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Gone but Not Forgotten

Mishpacha Staff

We say Yizkor for close family members, but there are others in our lives who have made an indelible mark. In this collection of essays, our writers remember uncles and aunts, childhood friends, teachers, and even those they’ve never met. Their memories walk with us, talk to us, guide us, and even make us laugh. May they all be for a blessing.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

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{Eliezer ben Rav Yaakov Aizer} The Son Left Behind 
Yaakov Rosenblatt 

The photo rests quietly on the antique, upright piano in my parents’ Flatbush home — a young man standing tall but emotionless, wearing a mid-length coat and an oversized Russian cap. It is a picture of Uncle Eliezer, my grandmother’s brother, the sibling left behind when the family escaped from Odessa to the United States in September 1924. My father inherited the picture from his mother when she passed away in 1985. Years earlier, she had inherited it from her father when he passed away in 1944. I have seen the picture hundreds of times. I saw it again recently, when visiting my parents. Years ago, it was merely a picture. Today, it percolates with the uneasiness of a story cut short. Eliezer was not permitted to travel with the family to New York. Seemingly, he was too old to be included in the family visa. He would follow later, they assumed. But he never did. A thick cloud of terror descended on the Soviet Union, and any contact with America became mortally dangerous. In Russia, his last name would have been Saposhnikov (Shoemaker), the Gentile name the family took on when they first escaped their hometown of Vienetza, in central Ukraine. His father, our patriarch Rabbi Yaakov Aizer Dubrow, was one of the original talmidim of Yeshiva Tomchei Temimim in Lubavitch, Russia, and came back to serve as rabbi in the area. By 1923, the authorities were searching for him. A good neighbor tipped the family off and a graveyard attendant sold them the papers needed to blend into the general population. Telling their neighbors they were going north to Kiev, they traveled south to Odessa, where they boarded a boat to the United States. We know Eliezer’s name and his age. We have his photo. We also have a story. While in Vienetza, Russian soldiers broke into the family home and threatened to kill Rabbi Dubrow. Eliezer, though just a teenager at the time, threw himself in front of his father and shouted, “If you must, shoot me instead.” The confused soldiers moved on, and left the family alone that day. I wonder how my great-grandfather, Rabbi Dubrow, who later served as a rav in Washington DC, for nearly two decades, dealt with separation from his oldest child, his only son. He must have been adrift. He had this picture, and must have looked at it regularly.

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