Articles by Elchonon Oberstien

“I Never Had a Bad Day in America” Memories of Uncle Joe


unclejoe

This past June, our family celebrated two significant milestones. Our son Sruly and his wife Rachel celebrated the bris of their second son. They chose the name Yosef. Sruly explained that he named his son after my Uncle Joe Weinstock, a man he had never met but about whom he had heard so much. I was truly moved by this gesture. The very next day, our son Yossi, himself named after Uncle Joe, became engaged to Shevi Brody. One Yosef enters the Covenant and the other begins his new task of building a “faithful house in Israel.”

We are most grateful to the One Above for these blessings. I pray that in the zechus of Uncle Joe’s mesiras nefesh for Shabbos and Israel, these two Yosefs will be blessed and all of our family will continue to share in many brachos and simchas.


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The Silver Platter : What I Learned on my Recent Stay in Eretz Yisrael


oberstien

Over the years, I have written articles after a visit to Israel. No matter how many times I have been there, each visit opens my eyes to another aspect of the Land and its remarkable people. Let me start with one anecdote. One morning, in the hotel, I was waiting in line for an omelet. In front of me was a man and his two children, and I started a short conversation with him. He was a non-Jew from the Midwest on his first trip to the Holy Land with his family. He appreciated my interest and gave me a warm pat on the back as we parted.

I remarked to the omelet lady that it is important to be nice to visitors to Israel and to make them feel welcome. She responded, “Of course we have to be nice to any human being. Anachnu rachmanim bnai rachmanim – We are merciful children of our Merciful Father.” This once again demonstrated that not only is Israel a Jewish country, but we are truly one mishpacha.


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My Zaidy Had One Eye


immigrants

This is a review of the book Manya’s Story: The Harrowing Account of a Jewish Family’s Ordeal in Revolutionary Russia by Bettyanne Gray.

In the past, I have reviewed several stories of heroism and survival during the Holocaust. Although a significant percentage of the frum/heimish community is descended from those who miraculously survived the Nazi Holocaust of 1939 to 1945, “survivors” are actually a small percentage of the overall American Jewish community. Growing up in Montgomery, Alabama, I knew only a few families who fit that description. One was the Knurr family, who were related to the Kranzlers of Baltimore. The Kranzlers once visited them in Montgomery, long before I went to yeshiva. The other was Reverend Leib Merenstein and his wife Pauline. He wasn’t the rabbi, but he was the baal koreh, shochet, and Hebrew school teacher. He taught me for my bar mitzva. He was a Gerrer chasid before the war and ended up in Montgomery because the community at that time wanted a shochet. Otherwise, I hardly recall any others.


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Different Times, Different Challenges : Learning from My Dad, a”h


shtetl

This story starts in Czarist Russia (later Poland) in the late 1800s. A wealthy man, Meir Polchovitz (Pelcovitz) came to the yeshiva in Grodno and wanted the biggest masmid for his daughter Chaya Soroh. He promised to support him for life as long as he sat and learned. The young man who was chosen became my grandfather, for whom I am named. Elchonon and Chaya Soroh had four children: Tzivia, Elka, Akiva, and Meyer (born in 1905). Meyer became my father.

Each year, we remember our dear ones on the anniversary (yahrtzeit) of their passing. Some people fast; some people drink a lechayim. There are different customs, and to each his own. I think recounting who the person was is also a good custom to establish. Baruch Hashem, a number of our grandchildren are named Meir after my father Meyer Oberstein, of blessed memory. Since these children – indeed, their entire generation – are living in diametrically different times, I think it is worthwhile to recapitulate some of the events of my father’s life for their benefit. I am writing for the young crowd, but people of all ages can gain from the lives of our forebears.


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Rabbi and Mrs Yitzchok Neger Dedicate Sefer Torah


rabbi neger

On Sunday, November 15, Baltimore saw an unusual spectacle. Long known as a distinctly Litvish town, the Hachnosas Sefer Torah celebrated that day demonstrated the growth of the Chassidic community. Rabbi Yitzchok and Mrs Gitty Neger commissioned the writing of a SeferTorah in memory of Mrs .Neger's father, Max Knopf,z"l of Brooklyn, and Rabbi Neger's parents Moshe and Chana Neger z"l of Toronto


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Hope Never Dies: A Book Review


holocaust

I appreciate the many positive comments on my recent article about a young woman who survived the Holocaust in the forest. This led me to pick up another volume by another young woman, whose story is very different. This time, I will share her experiences after the war, as well, because the story does not end with the end of the war. The effects live on, and we need to have more understanding of how the Holocaust affected its survivors.

Hope Never Dies is written by Holocaust survivor Sarah Wahrman, who was born in Czechoslovakia. Her father was a shochet, who traveled by bicycle to 18 surrounding villages to shecht for the few Jews who lived in each place. Her town of Coltova was so small that there was only a minyan on Shabbos in the shul that was attached to her house. Her father, Yaakov Elimelech Herskovits, Hy”d, was, by default, the one who conducted all religious services in the area. She describes their poverty and the fact that there was no Bais Yaakov in her country. Her only Jewish education was at home. After the war, she married a talmid chacham and must have learned quite a bit, as this book is full of divrei Torah and hashkafa, far more than any Holocaust diary I have read.


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