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Tapestry of Life

Rabbi Joseph Blum* and his wife were newly assigned to their first congregation, in a suburban area of Brooklyn. They arrived in early February of 1980, excited about their opportunities. When they paid their first visit to the shul, they saw it was very run-down and needed many repairs. They set their goal to have everything ready for their first service on Purim.

They hired workers to set the shul in ship-shape condition – to repair the aged pews, plaster the walls and paint. By the 8th of Adar, they were ahead of schedule and just about done with all the repairs.

On February 19, a terrible snowstorm hit the area, lasting for two days. On the 21st, the Rabbi went to the shul to assess the damage. His heart sank when he saw that the roof had leaked onto the plaster of the wall immediately behind the pulpit. A large area of plaster, about 20 feet by 8 feet, had fallen off in chunks.

The Rabbi cleaned up the mess on the floor. Not knowing what else could be done before services were scheduled to start, he headed home. On the way, he noticed that a local business was holding a flea-market type sale for charity. One of the items was a handmade, ivory-colored, crocheted tablecloth with exquisite embroidery. A Magen David was embroidered with bright colored thread right in the center. It was just the right size to cover the hole in the front wall. The Rabbi bought it and headed back to the shul.

By this time it had started to snow again. An older woman running from the opposite direction was trying to catch the bus. She missed it. The Rabbi invited her to wait in the warm shul until the next bus would come by, 45 minutes later.

She sat in a pew and paid no attention to the Rabbi as he took out a ladder and hangers to put up the tablecloth as a wall tapestry. The Rabbi could hardly believe how beautiful it looked. It perfectly covered up the entire problem area.

Then he noticed the woman walking down the center aisle. Her face was like a sheet. “Rabbi, where did you get that tablecloth?”

The Rabbi explained that he had just bought it from a flea market. The woman asked the Rabbi to inspect the lower right corner and see if the initials EBG were crocheted in there. The Rabbi checked the tablecloth and confirmed that the letters were indeed there.

“This is my tablecloth,” said the woman tearfully. “I crocheted this tablecloth myself 35 years ago in Poland, as a young bride.”

She explained that before the war, she and her husband were well-to-do. When the Nazis came, she managed to escape the country. Her husband was going to follow her the next week but he was captured and sent to a camp. She never saw her husband or her home again.

Rabbi Blum wanted to give the woman the tablecloth, but she insisted that the Rabbi keep it for the Shul.

Rabbi Blum offered to drive her home. That was the least he could do. She lived on the other end of Staten Island and was in Brooklyn that day on an errand.

What a wonderful service they had that Purim.

The Shul was almost full. The service was lively, rollicking, joyous.

At the end of the service, Rabbi Bloom and his wife greeted everyone at the door. Many said that they would return.

One older man, whom the Rabbi recognized from the neighborhood, sat in the pew long after everyone had left, staring at the wall with a haunted look. Rabbi Blum wondered what was keeping him.

The man asked, “Where did you get the tablecloth on the front wall? It is identical to the one my wife made years ago in Poland...”

He told the Rabbi that when the Nazis came, he forced his wife to flee for her safety. He was supposed to follow her, but he was caught by the Nazis and put in a camp. He never saw his wife or his home again.

Rabbi Blum asked the man if he would allow him to take him for a little ride. They drove to Staten Island, to the same house where the Rabbi had taken the woman three days earlier.

He helped the man climb the three flights of stairs to the woman's apartment. He knocked on the door and introduced husband and wife, separated by war and vicious destruction, united once again through a synagogue tapestry.
 

 


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