The Oisvorfer’s New Cousins
Toirah on Sunday? Not exactly! Ober tomorrow, April 28th, is YomHaZikaron colloquially known around the world as Yom HaShoah or Holocaust Remembrance Day. Whatever you call it, it’s the day that Jewish people all over the world, commemorate the lives of the approximately six million Yiddin of every age, that perished nebech (sadly) in the Holocaust as a result of the actions carried out by the farberecher (bad guys) Nazis. Most communities have programs later this evening, featuring noted speakers and many also feature survivors and/or their children.
And on an evening when we celebrate survival, in today’s special edition of the Oisvorfer’s Toirah, you will meet one of those survivors and her family. I met them for the very first time only over Pesach and here’s how.
This year the Oisvorfer and mishpocho, along with the shver and shvigermeister (in-laws) and other family members, all spent a beautiful Pesach together over in Ft. Meyers Florida. Incidentally, the shver celebrated his 75th birthday over yom tov and the Oisvorfer’s daughter, one day later, her 24th.
And while we typically, at least here in the city, barely say hello and certainly don’t engage in lengthy conversations with strangers and/or people we don’t at all know, it all changes on vacation. It’s different over a Pesach where we typically spend eight to ten days in a hotel setting, seeing and running into the same people multiple times daily. This is especially true of the tea room where, no matter how much one just ate or how ungeshtupped they are and feel, Yiddin all over the world feel a special obligation to stop off for some last minute chocolate and/or other dessert and for things to avada take back to their rooms just in case they feel hunger pains while riding the elevator up to their rooms. Chas v’sholom they should leave something behind. The pull of the room is perhaps the biggest yetzer horo of all; well, not exactly but you chap. In any event, while in vacation mode, efsher because we’re so relaxed and bloated, we find ourselves talking to and getting to know people we might otherwise not have an opportunity to meet. Conversations will typically begin in the tea room , poolside, in the dining room and also in shul where the men gather several times daily.
Though the Oisvorfer is typically more on the quiet side, this year he was quite chatty and met more than several very interesting people and personalities. Another special edition, tentatively titled ‘the people one meets on vacation’ is on the drawing board. And taka this year over Pesach, he met a whole bunch of nice and very interesting people. Each story was unique, each encounter very enjoyable. Ober nothing compared to a chance meeting with a family from Rockville, Maryland, that by chance mamish, or was it, booked the very program that the Oisvorfer would be on. Here then the story.
Following the second Seder, the mishpocho made their way towards the elevator banks. Two elevators were set on shabbis and yom tov mode -meaning- that these specially marked elevators stopped on each of the18 floors on the way up and again on the way down. Ober immediately opposite this elevator, there was another elevator; this one was on manual mode. We had just missed the shabbis/yom tov elevator and it would likely have been another 15-20 minutes before it made its way up and back down. We were all oisgimatert (wiped out) following the second Seder which started an hour later and which ran long due to the plethora of Toirah and other thoughts being discussed. The emes; what was discussed most was the need for a strong, bold and brave rabbi, in our generation, to do away with it. Can that happen, ver veyst?
Back to the elevator:
With the shabbis elevator gone and the oilom (crowd) tired and given that it was yom tov and the second day, the Oisvorfer paskened (ruled) that it would be permitted to hint to the shiksa in the lobby manning the front desk that we needed to make our way to the 13th floor. And taka by the second night, the entire staff already knew that the Yiddin were a weird bunch; they chapped that though we could, walk, talk and certainly eat all day, that for some reason, touching the elevator button was strictly verboten. And with a big smile, she came over pushed the button, the doors opened and we all entered. Ober the RBSO had been cooking up a plan, one in the making for 70 years. Another family joined us for the ride up. A remark by the Oisvorfer in Yiddish sparked a response from an elderly yet quite attractive woman. They got off on a lower floor. We wished each other a good yom tov. The following day at lunch, the Oisvorfer overcame his shyness and walked the entire dining room, stopping intermittently at tables to say hello to various people he had already met. So happened that he stopped to say hello to Jeannie (she of Jeannie’s Dream, hat designer and seller to many in the Five Towns and to clients all around the world.) More on her and her givaldige family another day but you can find Jeannie at 521 Central Avenue in Cedarhurst and online at http://jeanniesdream.net.
Interestingly enough, though the Oisvorfer lives in the community for 24 years, he never before spoke to Jeannie. Seated mamish one table adjacent to hers, was the family that rode the elevator with us and, of course, the Oisvorfer stopped by to say good yom tov. Halt kup (pay attention; it gets mamish interesting and exciting.
After exchanging pleasantries, someone asked where the Oisvorfer was born. Vienna, Austria was the response. Another question was posed, or almost. “Do you know_____”? Ober the Oisvorfer interrupted the question and said azoy: before you ask if I know anyone, be aware that I left Austria in 1956 as a child of 1 1/2 and returned only in 1981 to look for a gentleman that my father had often talked about. That gentleman had arranged papers for the mishpocho to emigrate ober layda (sadly) another family member took off with those very papers and used them to emigrate. In any event, this man’s name was heard over and again and I was determined to find him and thank him, albeit over 25 years later.
I continued………..It so happened that I spent that Shavuos of 1981 over in Lugano, Switzerland at a glatt kosher hotel, an experience also worthy of being retold, ober not today. On motei yom tov, I got my schedule which included Austria, Yugoslavia (its name back then), Spain, Italy and then back to Switzerland. I called my father in New York asking for information on this man. Of course he had none; they hadn’t spoken or seen each other since 1956. (As an aside, the Oisvorfer’s father, OBM, never made long distance calls). From Lugano I called the local Rabbi in Vienna and also the Chabad Rabbi; no one had heard of this man. I called back to my father (it was after midnight) and asked for help. “Where did you work back in 1955 and 1956″? I was told that he worked at a restaurant called Weilburg where he was a mashgiach. And the chances that this establishment was still in business and kosher in 1981? Less than zero.
Nonetheless, in the morning, I took a train from Lugano to Zurich where we (the gentleman I was working for that year and I), boarded a plane to Vienna . Upon arrival, we checked into the Four Seasons and met in the lobby 15 minutes later. We jumped into cab and in Yiddish I asked the driver to take us to the Weilburg restaurant. I guessed he would either, find it, call his dispatcher for help or tell me it did not exist. Instead, he began driving and less than seven minutes later, the cab pulled up to a restaurant with a big sign with big bold letters that read Weilburg. My heart began to race. Amazingly an eatery by that name had survived since the 1950s. It was just after 11AM, the restaurant was completely empty but for one gentleman polishing the counters. It was no longer kosher. I approached and said: “ich-zich- Bu-u-Guttmann” (I’m looking for Bu-u Guttmann). He made a motion as if shooing me away. I asked again “ich-zich Bu-u Guttmann bita (please). Again he motioned. I turned around but the restaurant was empty. He kept motioning until I thought he was motioning for me to step outside. Once outside, seated at a table under an umbrella typically found at a Parisian brassiere, sat a man, eyes closed, legs stretched out and snoring loudly. He was the only man there. I approached, tapped him, startled him and said -Bu u Guttmann? He sat up and responded ‘ver-freygt’ (who’s asking). To which I responded “ich-bin Yankel Grossman’s zin from America” (I am Yankel Grossman’s son form America). He jumped to his feet and asked to me wait there. He disappeared and was gone long enough that my employer suggested we leave. I was dejected. Though it seemed like an hour, approximately 30 minutes had gone by and were getting ready to leave when………suddenly from a distance, we noticed a man walking with a woman towards us. It was Bu-u returning with his wife. We were introduced and spent parts of the next three days getting acquainted and touring Vienna. Of course she told me all about Hitler’s early days in Vienna and other disturbing facts about Vienna circa 1981. It was not a very friendly place.
When I was done with my story, the matriarch of the family said these words “that’s the man I was going to ask you about. Bu u- is my first cousin.” I got the chills. I ran cross the dining room calling and waving frantically for the eishes chayil to join me. She had heard me retell this story countless times; it was coming to life before my very eyes. Sitting in front of me was a survivor of the Holocaust, one who made her way through Auschwitz, had made her way back to Sasregen (Romania) and was now sitting at a Pesach program with her daughter, her son-in-law and a granddaughter. Her grandson would join a day later. And she knew this man that my father had so often talked about, the very man I set out to find and the very first person other than the hotel check-in clerk and the taxi driver, that I met in Vienna on day one of my trip. Had the story ended there, dayanu as we sang both nights: it would have been sufficient! It was already quite remarkable but it got better.
When I returned to her table, she said that she now recalled that she knew my father, my uncle and my aunt. Moreover, at least two of them, came to stay with her family over in Sasregen and that she had seen my father at a simcha years back. It was quite overwhelming; I couldn’t get myself to leave her table. Ober the mishpocho was waiting. I said that we needed to talk more and that we would. We talked quite a bit over the next six days.
Later that afternoon, we met again. More news: having had a few hours to think, she suddenly recalled that we were cousins, real mishpocho! It was the second day of yom tov, I couldn’t write and I was too excited to recall all the facts. But by the time finished speaking, it was confirmed that Devora Bloom/Weiss (nee Guttman), this beautiful woman saved from the fires of Auschwitz, now seated next to me, speaking perfect English and living in Rockville, MD with her daughter Agi and son-in-law Rachmil, was my very own second cousin.
And on this night, when we think about all that we lost, we also think about all that we have and that our parents rebuilt. The Oisvorfer kissed and bid his new cousins goodbye but promised to stay in touch. We will.
The Oisvorfer Ruv