Shaarei Shamayim

A Place of Comfort, Companionship and Healing



Just before Sukkot it was announced that Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who was kidnapped and held captive for 5 years will soon be released. The terms of the release apparently are that Israel will set free 479 Palestinian prisoners now and 550 in the next few months. Gilad Shalit has been part of the Israeli national conscience for 5 long years and so there was euphoria throughout the Jewish world with the announcement. It’s exactly what Israel needs in order to boost its morale in the face of the Palestinian call for statehood at the UN, the call for BDS against Israel—boycotts, divestment and sanctions—and other delegimitzation campaigns. However, the big winner in all this will be Hamas—depicting the deal as something their Palestinian rivals in the West Bank could not achieve. Will this bargain with the devil increase the kidnapping of Israel soldiers? I’m worried!

At 1st, I heard that Marwan Barghouti—the planner and maker of the explosives used at the Sbarro restaurant suicide bombing that took place on August 9, 2001 in Jerusalem along with a string of other attacks, in which 66 civilians were killed—was to be included in the swap. But other reports say it’s not so. Nevertheless, many of the 1,000 prisoners to be released do have Jewish blood on their hands.

I personally am thrilled for the Shalit family and for Gilad who has suffered enough. But it is surely a high price to pay to release 1,000 Palestinian criminals—so many of them terrorists—who probably will try to create new acts of terror. How can Israel even consider releasing more than 1,000 potential terrorists that can create many more Sbarro tragedies? Remember on Rosh Hashanah I told you the story of Chaim Fogel who is the father and father-in-law of Udi and Ruth Fogel, and grandfather of their 3 children—all of whom were viciously slaughtered last March by Palestinian terrorists. Recently one of the terrorists was sentenced to 130 years in prison. The other will soon be sentenced. Chaim Fogel told Israeli Army Radio: “If they tell me that in exchange for the release of the 2 murderers Gilad Shalit—who has been held hostage for 5 years by Hamas—will return home, I would agree…despite my opposition in principle to such transactions.” What an incredible statement! These terrorists killed this man’s son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren…his own flesh and blood! And yet, he would be ready to let them go for the release of Gilad Shalit, someone he’s never met! But he’s willing to do it. You know why? I asked on Rosh Hashanah, because, in every Israeli’s home Gilad Shalit is family!

Today, however, is Sukkot and I don’t want to dwell on the negative side of things. Instead I thought I would tell you a true story about the Sbarro terrorist attack that’s truly amazing and give us a feel for Israel and what it means for all Jews.

At the time of the bombing, the Jerusalem Sbarro pizza restaurant was located at the corner of King George Street and Jaffa Road in Jerusalem—perhaps the busiest pedestrian crossing Israel. Just before 2:00 p.m. on a summer holiday afternoon, when the restaurant was filled with customers and pedestrian traffic outside was at its peak, a suicide bomber wearing an explosive belt containing also nails, nuts and bolts, detonated his bomb. In the blast 15 people (including 7 children) were killed, and 130 wounded.

The 1st story begins during the Holocaust: A large group of Polish women were rounded up to be sent to the gas chambers. As the group gathered their possessions to take with them into the camp the evil Nazi officers called out to all the villagers who were standing by watching: “Anything that these Jews leave behind you may take for yourselves, because for sure they will not be coming back to collect them!”

2 Polish women who were standing nearby saw a woman towards the back of the group, wearing a large, heavy, expensive coat. Not wanting to wait to see if others got the coat before them, they ran to the woman and knocked her to the ground, grabbing her coat and walked away. As the Jewish women were being led away, these 2 Polish women lay down the coat to divide the spoils of what was hiding inside. As they rummaged through the pockets, they discovered gold jewelry, silver candlesticks and other heirlooms, but still, as they lifted the coat it seemed heavier than it should be.

After further inspection they found a secret pocket, and hidden inside the coat was a little baby girl. Shocked at their discovery, one of the women insisted to the other, saying, “I don’t have any children, and I’m too old to have now. You take all the gold and silver and let me take the baby.” The deal was agreed and the Polish woman took her new “daughter” home to her delighted husband. They raised the Jewish girl as their own, treating her very well, but never told her anything of her history. The girl excelled in her studies and became a successful pediatrician, working in the top hospital in Poland.

After some years the girl’s “mother” passed away. A week after, she received a knock at the door. An old woman invited herself in and said,  “I want you to know that the woman that passed away last week was not your real mother...” and she proceeded to tell her the whole story. The girl did not believe her at 1st but the old woman said to her, “When we found you, you were wearing a beautiful gold pendant with strange writing on it which must be Hebrew, I am sure that your mother kept the necklace, go and look.” And with that parting advice she left. The girl went into her “mother’s” jewelry box and found the necklace just as the woman described. She had it extended and wore it every day, but thought nothing more of her Jewish roots.

Sometime later, she went on holiday abroad and saw 2 Lubavitch boys. Seizing the opportunity she told them entire story and showed them the necklace. The boys confirmed that a Jewish name was inscribed on the necklace but did not know what to say about her status. They recommended that she send a letter to the Lubavitch Rebbe explaining everything. She sent off the letter and received a speedy reply saying that it is clear from the facts that she is a Jewish girl and since she had a special talent, she should use her invaluable skills in Israel, a place in desperate need of talented pediatricians.

She took the Rebbe’s advice and moved to Israel where she approached a Beyt Din who declared her Jewish. She was accepted into a hospital to work, and she met her husband and raised a family.

Some years later...When there was a terrorist attack at the Sbarro cafe in the centre of Jerusalem in August 2001, this woman was walking nearby with her husband. She told her husband to return home to the kids and she proceeded to rush to the scene where she treated the wounded and helped the injured to hospital. When she arrived at the hospital she
met an elderly man who was in a state of shock. He was searching everywhere for his granddaughter who had become separated from him. She calmed him down and went with him to search amongst all the patients in order to find his granddaughter. Asking how she could recognize her, the frantic grandfather gave a rough description of a gold pendant necklace that she was wearing. After searching amongst the injured, they finally found the granddaughter who was wearing the necklace. At the sight of this necklace, the pediatrician froze. She turned to the old man and said, “Where did you buy this necklace from?”

“You can’t buy such a necklace,” he responded, “I am a goldsmith and I made this necklace. Actually I made 2 identical ones for each of my daughters. This is my granddaughter from one of them, and my other daughter did not survive the war.”...And this is how the Jewish Polish girl was reunited with her father.

Why do I tell you this story on Sukkot? Because the real lesson of the Sukkah is that our ultimate security, our ultimate protection comes not from our strong homes, institutions or governments, but from Gd! From the Polish girl’s real mother’s perspective, being knocked down on the ground and her coat stolen with her daughter hidden inside was the worst thing that could have happened to her. But it saved her daughter’s life. Gd watched over the Jewish Polish girl and He watches over each and every one of us. I’ll end with the words of the holiday evening prayer: Ufros aleynu sukat shlomecha, baruch Ata Hashem, haporeys sukat shalom aleynu v’al kol amo Yisrael v’al Yerushalayim, “And spread over us Your sukkah of peace. Blessed are You Hashem, Who spreads the shelter of peace upon us, upon all His people Israel and upon Jerusalem.” Amen!

Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis


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