by Rabbi Moshe Kempinski, Shorashim of the Old City
Every weekday morning, Reb Gil arrives at the western wall for pre Dawn prayers.  He attempts to arrive earlier than most of the others in order to help setting up the chairs for those arriving for Neitz Prayers.  Since ancient days Jewish People have been awakening the Dawn with Prayer, not awakening with the dawn but awakening the Dawn.

Last week a new person joined the group at the wall.  He was visiting from America and very soon became a regular with this special group.  The man, known as Laibel, began to help Reb Gil in the setting up of the chairs.  As they were working he asked Gil "what exactly do you do?"  Gil smiled and answered that "I help people put on their teffilin (phylacteries) here at the Kotel".  Laibel's eyes opened wide and he responded "well I helped people put on teffilin in the death camps."

Gil stared at him for a while and then quickly had him sit down and tell his story.

When Laibel was a young boy, the Germans came to take him and his family to the death camps during one of the "aktions". 
Just as he was leaving the house Laibel's father gave him large boots to keep his feet warm.  Laibel ran to his room and grabbed the teffilin and siddur (prayerbook) he had recently acquired at his bar-mitzva and stuffed them into his new oversized boots. 
Then the family left their home and their past forever.

The cattle car train ride to the camp was horrific and Laibel soon found himself separated from his family.  Because of his small size, he was told to gather with many of the other children on the left side of the ramp.  It was already known amongst the Jews that the left side led to the ominous building that meant death.  As they gathered in the room where they were told to remove their clothes to prepare for the "showers" the children stood there transfixed in shock.  Laibel turned to the others and declared that this was not the way Jews were meant to enter heaven.  He asked them to form rows of five and march together.  They would enter the gas chambers singing "Ani Maamin  (I Believe)".

As the german guards stared in disbelief this group of young Jewish children formed rows of five and defiantly began singing as loud as they could.  As they began to move in the direction of the doors one of the officers began screaming at them to be silent.  For some unknown reason he then barked at them to turn to a different direction and to gather their prison clothes.

Stunned, the group turned away from death.

As they stood in line to recieve their striped rags, Laibel saw his fathers boots standing at the edge of the pile of all their old clothes.  He turned to some of the other children and asked them to help him.  He asked them to begin bickering and fighting amongst themselves.  They could not refuse the boy whose inspiration saved their lives.

In the midst of the noise Laibel was able to retrieve both the teffilin and the siddur.

Throughout the remaining years in the camps Laibel succeeded in hiding his treasure.  As a result he and many that were with him succeeded, as well, in putting on the teffilin whenever the opportunity arose.

In the midst of the fires of hell, young Jews were fulfilling G-D's will and wrapping themselves up in the teffilin.  In the midst of the pit of darkness they recited the following prayer from the book of Hoshea and enacted the act of betrothal so integral to the Teffilin ritual.

"And I will betroth thee unto Me forever; yea, I will betroth Thee unto Me in righteousness, and in justice, and in loving-kindness, and in compassion.  And I will betroth Thee unto Me in faithfulness; and thou shalt know the L-RD".

Gil and Laibel continued talking until it was time to begin the morning prayers as the dawn quickly dispelled the darkness of the night and the memories.

Later that day Reb Gil was back at the stand at the western wall asking people if they were interested in putting on teffilin.  He began talking to a soldier that was visiting the western wall with his unit.  The soldier looked at Gil with a certain air of ridicule
and said "sorry not me."  Gil said to him, "I need to tell you a story I heard just this morning."  He then told him Laibel's story.

The soldier looked down, and then towards the heavens.  With eyes slightly moist with tears, this young soldier wrapped the teffilin on his arms and on his head and read the Shma.

Next morning Gil rushed up to Laibel and told him the story.  Laibel just smiled and shook his head.

A simple young child helped Jewish prisoners in a death camp to connect with their Creator.  That simple eloquent act did the exact same thing sixty years later to a Jewish warrior in the reborn state of Israel.

moshe kempinski
Jerusalem Insights is a journal of insights, stories and torah thoughts from Jerusalem's Old City  - 
A project of Shorashim of the Old City  -  Tiferet Israel 3  Jerusalem 97500  -  Tel:  011-972-2-628-9729
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