Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter



Abandoned to Survive

Rabbi Moshe Grylak

The forest is swarming with Germans, and I’m just six years old, leading a group of even younger children through the trees. Now we’ve come to a fork. One path will lead to freedom, the other to certain death. I’ve never felt so forsaken…

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

 Mishpacha image

 "I don’t remember the moment when our guide left us on our own. I only remember the awful fear that suddenly came over me. The trees towered over our heads, and if the sun was out that day at all, its rays were not filtering through the thick canopy of branches above. And so we made our way in the dark." (Photos: Shutterstock)

The feeling hits me at the oddest times. Like the time I accompanied my friend Yanky to his son’s cheder.

“Come along with me,” he said as we were talking. “My six-year-old is in school crying and I have to go pick him up. Sounds like he’s traumatized.”

I got into the car with him, thinking, Six years old?

The boy rushed into his father’s arms, snuggling up as if he wanted to burrow into oblivion as Yanky stroked his head and shoulders, soothing his little boy’s heaving sobs.

I watched and felt a stab in my heart. For just a split second, I felt sorry for myself.

Where was I when I was six years old? Why didn’t I have any Tatte to hug and stroke me during the most precarious time of my life?

And then there was the time my wife and I were strolling through the little wooded area by the Kinar Hotel. A soft breeze was blowing from the blue waters of the Kinneret, rustling the branches and gently caressing our faces.

Suddenly a boy of six or seven came running amid the sparse trees, looking around wildly like a frightened, trapped animal. We approached him to see how we could help, and it turned out that the poor little fellow had lost sight of the path leading to his parents’ room in the hotel. I brought him to the dining hall, and he found them there.

A shiver of dread came over me. Days later I was still feeling somewhat depressed, or to be more precise, an uncontrollable sadness. The trees in that little grove had evoked a memory that clutched at my heart. 

“Why?” I protested aloud. “Why does it still trouble me? It was so, so long ago!”

It happened again in the middle of the Yom Kippur War.

I was stuck in an anti-aircraft embankment on the shore of the Red Sea, in theSinaiDesertnear Ras Abu Rudeis. It was exactly 9 p.m. Suddenly, the fragile desert silence was broken as a siren wailed through the sound system that was connected to several kilometers of embankments along the shore. We sprang to full alertness and took up battle positions. And then came the command: “Take positions. No open fire order.”

After a moment of nerve-racking silence, the system crackled and the voice returned: “An Egyptian commando squadron appears to be moving toward us on boats. Guard the shoreline and, if necessary, return fire! Stay in position until reinforcements arrive.”

It was petrifying. We were reservists, we’d been there just a week. We hadn’t learned the secret language of the desert and the tricks of the waters that separated us fromEgypton the other side. Especially in the dark of night, we could not interpret the ominous lapping of the waves on the shore where we were entrenched.

But we quickly took up our battle positions, alert to whatever would come. The enlisted men took cover in the darkness and left us, a handful of reservists, to do our work.

The silence was like a clenched fist over the water, and the choppy waves whispered vague threats in our ears. The blackness of a new-moon night hung over us, and even the stars had put out their lights. In the darkness, our eyes were fixed on every breaking wave, straining to see if this might be the one carrying the enemy to our doorstep.

"We were so alone. Even now, as I write, that terrible sense of abandonment engulfs me. Maybe we cried, maybe not."

And then, there it was again.

Every fighter felt a sense of overwhelming isolation. The thoughts of every heart drifted northward, to the home and family left behind.

And in some hidden spot deep in the recesses of my mind, that mysterious, sleeping little trigger jumped. I’d felt it before, that feeling of being left alone in threatening surroundings. It was no vague sense of dread; it was like a cold vise gripping my entire being — just like then. Just like then, when I was left on my own, without father or mother, six years old on the border betweenFranceandSwitzerland.

In those precarious moments, I wondered: Would that memory never stop coming, uninvited and unannounced, to revisit me?

 

Related Stories

Never Give Up

Menachem Pines

Rav Moshe Mordechai Chodosh: a mirror to a past golden era, and a forward thinker who understood the...

Everything in Its Own Time

Binyamin Rose

Keeping one step ahead of Nazis, preserving Yiddishkeit at all costs: Rabbi Dov Eliach recounts year...

Wall of Blessings

Shlomi Gil

He might look like any other Kosel schnorrer, but Reb Avrum Lipschitz-Brizel has spent 30 years secr...

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.
CAPTCHA
Message


MM217
 
The Fortunes of War
Rabbi Moshe Grylak We’re still feeling the fallout of the First World War
Some Lessons, But Few Portents
Yonoson Rosenblum What the midterms tell us about 2020
Vote of Confidence
Eyan Kobre Why I tuned in to the liberal radio station
5 out of 10
Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin Top 5 Moments of the Kinus
Day in the Life
Rachel Bachrach Chaim White of KC Kosher Co-op
When Less is More
Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman How a good edit enhances a manuscript
It’s My Job
Jacob L. Freedman “Will you force me to take meds?”
They’re Still Playing My Song?
Riki Goldstein Yitzy Bald’s Yerav Na
Yisroel Werdyger Can’t Stop Singing
Riki Goldstein Ahrele Samet’s Loi Luni
Double Chords of Hope
Riki Goldstein You never know how far your music can go
Will Dedi Have the Last Laugh?
Dovid N. Golding Dedi and Ding go way back
Battle of the Budge
Faigy Peritzman Using stubbornness to grow in ruchniyus
The Challenging Child
Sarah Chana Radcliffe Strategies for raising the difficult child
Bucking the Trend
Sara Eisemann If I skip sem, will I get a good shidduch?
The Musician: Part 1
D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP and Zivia Reischer "If she can't read she'll be handicapped for life!"