HEAR, O ISRAEL!
In 1996 I decided to quit my job as a reporter.
This was my last day.
So, we are filming a man, the main chief at the hotel “Dan Panorama”, and someone in the other room is moaning.
The chief interrupts and yells at the wall, -“Papa, they will still not film you!”
The moaning stops
I ask, “why does he want to be filmed, your father.” -“He wants to tell about his life story” said the chief, “maybe you can pretend? Just for bliss, so that his blood pressure won’t go up.”
“The work day is over” the cameraman, Avi, cuts us off and starts to pack up all the equipment (in television production, their shift is strict, 7 hours of work, 2 mandatory breaks. Personally, this is the reason I quit, there was nothing new that could be done already.)
I pitied the man, took out my little camera and told the son-chief, “I am in no hurry. Show me your father.”
We walk into a dim room. An elderly man sits in a rocking chair and with wide open eyes looks straight at me. The chief says, “dad, let me introduce you, this is the most famous director.”
“It was right after the war” the old man began, before I even had a chance to sit down…. “Will people see this?” Suspiciously looking at the camera.
“Of course,” I say, “this camcorder only looks really small, but it is indeed a professional camera. Go on.”
“So like this,” the old man says, ” we traveled to Poland looking for orphans. We made a decision, in our kibbutz movement, that we must be ahead of the religious. Because they also were looking. We didn’t want them to fill the children with nonsense. I knew what religion is. I lived and was born in Poland in a religious family. But came to my senses just in time… So, I arrive at a monastery, by Krakov. They bring me to the Abbot. They tell him this and that; I am from Israel, looking for children, orphans; we want to bring them back to our historical homeland.
He tells me, ‘sit down, drink some of our herbal tea.’
I sit, drink tea, and he explains to me.
-‘Yes, he says, we do have Jewish children… I will not hide that from you… Our monastery accepted children. When they found out that the Abbot of the neighboring monastery accepted them, he was hung… I was scared… But when they came to me, I could not reject them. Well, judge for yourself, Jews arrive at our door, silently, at night so that no one will see. Knock on the window, I open it. They enter and with them, their little son, barely standing on his little feet. Wrapped in a shawl, only his eyes are visible. Take him, they say, tomorrow we will be evacuated, and I see how the mother opens his face, smooths out his hair and kisses him, kisses him, hugs him and says farewell. And I know… that they will not return… how do I not accept them?!… I take them.’
-‘Thank you very much,’ I say to the Abbot, ‘you are a true righteous man!…’
And he tells me, ‘this happened 5-6 times per night… They come and come. I am afraid, but I accept them. The brothers in the monastery knew about this, and were silent. Not one person betrayed me.’
-‘Thank you, thank you’- I repeat- ‘to you and to all the brothers in the monastery… Thank you that you saved our children.’
-‘And now you came to take them’, – he continues. -‘I will take them to their homeland, I say.’
He asks me,- ‘and how will you recognize them?’ – What do you mean, recognize? Don’t you have the lists saved?! -No, he says- there are no accounts of them saved. We didn’t save any records of them. What if they would have been discovered?! God forbid!
-Listen, I say, – thank you for saving the children, of course, but I will not leave without them. Show them to me, I will take them and that’s it.
-You will take them by force? -Why by force? I will explain everything to them.. -They don’t remember anything, what will you explain to them? -That they had different parents, I say, that they are our children. -We have considered them our children for a long time already, he says. -But they are our children! -Prove it! – he says. -Our children have one thing in common, I say, that differs from the other children… -They are our children! He says firmly. I will not allow you to do any examination on them.
And stands up. And I stand. And I feel the weight of all our suffering nation on my shoulders. I tell him, lead me to the children.
-Ok, let’s go- he says calmly – but don’t depend on me to tell you where they are. Find them yourself, only by looking at them.
He brings me to a big room, and a huge bedroom.
I see many, many children there. Blonde children, dark-haired, red haired children, many different kinds. The time is in the evening. There are getting ready for bed. All the children are combed, fed, clean faces, red cheeks… Right away it is noticeable, they are cared for with love.
We stand in the middle of the room and the Abbot says to me, well, how will you know which ones are your children and which ones are not?…
I stand silent. I don’t know what to tell him.
He continues, – if the child wants to go with you, we will not hold him against his will. This I promise you.- but then continues pleading,- they don’t remember their parents. We are in place of their parents. Don’t make them suffer. Leave them here.
One dark-haired boy walks next to me and I say to him in Yiddish, -how do you live, little one?- he answers me in polish, – Hello, my name is Irsha, I don’t understand you.
-All have Polish names- I hear the voice of a monk. -All speak only Polish, their home is here.
And here I come to a conclusion that I a can’t do anything. I understand that I will be forcing them, if I start to interview everyone, begging them to come with me…. and, even if I will be able to tell the difference, who are mine, they will not want to go! I must leave everything how it is, I say to myself, and just leave.
They turn off the lights, everyone is already in bed.
I turn to leave…
I look at the abbot. He throws up his hands. I think, -I am not leaving them in prison, they are happy here…..
And suddenly….. I don’t know where this came from?!… Actually, I do know from where!… From my childhood…
I eagerly ask the abbot -May I ask them only one question?… -You may, he says, ask them.
And then I take a deep breath. And loudly so everyone hears, – “Hear O Israel, The Lord our God, The Lord is One”….
To this day I get goosebumps when I remember this…
I remember how everyone became quiet… Such a dead silence!
And suddenly, next to the window, two little heads popped up… And then next to the door two more… And next to the entrance one more…
They get up and they look at me… They look and they look…
And I see in their eyes, such a big amazement!…
And then they lower their feet to the ground. And suddenly the start approaching me!…
As if in groups, from all corners.
They pound on the floor with their bare feet and run. And they rally up and stick to me.
And I weep, I can’t hold my tears. I hug them, tears flowing down my cheeks!… And I repeat over and over, -my dear children, I came back, your father! I came to take you home!…’
The old man sits silently. I can see how his chin quivers. “There is no home, that doesn’t know this prayer…” -he says. “Day and night, they repeated it, ‘Hear O Israel, The Lord our God. The Lord is One…’ It lives inside the hearts…. Of all.”
Again he is silent. I don’t stop the recording. I can see that this is not the end yet.
And indeed…. He continues.
-I look back- he says -and I see the abbot, standing, he can hardly hold his tears back.
And suddenly the children, turn and head towards him. They look at him and then at me….. Again at him… At me…
And suddenly they begin to return to him…. I stand silently. I told myself, that I will keep quiet. That’s it!… Let them decide.
And then the abbot speaks, saying -my dear children… I am so happy,…. That you are going home.
I see that he is having a hard time saying these words…
-Everything will soon disappear, my children- he says- you will see! There will be no religion, no other nations, no boundaries… Nothing… Nothing will separate us. Only love will connect us-
And suddenly takes a step towards them, hugs them… and smiles…. smiles!
-Love, is the religion, -he says- we will love our neighbor as ourselves… Not any less… Not any more… We will love! Like ourselves!.. Only then it will be revealed to us, what is love. That He, is love, my children! Love!.. But we… Are all one family.. The whole world, my children… One big family!…
And then he stops talking… The children stand, silently. I am silent. We are all silent…
-But will I come and see you?!… – He says- of course, I will come, how can I not?! Just don’t forget us, there, at home.
Then he turns, and walks away. Stumbles at the doorway, nearly falls…
… That is how I brought them here, says the old man, twelve boys. We raised all of them in our kibbutz. I am very proud of them.
… Three of them died in 1973, in the war of Yom Kippur, judgment day. It was a hard battle. Yosi was burnt in a tank on Sinai. Arie and Haim had a direct hit on them.
One more Yakov got married to Hana… It was such a joyful wedding!… But three years later… In a bus… In Jerusalem… This was a well known terrorist attack… Blew up.
The abbot didn’t make it in time…
After these words, the old man remained silent. I understood that the recording was over.
… I left this home very late at night. The son of the chief prepared a dinner so great, never in my life have I eaten such a dinner.
I promised to write an article and bring it to them.
The next day I had an important job to do. I was quitting the television business. They squeezed all the juices out of me.
A week later, I wanted to look over all of my material. I took out the cassette… Empty…
I was shocked. I began to look here and there, everywhere I only could. I even drove over to the operator guys… I thought maybe there is something wrong with my head.
Some told me, maybe you forgot to push record. Others told me maybe something went wrong with the cassette. Third ones… Said that I need to throw away this little “JVC” camera…
In short, nothing was recorded…
In the evening I called the chief. I was preparing a long time for this conversation… He heard me out. Then said, “you know, I am very thankful to you, that you stayed and listened to my father”. Then suddenly says, ” my father is in the hospital right now. It looks like he only has a few more days to live. But he lays in silence, like a small child, doesn’t whine, doesn’t scream, but smiles…”
Many years have passed since then. Honestly, I have heard of many similar stories of how children remembered this prayer. The stories were all very similar, down to the tiniest details. I even thought, sinful thinking, that maybe this old man had made up the entire story…
But what tortured me inside was the abbot.
-Idealist, utopianist, fictionist, I thought of him. – he doesn’t care about love! But even more so , towards one certain family…
But the words I heard would not let me go.
Until I found proof, that this really would happen. Until I found the Teacher.