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Yisro"Honor your father and your mother, so that your days will be lengthened upon the land that Hashem, your G-d, gives you" (Shemos 20:22).
This coming week, on the 26th of Shevat, will be the second yahrzeit of my mother in law, Mrs. Leah Silberberg a"h. In her honor, my wife wrote an inspiring tribute to her, which was published in the American English Hamodia newspaper. I am sharing it here with those of you who don't get that newspaper.
My mother, a"h, was born in a small Polish town, Rakov, in 1918, where Rabbi Shaul Taub zt"l, the Rebbe of Modzitz, was Rov.
She and her six sisters were raised in a home with an atmosphere of chessed and great admiration for Torah study. Their parents imbued in them the desire to marry a ben Torah who would sit and learn.
When she was only in her early twenties, World War II broke out and she was thrown into all of the atrocities of inhuman cruelties. She suffered, physically and emotionally, for six bitter years. She would often speak about the terrifying brutality she was forced to endure. Four times she thought she would not survive and prepared herself to recite the viduy and Shema. Indeed, her entire family: Parents, sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews were all murdered by the Nazis yemach shemam vezichrom. Through Hashem's Grace, she was chosen to live. Despite all her sufferings, though, her emunah, bitachon, and deveikus to Hashem were remarkable and unfathomable, and made a tremendous impact upon us, her children, and on everyone else who met her.
One lone neshama from a big family was designated by Hashem to rebuild the lineage after the war. She lived her life believing that she had a mission to accomplish. She imbued in her children her own emunah and taught us to be ehrlich; to do lots of chessed; and to appreciate Torah study.
She often strengthened our emunah by telling us stories of how she sacrificially observed the mitzvahs even in the Concentration Camps. When Pesach was on the horizon, she began exchanging her meager bread ration for a potato. Consequently, she was able to abstain from eating chometz on the holiday. She neglected her hunger and starvation, and just did what she felt had to be done.
Indeed, Hashem protected her so that she would survive and bring a new generation of G-d fearing Jews into the world. During one period of time, she and a group of girls were assigned to work in an ammunition factory. They were transported by truck every morning and returned at night. One day, they decided that they would jump off of the truck and escape into the dense woods. However, her mother appeared to her in a dream and warned her not to jump; assuring her that she would survive. The Nazis became aware of the plan and awaited them in ambush. As the others jumped, they were shot on the spot. Only my mother remained alive.
While in the Camps, a non-Jew from her town recognized her and slipped her a slice of bread, which was a very precious entity then. Without hesitation, she divided it into five pieces and shared it with her friends. When one of them asked her why she didn't hide it for herself, she responded that she was taught by her parents to share with others in all situations.
She often told us that one of her closest friends had saved her life when she was stricken with high fever and was deposited in a "hospital" where she lied, totally uncared for. The hygienic conditions were unimaginable. Her body was infested with lice and bugs and her fever was rising. She felt that it was just a matter of time before she would die. But her brave friend snuck into the building and found her. She unraveled all of her infested clothing, draped her in a sheet, and carried her out at midnight. Had they been caught, they would have both been shot on the spot. She nursed my mother all through the night and baruch Hashem she survived. This was a story she repeated many times to us.
Unbeknown to us, though, this same friend, who also survived the war, had been telling her children for years that our mother had saved her life by means of a valuable jewel which she had hidden and given to a Polish farmer to hide them both from the Nazis. My mother never told us that she saved her friend's life and her friend never told her children that she had saved our mother's life. It was only revealed to us when my brother met with her son and expressed his appreciation to his mother for saving our mother's life. Her son replied, "You got it all wrong. It was your mother who saved mine; not the reverse." Only then did we all realize their true greatness.
After she was liberated in Germany, she was broken, physically and emotionally, and was in total despair. She was the only one left from a large family. Shortly after, she met my father, Moshe, a"h, who had not only lost all of his siblings but also a wife and two children. Many of the other survivors abandoned Yiddishkeit; feeling that Hashem had deserted them. But my parents' firm desire was still to marry someone frum.
In Germany, they had instant success, baruch Hashem. By the time I was born (after my brother) they had established a successful enterprise. However, when my brother turned three, they decided that money was not the most important thing in their lives. Their first priority was to provide their children with a proper chinuch that was not available there. They moved to America; not knowing what was awaiting them there.
They settled on a farm in Vineland, New Jersey. There, they felt, they would be able to keep Shabbos and raise a family like the kind they remembered from Europe. There wasn't another religious family within three miles of our home. We were the only ones who kept Shabbos and had a succah for miles around.
My mother always covered her hair and dressed us modestly. Our neighbors often teased her about how old fashioned we all looked. They would warn her that no one would ever want to marry us. But she was adamant in her beliefs. Her parents' image was always before her and this gave her the strength to be defiant. She always remembered the last words her mother had told her, when they were taken to be murdered the Nazis, was, "Leah, always remember who you are and where you came from."
I remember when I was a young girl how my mother would daven to Hashem on Rosh Hashanah. She cried and she begged and I felt the windows shaking. Just hearing her voice made me tremble and realize that the Yom HaDin had arrived and was an extremely serious matter.
She was totally devoted to her beloved four children. I never heard her complain that anything was difficult for her. Everything was a zechus; a privilege.
After my father passed away, she moved to Lakewood where she could live near her two sons. In Lakewood, she was known and beloved by all because she loved to help everyone; whether for a simchah or to cheer someone up who wasn't feeling well. She especially loved cooking and baking for poor and needy people.
After she retired, my family and I were privileged that she came to live with us in Eretz Yisroel. Even when she was old and frail, still, when she lit the Shabbos candles she asked Hashem that she should be privileged to help other people and continue to do chessed. In her late eighties, she became a volunteer for a chessed organization in Yerushalayim and peeled vegetables many hours of the day.
Baruch Hashem, she fulfilled her mission and all of her offspring are following in the ways she and my father prepared for them.
She was niftar on the twenty sixth day of Shevat, 5769, at the ripe age of 91, and was buried with great honors on Har HaZeisim beside my father. Through unbelievable Hashgachah Peratis, she was laid to rest near the Modziter Rebbes whom her parents were fervent chassidim of. We miss her dearly. May her memory be a blessing to all of us and Klal Yisroel.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network