The holiday season brings forth a celebration of miracles.
- The miraculous power of electricity illuminates our lives, homes, and public spaces.
- The miracle of cars and interconnected roads facilitates swift global connectivity.
- The awe-inspiring miracle of flight continues to captivate me every time I step onto an airplane.
- The enchanting miracles of film and the internet fuel communication on both a grand and intimate scale across the globe.
- The profound miracle of love lies at the core of peace in our homes and the world.
My Recent Miracles
Miracle 1: Securing an Apartment in Jerusalem
In recent years, my visits to Israel have been a blend of extended family holidays and immersive studies at Shiviti and Simhat Shlomo – two esteemed unaccredited Jewish universities dedicated to exploring Jewish texts, practices, and history for adults.
During my last visit to Jerusalem in April, I embarked on a quest to find a place I could call home. Despite encountering several options, navigating the financial aspect posed a challenge. Then, I learned about an apartment significantly more affordable than the others. While lacking the lavish amenities like a swimming pool or gym, it offered a tranquil sanctuary in a residential neighbourhood of Jerusalem, in proximity to the bustling Emek Refaim street with its famous shops and cafes, and conveniently located not far from my favourite cinemas.
Acquiring the apartment from a distance proved daunting, prompting my departure for Israel immediately after the Jewish Fall Holidays on October 19th, 2022. Remarkably, over the next five weeks, I took possession of the apartment and transformed it into a livable space – a miraculous accomplishment against the odds.
Miracle 2: Strolling through the Revitalized Streets of Jerusalem
From 1965 to 1969, my time as a Hebrew University student unfolded amidst the enchanting cityscape of Jerusalem. In those days, walking was ingrained in the city’s fabric, serving as its residents’ primary mode of transportation. During my recent visit, the transformation was astounding. Jerusalem had undergone amazing expansion and rejuvenation. today there are bse and trains tunnels and superhighways connecting the suburbs of Jerusalem amd all the citis of israel as well as Ben Gurion International airport. Before 1967, Jews had no access to the ancient walled city of jerusalem or the Western wall. the remaining outer wall of the ancient courtyard surrounding Solomon’s Temple.
Before the historic 1967 six-day Arab-Israeli war, Jeruslem was a one-horse town with ony two mIain streets, Yaffo and Ben Yehudah. Today, there is a train that runs along Yaffo street, whic is the gateway to the Old City and Ben Yehudah street has become a pedestrian mall; Cafe tables adorn the center, flanked by diverse shops on either side. A vivid snapshot captured in another pedestrian haven near Ben Yehuda, Kikar Hamusika, showcases a charming square with tables, restaurants and a main stage featuring live music performances more often than not, adding a dynamic and vibrant layer to the city’s contemporary charm.
Miracle 3: Reconnecting with old friends
On the day following my arrival in Jerusalem, a delightful surprise awaited me courtesy of my brother-in-law, Shragai. He informed me that our friend Barbara Friedman, hailing from Montreal, was hosting a gathering of fellow Montrealers in her apartment, extending a warm invitation my way. This unexpected reunion offered a rare and cherished opportunity to reconnect with old friends, one of whom brought along a guitar.
Amidst the convivial atmosphere, we found ourselves singing an eclectic mix of songs, among them the whimsical children’s tune about Noah’s Ark, where animals entered “two by two.” The song’s timing felt particularly poignant, as it was the Friday preceding the Sabbath. During this sacred time, we delved into the biblical narrative of Noah constructing the ark at the divine command, a vessel designed to shield his family and the animals from the pervasive immorality that had permeated the society of that era.
Miracle 4: Immersing in the European Cantors Convention in Budapest
Embarking on a journey from Israel to Hungary on November 1st, my destination was the meticulously restored Rumbach Synagogue nestled in the heart of Budapest’s vibrant Jewish quarter—an area laden with personal significance, as it was the site of my parents’ union on December 25th, 1943.
Determined to capture the essence of this unique event, I enlisted the services of Zoltan Banki, a local cameraman, to document the European Cantors Convention. This endeavour extended beyond the convention itself, encompassing my exploration of personal histories with my cousins—Tehila Umiel, Rachel Kaufman, and Effy Fadida—in the rich tapestry of Hungary.
The convention provided a platform for encounters with notable cantors, each with a compelling narrative. From engaging interviews with Cantor Benny Meisels of Toronto, Cantor Deborah Katcko-Grey of the US, and Cantor Leah Frey Rabiner of Germany, I delved into their unique journeys. Additionally, conversations unfolded with critical figures shaping the convention’s narrative, including Harriet Kiss, the director of the Rumbach Synagogue, and the visionary leaders Geraldine Auerbach and Alex Klein.
These encounters, laden with captivating stories, are the foundation for an upcoming documentary rooted in the European Cantors Convention. Beyond interviews, the convention also immersed participants in riveting panel discussions and unforgettable concerts, adding depth and resonance to this remarkable experience.
Miracle 5: Rediscovering Our Family Heritage in Hungary
Following the convention, Rachel, Tehila, her daughter, Effy Fadida from Israel, and I embarked on a journey to Tokay, Szabolcs, Kereztur, and Debrecen—places where our Hungarian Jewish ancestors once called home. Engaging local guides, we explored these places. We partook in kosher meals at Kereztur, the residence of the late Hassidic Rebbe Reb Shiele, now a revered pilgrimage site offering hospitality to all.
Under the veil of night in Tokay, where we lodged, we sought out and paid homage to the Rebbe’s resting place after supper. The ensuing day was devoted to connecting with living relatives who endured the aftermath of the Shoah in Debrecen.
Our experience in Debrecen is documented in the Hungarian Jewish Debrecen Community Bulletin, where I endeavoured to provide an English translation of our visit.
The Széchenyi street bakeshop and baker, Sándor Hirsch (Sanyi Hirsch, my late father’s brother), still live on in the memory of the elders of Debrecen. Descendants of his family, Rachel (Kaufman), Tehila (Umiel), Abigail (Hirsch), and Effy (Fadida) from America, Canada, and Israel, visited our community (last week). First, they remembered their dead and visited the cemetery. Later, the family’s path led to the old wood-burning bakery. Although the religious community no longer owns this bakery, the oven still functions today as it did then. Ilonka Zsabolci (a Debrecen resident and daughter of the late Sandor Hirsch who grew up in one of the adjacent apartments) recalled precisely every point of the bake shop just as our elders can recall their daily conversations and the aroma of the five-kilo loaves of bread that emanated from here during the 70s and 80s.
Ilonka also recalled families bringing their Sabbath cholent to the bake shop on Friday afternoon, and Sandor (Sanyi) would ask them, “Do you want the cholent’s texture to be soupy or thick?” Then, according to their request, he would place the labelled containers in the oven closer or further away from the flame.
Around the corner from the bakeshop at the intersection of István Tisza Boulevard and Simony Street #28 used to stand the compound of the late patriarch Samu Hirsch (Shlomo Yisroel, my grandfather, who perished in Auschwitz). There is no longer any trace of that compound. It has been torn down, and a modern apartment building is in place.
After our tour, we shared a joint lunch at the “Mazal Tov” restaurant of the Debrecen religious community. Gyuri Lázár from Los Angeles – formerly from Debrecen – joined us with his wife, Maggie. Gyuri is a member of a family still living in Debrecen. Gyuri left Hungary to study in the US and has lived in Los Angeles ever since. He happened to be visiting Hungary and is related to Rachel Kaufman’s father, Joshua Kaufman, who is also the son of a prewar Debrecen family.
During lunch, we shared memories and photographs.
After lunch, Abigail (Ágnes) Hirsch went over to the club room of the Rachel Women’s Association to get to know the local members. Unfortunately, they rarely have guests from Canada. Unfortunately, the visit was short because there was not much time before their train returned to Budapest.
Of course, the Jewish Quarter, with its synagogues and Holocaust Memorial Wall, was not to be missed. Family members were recalled everywhere.
Tehila and Effi, pictured here, could find Tehila’s father’s name – Bela Hirsch – carved into the memorial wall, which lists all of the Jews from Debrecen who were deported and died during this time, never to return.
The past came back and was moving for the religious community and the Hirsch family. Their stay in Hungary, including their commemoration in Debrecen, was filmed by a professional cameraman (Banki Zoltan). Abigail is working to integrate their family history into the history of the Jewish community in Hungary. The religious community is looking for additional materials for this. It will be a lasting reminder of the past and the present.
Written by Gabor Kreisler (who graciously served as our guide throughout the day, appointed by the Debrecen Jewish community.)
Thank you, Gabor!
Miracle 6: Resilience of My Christmas Cactus
Upon my arrival in Montreal, a delightful revelation awaited me – my Christmas cactus, skillfully transplanted by a neighbourhood plant whisperer, is blossoming anew!
In this season of profound darkness, we are reminded of the transformative power of simplicity. Tiny lights can illuminate vast spaces, and a determined few can triumph over the many, echoing the resilience of the Maccabees.
May our homes be adorned with enduring peace and boundless joy, not only in the present but in the years that unfold.
Am Yisrael chai – The People of israel are alive!
Am Yisrael thrives!
And when Am Yisrael thrives, the world thrives!
Wishing joyous and sacred holidays to all, wherever you may be.