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My Greatest Gift

Mishpacha Contributors

As we prepare to celebrate Shavuos, the giving of our nation’s greatest gift of all time, writers reflects on personal gifts that changed their lives

Monday, May 29, 2017

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W hat’s the greatest gift you’ve ever received?

How about the most significant or meaningful?

As Shavuos nears and we prepare to celebrate the giving of our nation’s greatest gift of all time, writers reflects on personal gifts that have changed their lives in a meaningful way.

Zeidy’s Flame

Rabbi Yitzchok Meir Gruen

Zeidy was a fighter.

I know little of his childhood in Krakow. He usually began his life story with the black day when the Nazis goose-stepped into town and his life was overturned. But I do know that in a world filled with tantalizing “isms,” in a city that had lost some of its best and brightest to foreign ideologies, Zeidy remained a heise Gerrer chassid, connected to his rebbe, heart and soul.

When the murderers swept through Poland, Zeidy stayed one step ahead of them. He was fearless, hiding tens of people, risking his life for others, because you did what was right. He joined the Russian partisans, saw miracles, survived.

He married Bubby, whose father he’d known in Krakow, and they immigrated to America. These new shores offered asylum, a safety blanket of sunshine, ice-cream trucks, endless opportunity — and the slippery slope of assimilation. But Zeidy didn’t budge. He never did don a shtreimel, but he transplanted the fire of Gur to his new home. He was instrumental in establishing a shul in his neighborhood; he sent his daughter to Bais Yaakov and his son to cheder. He found a job, gave tzedakah generously, quietly offered his help wherever it was needed. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 662 – Special Shavuos Edition 2017)

Gold Exchange

A. Asaraf

I twirled the gold ring between my fingertips, examining the unusual shape of the amethyst inset and the way it sparkled under the jewelry store’s bright lights.

We bought this at that winter sale in Gemini, I thought to myself. My shanah rishonah ring, probably the only time my husband and I entered a jewelry store together. It had been shortly after our wedding. We had come to trade in multiple gifts — Havdalah sets, matchbox holders, and cheap Kiddush cups — for one heavy Kiddush set that would forever grace our Shabbos table. With a good amount of change to spare, we had bought this gold ring.

Should I? Shouldn’t I? I sighed. It wasn’t much of a question. Placing the ring gently on the glass countertop, I tried to sound businesslike: “How much did you say…?” (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 662 – Special Shavuos Edition 2017)

Ever Grateful

Rabbi Yaakov Rosenblatt

Three decades ago, I was an intense, critical, introverted, truth-seeking adolescent. In other words, a typical teenager.

For seven years, I walked along the uneven path from childhood to adulthood, measuring and internalizing the strengths, weaknesses, idiosyncrasies, and characteristics that would become “me.” To say that I can put myself back into the teenage mindset would be a stretch. But I do remember some of the thoughts and attitudes I had at the time. And in quiet moments, I wonder which teenage experiences had the most impact on me, and which steered me to become the man I am today.

The most important event I can recall is the gift I received when I was 15. I view it, simply, as a gift from G-d. It was the entrance into my life of a person, someone who would change me forever. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 662 – Special Shavuos Edition 2017)

More than a Machzor

Gershon Burstyn Each Erev Yom Tov, as shkiah draws near, I walk to my bookshelf in the living room, scan the various spines for a distinctive gold lettering, and begin my thrice-annual astonishment over my machzor.

Machzorim for “Pesah,” “Shavuoth,” and “Sukkoth” to be exact, all edited by Paltiel (that would be “Phillip” in English) Birnbaum, and published by the Hebrew Publishing Company, New York.

They were a gift from my great-aunt Ida W., my grandmother’s sister, and the source of so many of my childhood memories.


Idaneni was an Auschwitz survivor, but she was also the greatest challah baker in the universe, the most talented interpreter of stuffed veal breast ever born, and the greatest concocter of cucumber salad man has ever seen. I am not exaggerating. Everything she cooked was divine.

It was my job, as a teenager, to drive her home after an afternoon at our house, where she would invariably chat with my mom as they conjured up some Hungarian delicacy. The foolishness of youth, they say. Sitting in my house was a treasure and I would never have known it. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 662 – Special Shavuos Edition 2017)

My Forever Sponsor

Rachel Ginsberg

Since her sudden passing the week before Pesach, Sorah Rosenblatt merited heartfelt eulogies in the various Jewish publications she worked for. She was a writer, poet, and editor, whose words touched the hearts of readers around the Jewish world. Wait… Sorah who? How ironic — because most people didn’t even know her real name.

You might recognize the names Ruth Lewis (author of a powerful and profound volume of poetry called Notes to Myself), Rivkah Glick (writer in Yated) and Tzipporah Wald, the name she used for her memorable stories published over the years in Mishpacha (“When Do I Bentch,” “Four Goblets,” “Cinnamon,” “The One Who Got Away,” “The Thing About Diamonds,” and many more). In fact, she was one of Mishpacha’s founding staffers, burning the midnight oil in the office during the magazine’s early days. Yet as author Sarah Shapiro so eloquently wrote, “Sorah Rosenblatt was a brilliant observer of life, and of death, but in person, she seemed humble to the point of invisibility.”

In her anonymity, she gave the gift of her poetry, her stories, and her editorial eagle eye to thousands of readers. But to me, and to dozens — perhaps hundreds — of other Jewish women, she gave the most precious gift: the gift of her time and her wisdom.

You see, Sorah wasn’t only an anonymous poet and writer. She was also an anonymous mentor. Dozens of women would speak to her for hours every day, and most of them didn’t even know her last name. She was simply Sorah, the person you called when you were in crisis, when your marriage was falling apart, when your children were headed down a slippery slope, when shidduchim were giving you a knock-out punch. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 662 – Special Shavuos Edition 2017)

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