Have any of you heard of Sir Nicholas Winton? A British businessman, during the Holocaust he succeeded in saving the lives of over 650 Jewish children by bringing them to England under the very noses of the Nazis, in what is commonly known as the Kindertransport. An unassuming individual, his noble deed most probably would have remained unknown except that one day, some sixty years after the war, his wife decided to clean out the junk in the attic. She discovered an old-looking box containing lists of names with their personal details. When she asked her husband about it, he responded that they were just names. But she was persistent, until finally he told her that the list contained the names of all the children he had saved during the war, but that it was nothing extraordinary; anyone would have done the same.
Mrs. Winton arranged a surprise evening to honor her husband’s heroism. The majority of people invited were “Winton’s children,” that she had somehow (and it was not an easy feat) managed to track down, men and women who owed their lives to his heroism. It was an emotional reunion, and Mr. Winton was awestruck as he looked around the room at the children, now adults and heads of families, that he had saved and realized the momentous impact of his actions. One of the people whose life he saved is Harav Yitzchak Tuvia Weiss, shlita, Gaavad of the Eidah Hacharedis in Yerushalayim, a true amud of Torah and yiras Shamayim. I am sure there are many other Torah scholars and ehrlicher Yidden who owe their lives to Winton’s heroism.
After hearing this story, I decided to do a bit of research, to learn what would compel a wealthy businessman to risk his career, and even more so, his very life, to save innocent Jewish children. What zechus did he have to play a part in bringing about the revival of Torah from the ashes? I discovered that although the world viewed Nicholas as a gentile, and even he considered himself a gentile, he was, in fact, a Jew. His parents had converted to Catholicisam at the turn of the century, when they emigrated from Germany to London. To remove all traces of their Jewish roots, they Anglicized their name and raised their son as a gentile.
But despite his very non-Jewish upbringing and name, Nicholas, was, in fact a Jew, a precious Yiddishe neshamah forcefully severed from his people. And like every Jewish child, he most probably had a Jewish bubby, and bubbies are known to daven for their grandchildren.
I can only imagine the tears his bubby shed as she beseeched the One Above that her precious grandchild somehow discover that spark of Yiddishkeit that exists within every Jew and reconnect to his heritage. And although her prayers were not answered in the way that she had hoped, perhaps, it is in the zechus of her tefillos that her grandson found the courage to save so many Yiddishe children, and in doing so, to have a share in bringing so much light of Torah to the world.
Of course, it would be presumptuous of me to try to understand Hashem’s ways, and no one can really ever know why Nicholas merited to accomplish what he did. But one thing I do know: Bubbies (and zeidies and mommies and tatties) daven for their children – and Hashem answers their tefillos, although sometimes in ways that we may never fathom.
We just have to keep on davening.
This year, on zos Chanukah, one of my einekelach turned three. Together with his parents and siblings (as well as a couple of cousins and a set of mechutanim thrown in for good measure) we made the arduous journey to Meiron for the chalakah. It was a mini Lag B’Omer, with lots of music, dancing, and of course, tearful tefillah.
I noticed a nine-year-old granddaughter observing me as I davened. When I finished, I called her over and showed her the list of family members that I keep on me (in case I have a “senior moment”). “Look,” I said, pointing to her name on the list. “Here’s your name, together with your mommy’s name. That’s because Bubby davens for you every single day, just like I daven for all my children and grandchildren.”
She didn’t seem moved. Actually, she couldn’t wait to run away from me as quickly as possible to get back to her cousins. But I felt that it was important to impress on her the fact that I daven for her. I want her to know that no matter what might happen down the line, where she ends up in her life, her bubby will always be there for her, storming the Heavenly Throne on her behalf.
My cell phone rang as we were about to board the minibus to return home. Mazel tov, my daughter had just given birth to a little girl! Amidst all the laughter, hugging and joyous commotion, that same granddaughter came up to me and asked the one question that really weighed on her mind: “Bubby, are you also going to daven for the new baby?”
“Of course I will, shefela, just like I daven for you, and your sisters, and all my precious grandchildren.”
Her entire face lit up. Then she skipped back to her cousins.