By David J. Seidemann, Esq.
You can’t sign up for it because the computers we spent millions of dollars on won’t let you. If you are one of the few Americans who did sign up for it, the statistics show that over 85% of you would have been eligible for free health care anyways. They won’t tell us the number of people who did sign up for it because it is too embarrassing. That means no one is funding it. And it turns out that despite being promised that if you were happy with what you had that you could keep it, it turns out that you were lied to.
The welfare rolls have increased and the reach-out-and-hug-a-thug-dictator foreign policy hasn’t worked either. Benghazi, the IRS scandal, and bugging our allies’ phones fill the newspapers while leaving us empty. Thank the Constitution for term limits. We can only hope we survive till change can be made. Joining in on the novelty of voting for him despite his paltry résumé was a fool’s errand.
And the clincher? His spokesman, Jay Carney—who might as well be Art Carney—is clueless in defending a president, responding to every crisis in leadership with the same refrain of “the president was unaware of that.” Will someone please step in and provide some leadership to save us? Will someone please take control of the train before it crashes? Will someone please take a look at where we are going and redirect us? We will trust you and follow you, even if at first we are a bit skeptical.
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Of all of the articles I have written over the past six or so years, the one that people talk to me about the most is the article I wrote about my grandfather who was tipped off by a Nazi the night before Kristallnacht and was able to flee Germany by boat. My grandfather was able to purchase a ticket on the boat by selling his set of the Talmud to a young man in Frankfurt who ended up coming to America and marrying an aunt of a man who married my cousin, so, through a series of coincidences, the Talmud wound up back in our family. (Search the Internet for my article “Shas Full of History.” It’s a worthwhile read.)
As we sat at a family gathering recently in Highland Park, New Jersey, the extended family discussed the above story. It was a fitting discussion, for it chronicled the coming to America of my grandfather, followed a year or so later by my grandmother, my two aunts, my uncle, and my mother.
It was an especially fitting conversation for Shabbos, October 26, because it was that on same date 74 years earlier—October 26, 1939—that my mother’s boat arrived at these shores.
I knew that. I knew the story of my grandfather and his Talmud and the boat ride to America. I knew all of that years ago. But I didn’t know about the train ride that brought my grandfather to the boat until now. As we sat around the Shabbos table celebrating my niece’s wedding with the traditional Shabbos sheva berachos, my aunt, may she live and be well, shared with us the details of the train ride to the boat, details so unbelievable, so powerful, and yet so unknown to all assembled, but not unknown anymore.
Though only three years old, my aunt remembers being thrown under the bed and peering out to see the well shined-boots of the Gestapo agents as they ransacked the apartment looking for my grandfather. They did not want to kill him. Quite the contrary, they wanted Rabbi Dr. Joseph Saffra alive. He was an oral surgeon of the highest caliber and they wanted him to take care of the dental needs of the elite amongst the Nazi leadership. But he was forewarned and was able to flee.
On a weekly basis, they would drag my grandmother down to headquarters, normally on Shabbos, to interrogate her as to his whereabouts. She was telling the truth when she said she did not know. She did not know where he was till they were reunited a year or so later, when my grandfather went to shul here in America, approached a total stranger, and said, “I have a wife and four children back in Germany and not a penny to my name. Do you know anyone who might be interested in helping me bring them here?”
Stranger number one pointed to stranger number two and said “Rumor has it that the gentleman over there might be able to help.” My grandfather approached the second stranger, shared his predicament, and, without asking any questions, the stranger gave my grandfather the money that enabled the rest of the family to purchase tickets for a voyage to New York.
After they arrived, they found out the story of my grandfather’s train trip to the boat, a story shared with us grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great great grandchildren, last Shabbos.
The boat was to depart from City A and my grandfather bought a ticket to City A. But when the conductor reached my grandfather’s seat and looked at his ticket, the conductor told him he needed to get off at the city before A, City B.
My grandfather, in addition to knowing dentistry, and in addition to being a brilliant rabbi, also knew geography. He knew that City A was the port city and that no boats would be leaving from City B His initial inclination was to ignore the conductor.
The conductor passed through the car again and was insistent that my grandfather leave the train one stop before that which was printed on the ticket. By the third time the conductor approached my grandfather, he detected a sincerity in the conductor’s advice. My grandfather felt that there was a message being delivered to him through this conductor.
He left the train and stood alone in an unfamiliar and scary location hiding out all night in the cold. There was no boat there, but he felt he had gotten off there for a purpose. The next morning, he took another train to City A, where he learned that the enemy had been waiting there the day before to whisk him back to Frankfurt.
He spent another cold night in hiding just to make sure the Nazis had given up looking for him and then set sail to these shores, where he set up shop and ultimately was able—through the kindness of strangers—to reunite with his family.
Someone took control of the train he was on, someone with a message sent from Above, and directed my grandfather to a future that included the birth and subsequent nuptials of a great-granddaughter whose wedding, to a wonderful boy from a wonderful family, we were able to celebrate together as a family last Shabbos. v
David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann and Mermelstein and serves as a professor of business law at Touro College. He can be reached at 718-692-1013 or firstname.lastname@example.org.