Opa explained that every Jew has an obligation to possess both yiras Hashem (fear of God), as well as ahavas Hashem (love of God). Opa believed that he fulfilled the obligation to fear Hashem from a very early age, however he was bothered that he never understood how a person can possibly love a God that he can’t experience with his five senses. While sitting with his family upon his 92nd birthday, he realized that his life paralleled the story of Iyov. Iyov had riches, family and all anyone could want in life, before Hashem gave him the ultimate test and took it all away. Upon continuing to demonstrate unwavering faith in Hashem, he was ultimately rewarded.

Opa realized that he endured so much hardship and lost so much in life, yet he felt that Hashem was testing him. Upon seeing his unwavering emunah and increasing dedication to Hashem, he realized that Hashem ultimately rewarded him and gave everything back. It was for this reason that for the first time Opa finally felt a true love for Hashem.

I recently had the zechus to return to the Upper West Side shtiebel that he helped found nearly 75 years ago to share some inspirational words about Opa on the occasion of his 22nd yahrtzeit (anniversary of his passing), appropriately amidst the parshiyos describing the heroics of Avraham and the many tests he successfully endured. As I do annually, I shared stories about his life and thanked my parents for prioritizing our time with Opa during my childhood, ensuring that I would have memories and lessons from my hero to transmit to future generations.

I concluded my remarks by sharing a legendary story entitled “Hovering Above the Pit” from Yaffa Eliach’s iconic book “Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust.” The story describes Rabbi Yisrael Spira, the famed Bluzhover Rebbe, who befriended a secular freethinker while they were both in the Janowska Camp. One dark and cold night the barbaric S.S. guards decided to play a sick game. They dragged the cold, hungry and tired prisoners out of the barracks and instructed them to dig a large pit. They lined up the prisoners on one side of the pit and demanded that they jump from one side of the pit to the other, a seemingly impossible task. Any prisoner who would land in the pit would be instantly shot, while any prisoner who somehow made it across would be spared.

With each prisoner falling into the pit, the rebbe’s secular friend suggested that they sit down in the pit, and wait for the bullets to end their wretched existence. The rebbe refused and explained that it was the will of Hashem that they dig the pits and be commanded to jump and therefore they must try their best. As they walked to the edge of the pit, the rebbe grabbed his friend’s hand, instructing him that they should jump together.

When they open their eyes they miraculously found themselves standing on the other side of the pit. The rebbe’s stunned secular friend turned to the rebbe with tears streaming down his face and asked the rebbe how he did it. “I was holding on to my ancestral merit. I was holding on to the coattails of my father, my grandfather, and my great-grandfather, of blessed memory,” said the rebbe as his eyes searched the black skies above. “Tell me friend, how did you reach the other side of the pit?”

“I was holding on to you,” replied the rebbe’s friend.

All these years later I continue to hold on to my hero, the coattails of my Opa z”l.


Daniel Gibber is a longtime resident of Teaneck and is a VP of Sales at Deb El Food Products. In addition to learning as much Torah as he can, he is also privileged to speak periodically on the topic of emunah and be involved in Jewish outreach through Olami Manhattan. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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