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The Key and the Gate — An Encounter with Rebbetzin Chaya-Ita Lau

Leah Gebber

If you want to understand who I am, and what gave me the strength to do the things I’ve done, I have to tell you about my parents and my childhood home.”

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

I feel the history as soon as I step into the Lau home in Tel Aviv. The living area is spacious, a delicate iris blooms on the porch, but it’s the past that envelope me. From the pictures on the walls — numerous portraits of distinguished ancestors — to the mirror-backed mahogany display case filled with tiny silver miniatures collected from all over the world. I stare into the glass doors; among the silverware is an old iron key. “What’s that?” I ask. She waves a hand. “Ah, it’s nothing.” “Come on,” I coax. “Ah, nothing. Just that one time, we’d planned a trip, all eminent personalities, to the kever of the Vilna Gaon. We had arranged for the key-holder to meet us there, but we had managed to get hold of a key, just in case.” “And?” “And no one could get the key to turn.” “And?” “And then I told them, ‘Give it to me, I’ll try.’ I put in the key and it turned. And I said, ‘I’m keeping the key.’” I take out the key, hold it in my palm. It’s heavy, solid, dark with age. The Rebbetzin’s nimble fingers fitted it into the lock, turned, and the gateway of history swung open. As we sit together, conversation flitting between centuries and continents, I feel the same deftness. The same determination. And the same ability to fling open the gates of history for us so we can peer, wonder, feel, live. 

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