July 25, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Yocheved and Her Grandfather Dovid’s Vow

Author’s note: Ever since the time my mother told me this story, it has remained the dearest to my heart, and even though I never spoke to any of the ancestors that I’ve written about here, I feel that I know them and I am never alone.

When my mother Yocheved (God love her soul) was a little girl, she would always talk to her grandfather while sitting in his lap. She knew that she could count on his intelligence to help with any question she might have. He loved her very much and everyone knew that she was a favorite of his. Her grandfather’s name was Dovid; I was named after him. One day when little Yocheved was sitting in Dovid’s lap, he said to her, “You know, I am very old now and I want you to understand that when I die I will still be close to you, and if you ever have a problem, come to my grave and I will help you.” Yocheved always remembered that vow.

As the years passed and my mother became a young woman, she was betrothed to a man whom she liked. In those days (and also in some cultures today) they had the custom where the bride’s family gave a dowry to the groom’s family. As the story goes, my mother’s father, Yitzhak, made a drastic decision. He felt that he could not accept how the father of the potential groom was constantly questioning him about the dowry, as if his only interest and concern was the money. Yitzhak had paid a dowry in the past and had no problem with that, but this was becoming like a business transaction and not a marriage, and one day after receiving continual prodding from the groom’s father, he had just had enough, and said to him in anger, “My daughter is too fine and beautiful to become a part of your family.” And so it was done; the wedding did not happen. Now, one might think that this was a very cruel thing to do but, in retrospect, if not for this decision, I would not have been born, and neither would my children.

Yocheved was devastated, and very soon after that she viewed a wedding procession coming from the temple through her bedroom window. It was “him”: the one to whom she had been betrothed, walking from the temple with his new bride. Yocheved was angry at her father for doing this to her, and she cried all of that day and into the night, as the snow fell, leaving a blanket cover on the little shtetl.

That next day, after the work day was over and when everyone was about to sit down for the evening meal, her brother Shlomeh remarked, “Where’s Yocheved?” They called her name and looked about the house, but she wasn’t there. Shlomeh opened the front door and looked outside at the snow and saw what looked like faint footprints that were almost covered by the falling snow. He rushed to dress and followed the footprints to the top of the hill, and there, on the other side, he found her lying in the snow, sobbing and shivering. He picked her up, covered her with his coat and carried her back to the house.

From this exposure to the cold and snow Yocheved became very sick with a high fever, and when the doctor came and examined her he said, “It is quite serious. If her heart is strong she will survive; she has ling untsindinung,” which means lung inflammation, or as we say: pneumonia. According to my mother, she was in bed for days and showed little improvement; she could hardly breathe. Her brother Shlomeh, who sat with her and cared for her most of the time, suddenly got up and put on his boots and coat and hat and gloves, and left the house. You see, he knew about the vow that his grandfather Dovid had made to Yocheved. He went to Dovid’s grave and brushed away the snow and pulled out all the grass that he could from the top of the grave, and carried it back to the house. When he reached Yocheved’s bed, he quickly placed all of the grass over her, covering her from head to toe, while exclaiming, “This is the grass from your grandfather Dovid’s grave” (those words in Yiddish expressed it so much better). And then my mother said, as she continued with the story, “When I smelled the grass from my Zeydah’s grave, I started to breathe freely, and from that moment on I began to recover.” She smiled at me when she said that and kissed me while holding my face with both of her hands.

My mother eventually found her “true love” in my father, which was so obvious to me through the years as I observed their faithful devotion to one another.

I will always remember this stirring story about Dovid, my great grandfather, and the vow that he made to my mother that might have saved her life.

By David S.Weinstein

 

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