Shoshana usually enjoyed Mrs. Gold’s classes.
There were always stimulating discussions and interesting homework that the students actually enjoyed doing. Mrs. Gold certainly knew how to get everyone involved and enthusiastic. Today, however, Shoshana felt left out. It seemed that all of her classmates were excited about the new assignment, but she just wished that she could just disappear until next term.
Mrs. Gold had announced the project with the title “My Personal Hero”. Each girl was expected to present a short speech to the class about someone who inspires them.
“I know who I’m going to talk about,” Esther told her friends at recess. “I’ve always been inspired by my grandfather’s self-sacrifice. He risked his life in Communist Russia to teach Torah.”
“And I want to talk about how my grandmother kept her trust in Hashem strong all through the terrible years under the Nazis,” declared Fraidy.
“My great-grandfather came to America in the 1920’s, and was fired from his job every Monday, because he wouldn’t come in on Shabbos,” said Tova.
Simi spoke up. “I could talk about how my mother rescued her family from Syria. She didn’t give up until, with Hashem’s help, she succeeded.”
Chaya looked thoughtful. “My grandparents were not religious, but they gave a tremendous amount of money to charity. That’s something I find inspiring.”
Naomi spoke up next. “My heroes are my parents. They left everything familiar behind when they decided to convert.”
It seemed to Shoshana that everyone was planning to speak about a family member.
Who would she speak about? She had convinced her mother to transfer her to a Jewish school two years earlier after becoming interested in Yiddishkeit. Her mother had koshered the kitchen for her daughter’s sake, and let her keep mitzvos, although she herself wasn’t interested, at least not yet. Shoshana never really knew her mother’s parents, nor had her mother spoken much about them. Her father died many years earlier, and anyway, he hadn’t even been Jewish.
Naomi was the only one who noticed that Shoshana was too quiet. She waited until she was able to talk with her privately. “Shoshana, what is wrong? Why do you look so glum?”
“It’s the project. Everyone else is planning to talk about someone in their family. What will I say? I suppose that I could talk about Rabbi and Rebbitzen Blum. I eat there nearly every Shabbos and Yomtov. They certainly are an inspiring family, but it won’t be the same. I feel like a nobody.”
“Don’t say that!” admonished Naomi. “Firstly, Hashem created you, so you definitely are a very precious somebody. Secondly, you are an inspiration to all of us, because you became frum all on your own.”
“Thanks, Naomi, but I still don’t know what I’ll do for my project.”
Naomi was determined to help her classmate. She found Mrs. Gold in the staff room, and quietly told her about Shoshana.
“Oh dear! I should have been more sensitive to her situation. I’m so glad that you came to let me know, Naomi.”
The next day, Mrs. Gold told Shoshana that she wanted to speak to her after class.
“Shoshana, I want to show you a Medrash which you may find interesting. In fact, you might find this useful for the ‘Personal Hero Project’. Mrs. Gold read and translated the paragraph from ‘Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, perek 38’. Shoshana’s eyes lit up, and she smiled for the first time in 24 hours. “Thanks, Mrs. Gold! Now I know what to talk about.”
On the day that the assignment was due, Shoshana came to class ready to give her speech. As she listened to each girl, she was truly impressed by the inspiring personalities they described. When her turn came to speak, she was still a bit nervous, but stood up straight and tall.
“My personal hero is Ossnas bas Potiferra, who married Yosef in Egypt. According to the Medrash, she was actually the daughter of Dina, born under difficult circumstances and adopted by Potifar and his wife. Despite all of these drawbacks, she ended up reconnecting to her heritage, and married Yosef. Interestingly enough, it is specifically her children that are given the status of being considered equal to their uncles, the sons of Yaakov. Efraim and Menashe each head their own tribes. Yosef and Osnass managed to raise G-d-fearing children while living alone in Galus. In fact, Jewish parents to this day bless their children that they should be like Efraim and Menashe.
“Learning about Ossnas taught me that although you do not choose the circumstances of your birth or upbringing, you can (and will) find your way back to your people, sooner or later. A diamond doesn’t lose its value just because it was buried in the ground for while. Just clean it off, and you will see its brilliant shine.”
- Originally published in Beis Moshiach Magazine