Let me set the scene for you: A farm, frozen over, pipes clogged with ice. Eight children, one for each day of Chanukah, five of them from your first marriage in Brooklyn. Their ages: from one year to 16. The school bus to the nearest Hebrew day school won’t take them there; you live too far.
You diligently drive the children to school yourself: one hour there, one hour back. The baby sits in the car seat both ways. At home you feed the baby and eat breakfast, and then it is time to drive back to the school and bring the younger kids home. You don’t want to make yet another trip at four o’clock, so you hang around a few hours until closing time.
Next morning you start again. All your kids are in the car, you drive past Ellenville, and before you reach South Fallsburg a tree has collapsed under the snow and it’s blocking your way. There is no one to call, and anyway regular people didn’t have cell phones back then. Your husband works at IBM in Poughkeepsie; he’s busy and there’s no use asking.
What else is there to do? You swing the car around slowly, slowly over the ice and crawl back to the farm with all the kids. You would like to cook some vegetable soup or at least boil water for tea, but remember the pipes are frozen.
“We have 8 children here!”
So, you do the only reasonable, responsible thing and call social services for help. What do you tell them? There’s no water; the pipes are frozen. The worker at the other end of the line says yeah, we all have that. You persist: we have 8 children here! Depending how you look at it, that little speech is a big mistake…or the starting point of a miracle.
You understand how an American government agency sees what’s happening: Here is a family of strangers, sidelocks and skullcaps included, shacked up on an isolated farm, and none of the kids are in school. Don’t start telling the story of the bus that won’t come and the ice and the tree and the frozen pipes—it will only make things worse.
How do big disasters happen? Like everything in the world: one mistake that—excuse the expression—snowballs into something humongous. One Friday, the children somehow make it to school and, since you expect a baby, your husband drives you to the clinic. On the way, you ask him for some kombu-seaweed and he says flat out no. NO! He doesn’t have the money.
And then you are shaking with rage because he won’t buy you the stupid seaweed when you’re expecting a baby.
Things start to snowball
In the clinic, you remember a man in a hat and longish coat, passing by from Boro Park, who had taken note of the kids with long dresses and long peyos living out in the boondocks. You have his number in case you need something. You’re still shaking with rage, which is not an excuse, but you call him on the doctor’s phone. This very religious, respectable man picks you up at the clinic before your husband gets there. You sit in the back seat, since that’s the proper way, and then the man from Boro Park drives you to the day school to pick up the kids.
And things start to snowball: He drives all of you to Boro Park.
You are going to hate me for this: Just because of some lousy seaweed you leave your husband to make Shabbos alone in the middle of winter, with no clue where to find his wife and children. Okay, half come from your first marriage, but still he is going crazy.
To be fair, you ask the man from Boro Park to arrange for your still clueless husband to spend Shabbos with the Ellenville rabbi. The man says yes, he called your husband; it’s all arranged.
And you find out after Shabbos it was a lie. He never called your husband.
And so much happens then, that I can hardly tell it—but first I’ll tell you what day it is:
It’s Friday night, the first night of Chanukah, and you don’t know it.
You arrive two hours before Shabbos at a house in Boro Park; the children are sent to neighbors. You keep track of the names and phone numbers.
The driver warns you not to call your husband, or else.
You don’t like the sound of that, so you call your mother, who happens to be visiting in Manhattan. There’s no way to get the kids, but this is Boro Park, a holy city–what could go wrong? You certainly could use a rest, so without thinking you call all the numbers and tell them where you’ll be, and Mom of blessed memory drives you to your sister’s house, where you make kiddush on a peanut butter sandwich. You are still not aware that it’s Chanukah. Then you call your husband, stay one more night by your sister, and at three in the morning the telephone rings.
It’s one of the women hosting your kids in Boro Park, and she’s hysterical. The police had just taken the kids away, even the one-year-old.
Let’s call for a moment of silence, since nothing we say can describe the horror.
Nobody knows anything
Foolishness follows: endless telephone calls to the police, to the man, to the ladies, and back around to the police, and no one knows anything.
Of course, they don’t. And you know what I’m going to say: Call G-d; forget the telephone.
It is still Chanukah, and you don’t know it.
But the scene starts to shift: your husband comes to your sister’s house. You drive together to your husband’s cousin in Williamsburg. You set up headquarters and start praying. That night your husband lights candles at the entrance. A social services worker calls me to her office, and G-d puts a stop to that nonsense by sending a monster storm that disables all the roads in Brooklyn. You go on praying.
And then: Your husband’s sister just happens to be friends with a family court judge in Brooklyn who happens to know a lawyer who happens to know the social services organization that kidnapped your children because they used to pay him a retainer, so he knows their tricks. And now, inexplicably, he has jumped to your side.
It’s the seventh day of Chanukah and it’s Friday again.
Bring the body
You arrive at family court 1:00 in the afternoon for a habeus corpus. That means bring the body. At 3:00 the kidnappers bring your kids. It’s hot in the courthouse. One of your kids holds onto his coat for dear life and won’t let go. Another kid trains his eyes on a game boy and won’t let go. One hugs your husband. The others look dazed. You squeeze into the elevator and then drive at breakneck speed to Williamsburg, where the eight Chanukah candles are waiting for the eight kids. You can’t make up stories like this.
The miracle doesn’t stop there. The lawyer sends you an attorney who sues the social services kidnapping organization for money. The children get most of the money in separate trust funds, and the rest you use to cut out of there and move your family to a place in Israel called Chashmonaim, right next to Modiin, a short distance from a village called Maccabim, not far from Mattisyahu.
How’s that, for a hint?