About the TI
TheBronzeBow has suggested the theme this week.
Thanks to Helen and Stefan for creating The Tuesday inspiration, and for Helen's work in keeping it up.
“The Tuesday Inspiration” began in 2009 when they started setting each other a challenge… on a Tuesday. Very soon afterwards, it was decided to open this up to other PB members, followed by the idea that we should not reveal what the subject is, so that other members could compare how different members view a single theme. The Tuesday Inspiration is not a contest or a challenge, but a group of people all agreeing to post their interpretation of a single theme on Tuesdays. Each week, one of the contributors sets the theme. There are now over 60 members contributing to the TI. It is not a contest or a challenge, just a bunch of people agreeing to post their interpretation of a single theme on Tuesdays. Each week one of the contributors sets the theme and everybody else can enjoy/guess what it is. We have only two “rules”: don’t include the subject in the TI title or tags and please comply with standard PB guidelines on courtesy, etc. If you would like to take part, please contact HELEN Girafferacing
Other Tuesday Inspiration posts may be found by looking HERE [photoblog.com].
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Here it is:
November 12, 1996
Miracle on Mironova
Our sukkah [hut in which Jewish people eat on the holiday of Sukkos,] this year was built between the wall around our house and the street. “Street” being a misnomer for an alley that is more potholes than road. The sukkah itself was constructed from long thin strips of raw wood covered by a lively multi-colored striped fabric, topped by whatever branches and foliage we could scavenge. The entrance was framed with pinecones and trim from the boys' Russian bunk bed, which had breathed its last that week. The floor, as typical of Ukraine at that time of year, was mud, as it had been raining almost without letup. Because the sukkah was outside our actual courtyard, we hired Sasha, our secretary's husband, to guard it throughout the nine nights of the holiday, so that nothing inside the sukkah would “walk away.” In another Soviet city, some young people had erected a prefab sukkah one year. The first morning of Sukkos, they awoke to the sight of the bare skeleton of their sukkah, minus its blue and gold canvas walls. The following day they saw two women proudly walking down the street wearing their new “holiday dresses” fashioned of the same material. So we figured a guard would be a good preventive measure. We knew we would be entertaining guests every night until around 1:00 AM, and the singing and talking might disturb our neighbors, who live in dire poverty. Therefore we met with Roza, the biggest complainer beforehand. She seems to be the block informer or liaison to the infamous 3 letter organization. We explained what would be occurring, and gave her food to distribute as gifts to everyone on the block. So we thought we had everything covered.
The holiday was quite uplifting, with 40 guests, the maximum that can be half normally squeezed into accoodations, at each meal. We imported some yeshiva students, which greatly enhanced the general holiday spirit.
The men sang and danced in the sukkah, while the women sang and danced with tambourines, whirling under the stars in the courtyard. We even made a second mini-version of our sukkah which was mounted on apretzyeptor trailer. Our sukkah-mobile was emblazoned on three sides with boldly painted holiday designs, proclaiming the holiday to one and all. We took it to nearby cities, so people there could also have a taste of the holiday. Additionally, one of my sons and the students traveled to another town, where they celebrated the last days of the holiday with that community.
Before hakafos (dancing with the Torah) on the eve of Simchas Torah, as per his yearly custom, my husband made kiddush in the synagogue on vodka in place of wine, immediately downing more than half the cup, as required by Jewish law. At first I was concerned because the only cups available were nine ounces, but I was somewhat relieved when someone pointed out to me that the “vodka” had frozen, indicating that there was more than a decent percentage of water in the local brew. (Perhaps, it’s since “water” in Russian is voda — very similar to “vodka” — so nu, what's a little letter more or less between friends?) After a really spirited hakafos, we all went home to enjoy our festive holiday meal amidst lively singing and dancing. I’d barely slept for several nights, having been up cooking for the holiday, therefore after the conclusion of the meal I was just too tired to get up and walk our departing guests to the gate, as I usually did. I wearily put my head down on the table to rest a few minutes, while Ida proceeded to wash the dishes. Ida, a garrulous babushka, lives around the corner in a hovel resembling a small, cold walk-in closet. She usually does our dishes after Shabbos, and in my exhaustion I forgot to mention to her that this Saturday night was different, because it was also a holiday, and she need not wash the dishes. My husband, also knocked out, between lack of sleep and having made kiddush on the ersatz vodka, fell asleep instantly and deeply in our room.
Half an hour passed, when suddenly at 1:15 AM I woke to what sounded like one of my boys crying, coming from the courtyard. I jumped up and still half asleep, instead of checking if the boys were in their beds, I ran to the door to see why they would be outside when they should have been safely asleep. The moment I opened the door, three guns were pointed at me. Three young men, still pulling stocking-like caps made out of sweater sleeves over their heads, all toting guns and knives, rushed me into the house, telling me “Keep quiet, this is just a robbery!” (Since it was “just” a robbery, I listened. I actually didn’t have much choice!) One shoved Sasha into the dining room and down onto the floor between the tables, on his stomach, with his hands clasped behind his head. They pushed me into a chair, where I was to remain for the next four awful hours of our ordeal. At least one of them was constantly with us, pointing a gun and playing with a knife in his other hand. I later found out that Sasha had been going between the office and the sukkah every ten minutes or so. Each time he carefully locked the heavy metal gate which we had just strengthened after a previous robbery. When he came to the gate shortly after our guests left, he found it unlocked. He thought it strange, but checked the sukkah, locked the gate again, and returned to the office. The next time it happened again. He went to investigate and saw that the sukkah was dark. He thought someone had stolen the light bulb, a not uncommon occurrence in this part of the world. As he was about to check it though, he felt a gun in his back and a knife at his throat, and he was forced back towards the house. The quickly muffled scream that woke me had been his.
The three gunmen, with a no-nonsense attitude, immediately and methodically began searching and ransacking the entire house for our “treasure.” If it wasn't such a serious situation, this scene might have been laughable. By American standards, which we haven't yet totally forgotten, we live in almost as much poverty as our neighbors. We have two tiny bedrooms with only two broken daybeds and a child's cot on which to sleep. My husband and some of the boys had been sleeping either on blankets on the floor or on the benches in the dining room, though now, thankfully, the four youngest were asleep on one bed in their tiny bedroom. As I mentioned earlier, our oldest son living at home was in another town for the holiday, helping the students. Our food supply is still quite limited as there aren't any kosher certified products available here. (For some unfathomable reason, Pathmark and Winn Dixie haven't yet deemed it a priority to open one of their superstores in our neighborhood — nor for that matter, in the entire former USSR.) Since kosher chickens are hard to come by, I generally use two chickens to feed 45 people, though I have also done it with one, and sometimes soup mix is the only “meat” on Shabbos when we run out of chickens. Sheets adorned some of the tables, while holes were evident in the remaining tablecloths, where Shabbos candles had melted through the synthetic lace. Our “bookshelves” are old wooden orange crates. The paint is scraped off the walls in places, and the ancient wallpaper is peeling in the tiny hall. Our bathroom is a partially built bare concrete shell which lacks such “niceties” as tiles, electricity, and hot water. In the midst of all this, these crazed youths were demanding at least $100,000! My mouth felt as thick as paste, and my knees were literally knocking together in fright, as they repeatedly insisted that they had reliable information that we had a million American dollars in cash hidden in the house, and they wanted the money quickly.
On the one hand, I was scared to death. They could easily kill us all. What I didn't know until afterwards is that when they come in masked, that is exactly what they do, and what these masked men fully intended to do. They refused to let me get up to check if the boys and my husband were all right. One of them seemed to take especial delight in opening the safety catch of his gun and making as if he was about to shoot. He told me that these were police Berrettas, and showed me the bullets. They refused to believe that my Russian was limited and that I didn't always understand them. Sasha, who does speak English, couldn't see them, and was afraid to say a word, thinking they might shoot him. Ida was in the kitchen, obliviously washing the dishes. I guess they considered her a harmless old thing. From time to time she would come in and inquire of me where she should put something. They informed us that they were professional thieves and not Mafia, though we should know that two Mafia groups are also watching us. They had been observing us for several months. They said they “knew” we are rich Americans because they knew what I had been buying! Amazed, I asked what on earth was it that I had bought that indicated to them that we were wealthy. To the best of my knowledge, my most expensive recent purchase had been a heating pad I’d bought for the equivalent of eleven dollars when I was flat on my back. No! They knew that we bought twelve bottles of Coca Cola every Friday, and that proved that we were rich! Mind you Coca Cola is currently the only kosher beverage in the country, and it was shared between all of our many guests! No amount of talking could convince them otherwise, especially when we had been “caught with the goods.” (My husband wants to try to sell this scene to Coca Cola, for an advertising gimmick.) Ida, of course, chose this moment to come in to ask me what she should do with the last half cup of soup and one kneidle left in the bottom of the 16 quart pot. At that point, I tried to refrain from answering her, but she was not to be deterred. She repeatedly kept asking, until I finally told her to do whatever she wanted with it. She promptly declared that she would give it to her dog. Great! Now it was definitely established that we are so wealthy, that even our workers' animals get to eat chicken soup!
On the one hand, I knew that I had to have trust in G-d. Here it was Simchas Torah – the holiday of rejoicing with the Torah – and I knew I had to be happy. G-d wouldn't really let us all get killed on Simchas Torah, would He? And why were we living here anyway? We are emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. We came here simply and for no other reason than to help other Jews find their way back to their heritage which they'd been denied under communism. I looked across the room at the small popsicle stick and glitter framed picture of the Rebbe that one of my boys had made in camp, and proudly hung on the window. “Rebbe,” I thought. “I know you're here with us. I know you can help people in difficult situations. I think this kind of fits the criteria. Please intercede for us now. And please do it quickly, before one of these guys ‘snaps' and shoots.”
One of them, the gang leader, decided to spend most of the time with us, while the others continued to turn the house upside down in their frenzied search. He started to tell me about his hard life, how his parents hated him, and how he had been “forced” by circumstances to “earn” his livelihood in this manner. I asked him if he knew why we were here, explaining that we were not wealthy American businessmen as he thought, but were only here to help other people. We try to help them spiritually, but also materially, to the best of our limited ability. We haven't even been able to take a salary for ourselves. (After giving charity before the holiday I was left with a whole 20 kopecks — about 10 cents. My husband actually had forty dollars to his name.) I explained that we are only here because the Lubavitcher Rebbe had sent us, and pointed to the Rebbe's picture on the wall above me. “Shut up,” he shouted, and as many times as I tried to get him to look at the Rebbe's picture, he repeatedly averted his eyes from it. I tried to tell him about the Seven Noahide Laws*, which the Bible commands non-Jews to observe, figuring that there had to be some reason for this encounter. I told him he could easily put away his gun, leave, and become a better person. I also told him that Moshiach (the Messiah) was coming soon. “Oh no! He's never coming!” he practically screamed. “We're here from Satan! The Satanic forces will overrun the world!” This was a really unusual statement for him to have made. He seemed extremely uncomfortable in a Jewish setting, almost as if he felt a holiness permeating the house, and his eyes were constantly looking downwards, as if he couldn't bear to look at the pictures of the Rebbe in the room. (It was especially bizarre, because the night before, Sasha, a Russian who is a very sensitive-to-spirituality type of person, said to me “I hope you won't think I'm crazy, but I sense that your house is being watched by Satanic forces.” I had basically pooh-poohed his fears, and told him that we have kosher mezuzos, and that G-d is watching over us and protecting our home in the merit of the Rebbe, but it was weird and unsettling, nonetheless.)
Finally they let Sasha get up off the floor and sit on a chair. Until this point my husband was blissfully sleeping through everything. Then we heard some kind of disagreement between him and one of the gunmen. Suddenly, we heard a loud cracking sound. Sasha and I looked at each other in fright. We were both sure that they'd hit Itchie over the head with the butt of a gun. They still kept assuring me that my husband and children were fine, and would continue to be so, if only I would cooperate and give them the money quickly.
They brought in my jewelry box and started examining each piece, inquiring if any were real gold or stones. It was basically costume jewelry with some gold earrings and a gold and pearl charm that had belonged to my grandmother. Also in the box were twenty-one single dollar bills which we had received from the Rebbe on various occasions, together with his blessings. Also in the jewelry box was the holy Book of the Angel Raziel, a kabbalistic book which is considered to have protective qualities for its immediate surroundings. As soon as the leader picked up the Rebbe's dollars, he dropped them, almost as if he had burnt himself on them. This happened again as the second thief tried to pick up these specially blessed dollars. When the third thief tried to take them, the chief shouted at him “No! Don’t touch those! There’s something the matter with them!” The leader then asked about each piece of jewelry, and although I told him which were real, he said, “No! I don't want your jewelry, or your mother's and grandmother's jewelry,” and he proceeded to throw them one by one to the floor. Although when they first came in, I'd sat with my right hand over my left hand, so they wouldn't notice my diamond ring, I now figured I could barter it for our lives. “How about my ring?” I asked. “We don't have any money, but my ring is worth a lot.” “How much?” he asked. “It's a near perfect stone, and was worth more than $1,000 twenty-six years ago,” I answered. “No, we don't want your jewelry. Anyway, it can easily be identified,” said he. “But, you can remove the stones from the ring,” I desperately tried convincing him. Here I was literally begging someone to take my ring that for so many years I'd carefully turned around on my finger to hide every time I went out. “No,” he insisted. “We don't want your ring. We want the money. You'd better start to cooperate — before it's too late.” He picked up the Book of the Angel Raziel and stared intently at the picture of the holy Baba Sali on the cover. He did this several times.
Finally, to my immense relief, my husband was brought into the dining room. He had awakened to find a masked man in our room searching through the dresser. His initial thought was that someone was pulling a prank. However, he quickly changed his mind when he saw the gun. The gunman quickly motioned to him, putting his finger to his lips in the universal sign for silence. My husband started to get up, but the man motioned for him to remain lying prone on the bed. He too explained that they were looking for the million dollars that everyone knew we had stashed away. Itchie told him, with a smile, that if everyone seems to know this, then surely it will happen, but they had came too soon, for it hadn't been delivered yet. The thief explained that this is serious, and if we don't give them the money they will kill us. Itchie tried explaining that killing us won't change the fact that we don't have money. “Don't you understand that if I could save our lives by giving you money, I would gladly do so? We just don't have any.” He asked where we keep our money and Itchie showed him. When the masked man saw that it was only $40 he refused to believe that was all the money we had. After a while, Itchie said he was going to get up. The bandit pointed the gun at him and told him not to move. My husband said that it was much too quiet in the house, and he wanted to make sure his family was all right. The masked man assured him that the family is well, but my husband explained that for some “unexplicable” reason his word was not good enough and he was going in to see for himself. The robber then told him to wait a minute. He went out of the room and returned moments later, to escort Itchie into the dining room. Passing through the boys’ room, he silently thanked G‑d that the children were still asleep, and prayed that they would remain so throughout the ordeal, in order to reduce the possibility of panic. Once in the dining room, we were each relieved to see the other alive. Myhusband told me that he was glad to see that I was handling myself so well. Sasha was still obviously extremely nervous, and Ida, having finally finished the dishes, was very matter-of-factly trying to convince them that we didn’t even have the $10 to pay her for washing the dishes that month.
We continued trying to convince them that they were barking up the wrong tree. Time was passing, and daylight would soon be approaching. The three were becoming increasingly nervous, and desperate to find the money. They began knocking on walls, and then threw down a valuable painting, looking for a hidden safe. I couldn’t stifle a small scream. The painting belonged an artist friend, who had hung the painting in our house “in order for it to absorb the spiritual energy in the home.” They then turned off or smashed the remaining lights in the courtyard so that when they were out there, their shadows wouldn’t be seen under the gate. They took Sasha out to the office where they found our brand new state-of-the-art computer. Barely out of its boxes, I hadn’t even had a chance to see it, what with all the preparations for the holiday. They were quite taken aback, they told us, because they had just stolen our previous computer. (During the summer, strange things started happening, as if someone was trying to intimidate me. Late at night I would hear footsteps in our private courtyard. Other times the fortitshka (small window) in my bedroom and then in the kitchen were opened and things were knocked over (even though I was 100% sure I’d closed them the night before). Still another time the trellis in the garden was cut, and the tomato stakes were pulled out. All basically harmless pranks, but enough to make me nervous. Finally, one day I unexpectedly came home in the middle of the day to find the office door pried open and our computer, video camera, fax machine, and VCR all stolen. I had immediately driven to Kherson to borrow money in order to put up heavy metal doors and good double locks. A lot of good it did now. At gunpoint, we opened the locks!)
Meanwhile, our “friendly” burglars were getting uptight. The chief thief sent Mr. Trigger Happy to awaken one of the children, in order to take him hostage until we would come up with the money. We had Sasha go with him, so that the child wouldn’t panic when woken up by someone with a mask. My husband meanwhile explained to the chief why he shouldn’t take our child. “Look” he said, “don’t you wonder why both my wife and I are sitting here, seemingly calm, without panicking, despite the fact that three thugs with guns are threatening the lives of our family? You say that you’re professional thieves. Is this the normal response that you get from your victims? Let me explain why we can afford to be so calm. You see, we are believing Jews. We’re in this situation, not because you decided to rob us, but because G‑d wants us to be in this situation. If G‑d has decided that, Heaven forbid, I am going to die tonight, than even if you don’t pull the trigger, I’ll die tonight. On the other hand, if G‑d has decided that we’re going to live through the night, than even if you put the gun right next to my head and pull the trigger, I’m going to live. However, I am not privy to that information, and don’t know what G‑d has decided. So both my wife and I have said the prayers a Jew must say before dying. So now, we can sit serenely and observe how G‑d runs the rest of this scenario. As far as I’m concerned, you personally are an unimportant actor in this scene. On the other hand, precisely because we are sitting so calmly and quietly, you can go about your business of tearing up the house, to your heart’s content, until you are sure that in fact there is no money. However, you are now about to introduce another factor. If you try to take my son as a hostage, the Torah demands of me, as a father, to do anything to stop you. I, therefore, will stand up to fight you. You, in turn, will try to shoot to kill me. With all the noise and panic that will ensue, you will have to flee without continuing the search, and you will have accomplished nothing!” While he was explaining this, he sounded like he was giving a class on a theoretical response to an event that might happen to someone else, at another time. Meanwhile, the other thief had returned with Sasha and Chaim (our ten year old). I motioned to Chaim to come sit in my lap. The second thief wanted to stop him, but the chief told him to let him go to his mother. The second thief said, “I’ll point the gun at the child’s head and you’ll see how fast the parents will show us where the money is.” Itchie just looked the chief in the eye, and the chief said, “No!” He saw that the other fellow was getting real frustrated and fidgety, so he sent him to look in another room and said he would handle us.
At this point Itchie started telling the chief about the Seven Laws of Noach, stressing that there is an all seeing G‑d presiding over the world, Who said not to kill and not to steal. “It seems a good time for you to start implementing some of these laws.” At this point the leader said that he used to believe in G‑d but that he had had a hard life with no money and therefore he had turned to a life of crime. So Itchie said (with a friendly smile), “If this is any indication of your success in criminal activities, I recommend you turn back to G‑d. You’ll be better off!” “Do you mean to tell me,” asked the leader, “that if I come back to you in two weeks without my mask, and tell you that I am the guy who did this, you will forgive and help me?” “I already told you,” he responded, “as far as I’m concerned, you are a totally irrelevant player in tonight’s proceedings. If I have any problem with what is happening here, I have to work it out with G‑d. You have your own problems with G‑d, namely why you are involved in something that He teaches us not to do. If you are asking me to help you patch up your relationship with G‑d, then if you will promise to keep the Seven Laws of Noah* from now on, then I agree to act as your advocate with Him.”
Daylight was fast approaching. We knew we didn’t have much more time. We could see that the leader was finally beginning to have his doubts that maybe we really didn’t have any money, and that he had been given false information. Suddenly he said, “You know what? I, myself, would just leave and not take anything. But, as you can see, my partners are frustrated, and if I try telling them that, they would even turn against me. So give me something for the other two guys. Give me your diamond ring, and I’m also taking the computer and your daughter’s camcorder, but you have to give me your word as a rabbi that you won’t go to the police and you won’t move for the next half hour, so that we can escape.” My husband promised not to take any steps to catch them for the past happenings. However, he also told them that we are going to take steps to ensure our safety in the future. But, he said, he wanted a favor in return. That they should let the other groups that are casing our house know that it’s a waste of time. It was 5:10 AM when they left, and we sat until 5:40 as they “requested,” when we went to close the door to shut out the cold draft. Ida went home. Sasha and I began to clear through the debris, which looked like a tornado had torn through the place. And my husband sat down to learn, in preparation for going to the synagogue, as the roosters next door announced the dawning of a glorious Simchas Torah day.
*The Seven Laws of Noah (Hebrew: Sheva mitzvos B'nei Noach), often referred to as the Noahide Laws, are a list of seven moral imperatives which were given by G-d to Noah as a binding set of laws for all mankind. According to Judaism any non-Jew who lives according to these laws is regarded as a Righteous Gentile and is assured of a place in the world to come. Adherents are often called B'nei Noah (Children of Noah) or Noahides. The basic Seven Laws of Noah are as follows:
1 Prohibition against idolatry
2 Prohibition against blasphemy
3 Prohibition against murder
4 Prohibition against theft
5 Prohibition against sexual immorality
6 Prohibition against eating the limb of a living animal
7 Establish courts of justice
(There is a sequel to this story – the “chief thief” actually gave up crime as a result of his conversation with my husband, and became religious in his religion.)
About the TI