By Larry Gordon
Two women, a good idea, over a million books—and a lot of lives changed.
That, in brief, is the story of the two ladies from Brooklyn who authored the Small Miracles series that has inspired millions. They are Yitta Halberstam Mandelbaum and Judith Leventhal, erudite individuals, deep thinkers, and true believers, with a gift from Above to move people in a positive direction.
Now the Small Miracles series has taken a giant leap forward with a just-released volume—Small Miracles from Beyond: Dreams, Visions, and Signs That Link Us to the Other Side. After more than a decade-and-a-half of retelling captivating stories, Yitta and Judith have turned to the Great Beyond, retelling real-life stories that people have related about how people they know or had known who had passed away communicated with them down here and made a difference in their lives.
How the series came about in the first place is also a story worth telling. But first, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve had a few conversations over the years with Ms. Mandelbaum, probably about the release of some of her earlier Small Miracle books, but neither of us is sure.
Our lives nevertheless share an interlocking commonality inasmuch as our fathers worked together in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s at Yiddish-language newspapers here in New York. Yitta says that as a child at home, she can recall hearing the name Nison Gordon spoken time and again. “Your father was a person my father worked with and shared ideas with,” she said as we spoke over the phone earlier this week.
And I recall the name Lazer Halberstam being mentioned often in our home during those years. So aside from talking about her and her writing partner’s new book, we also had the chance to speak about our dads and explore the nature of the influence they had on our lives that may have led us in the direction of being so taken with the written word.
It occurred to me that if we are speaking about visions and signs that link us to the other side—as the title of the new book says—then this conversation between Yitta and me, and then later in the day with Judy, may have created just such an opening for us, but not in the form of a dream. As we talked, we were very much awake, eyes wide open.
Yitta’s first effort at publishing was a book back in 1997 about Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, Holy Brother. The volume, which was the first to delve into the enigmatic life of the “Singing Rabbi,” sold well and became popular rather quickly. Yitta is described as a student of Reb Shlomo—but then again, on one level or another, weren’t we all?
One idea and assignment led to another, until Yitta met Judy and together they developed the idea about what the general world refers to as coincidences—which is what many of us know as the Divine intervention in our everyday lives, often referred to as “hashgachah pratis.”
When Yitta pitched the idea of seemingly miraculous coincidences to her literary agent, her agent thought it was the most ridiculous and unpublishable idea she had ever heard. That was until the agent herself personally experienced a series of such coincidences in her life that changed her and her attitude toward the idea almost overnight.
The ladies traveled the world promoting their books, which eventually sold over one million copies. They appeared on radio and TV and delivered riveting lectures to all kinds of audiences. The book, as well as people from the Small Miracles stories, appeared twice on the Oprah Winfrey Show, which was yet another affirmation that indeed they had arrived.
The years passed as the books continued to sell. Then, just about a year ago, with so much being written on near-death experiences and people relating accounts of communications with whatever it is that awaits us in the next world, Yitta and Judy decided that the next Small Miracles book would be about relating people’s stories and experiences with “the other side,” so to speak.
“I’ve always been intrigued by the subject,” says Judy Leventhal. She explains that while the subject of the hereafter has always been somewhat on the literary fringes, of late that has changed and the subject matter has become mainstream.
We explore the idea that these dreams or experiences are just a veil between us and the spiritual dimension that is getting increasingly thinner. These thoughts, dreams, and ideas may be a peek into Hashem’s world, a world that for the most part have been sealed and off-limits to us down here on planet Earth. “The book and the experiences related have changed people’s lives,” Judy says. “It sheds light and gives people hope.”
It’s an exciting endeavor and it looks like a project that the reading public is receptive to. The stories retold in this latest volume cover a wide range of personal experiences.
The book on our connections to the afterlife or the next world features an array of stories that somewhat connect the dots and begin to trace a commonality and connection between our physical and material world on earth and the vastness that awaits on the other side.
The stories are not filled with smoke and mirrors or dreams. They largely feature communications between people we once knew down here who have passed on and who have since been mysteriously and perhaps frustratingly silent.
Here is one of those stories.
• • •
A Hurricane Sandy Miracle
It was October 29, 2012, two hours before high tide, when Hurricane Sandy was predicted to hit the Northeast Coast. A quick look out the back door revealed a four-and-a-half-foot sheet of water extending to a smaller canal about 200 yards to the west of the house.
As the flood surged to mid-calf level, my boyfriend and I began moving emergency supplies into the attic, along with Bogart the cat. Cat food, litter, water, blankets, first-aid kit, power bars, laptops, TV screen, and a backup drive were lifted to safety, along with candles, lanterns, matches, and an emergency radio/lantern that operated on electricity, batteries, solar power, and a crank. My boyfriend had laughed at me when I had proudly unpacked this last item, having bought it from Macy’s last May as a birthday present to myself. He was not laughing now.
Nor was he laughing at the ten gallons of water that I had stockpiled. Five months earlier, in May 2012, my father appeared to me in a dream. “Buy water,” he said. “You are going to need it.” My dad died in 1989, but I figured if he had gone to the trouble of showing up in a dream, I needed to pay attention. Each time I went to the supermarket, I would grab a gallon of water to take home. After I had stockpiled half-a-dozen gallons, I was forced to admit that I had, in fact, become something of a closet “prepper.”
But not enough of a prepper. At least, not according to my Uncle Nick, who had died in 1991. Six weeks after my father’s spirit appeared in my dream, Uncle Nick showed up, sitting in a wing chair and smoking his signature cherry tobacco in his favorite pipe. “Laur, you are not taking this seriously. You really need to buy more water.”
“Okay, Uncle Nick,” I said in my dream. Waking up with firm resolve, I made it back from the store with another three gallons. Surely, nine gallons was enough!
But my father was not pleased. He returned that Labor Day, standing tall in my dream and giving me his “Young lady, I am not pleased!” expression. He said, “Laurie, you need to pay attention. You do not have enough water and you are going to need it.” I still had no idea what he was talking about but dutifully lugged in another four gallons, bringing the grand total to thirteen gallons of water.
All thirteen gallons were now lined up on the kitchen counter, along with three cartons of one-liter bottles. I still couldn’t understand why my dad’s and uncle’s spirits had come back to tell me to get water. We had more than enough! As the floodwaters reached three-and-a-half feet, they lifted the refrigerator off the ground. Carried by the swell, it crashed into the washing machine, which was also afloat. A six-foot leather coach was pushed into the doorway of the living room.
When the flood was chest-high, we climbed the stairs into the attic, where we peered down to watch the water make its way up the stairs. We managed to fall asleep for a couple of hours, waking up when we heard voices outside. The tide had receded, leaving an oily film on the tile floor. A few hours later, we realized that everything in the house was smeared with raw sewage. During the surge, the town’s sewer pump had broken. Our water supply was contaminated.
Now I understood why my father and my uncle had journeyed from the spirit world to make sure I had plenty of water!
Even though everything I had built over the previous 20 years had been wiped out in less than an hour, I smiled and thanked them for taking care of me.
• • •
There are many more remarkable tales like this one. We live in complicated and sophisticated times. We are not satisfied with being shut out about the next realm or what happened to our parents, grandparents, and other relatives. More than anything, we want to know what’s doing somewhere out there while understanding that that which lies ahead may be great and miraculous, but no small matter.
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