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,
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
"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
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
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
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...