Shabbos 4 Generations, by Tova Younger
Artwork by Daniel Kabakoff
My mother came to America a young orphaned survivor, as was my father. Although Hitler had torn away their parents and home, their faith remained intact, including their shmiras hamitzvos. Of course, shmiras Shabbos was paramount. Although my mother had jokingly told her friends that she did not mind what her husband did, as long as he did not become a butcher, many positions were impossible to hold while keeping Shabbos. And so he joined his brothers-in-law and opened a shop, selling fresh, well-trimmed meat and chicken.
When their first born came into the world, parenting groups were unheard of. Mothers, generally unemployed, were totally devoted to their family and home. They relied on instinct and tradition and dedicated their lives to their young ones. One ironclad rule was– the baby must have fresh air! Babies were fed, homes were tidied, and mothers were in the park with their little ones by 10:00, without exception. Without exception for most, it was, but not for my mother. On Shabbos, her baby had to manage with the air coming in through the windows. “What are you doing to the poor child?” asked a still single friend. “Everyone else is outside, with their babies in their carriage. Are you sure it’s considered carrying?”
“I’m positive. I can’t go by what others do, I know it is ossur. Don’t worry, my dear bechor will survive.” Her friend truly thought this was a form of child abuse, but as that term was not well known those days, she did nothing more than try to convince my mother to change her mind, Baruch Hashem unsuccessfully.
How did my mother stay firm under the pressure, ignoring the way others looked at her? Perhaps it was the example she grew up with. In Riskava, a small village in the Carpathian mountains, most families were Shomrei Shabbos. When Hitler reached that area, one of the first decrees he enacted was to sell fuel only on Shabbos. He already knew how to demoralize Jews. My mother vividly recalls that first Shabbos, looking out the window with her family… to their great surprise, they watched several families queue up for fuel. They turned to their father to hear his response; he was adamant. “We will sit in the dark. We will never buy fuel on Shabbos.” Final. The test lasted only a few weeks, and then they were taken away, no longer able to make choices.
How would I measure up? Growing up on the East Coast, educated in a frum school, living in a Shomer Shabbos neighborhood, would I be challenged with Shmiras Shabbos? My turn came when one of my children hurt her leg; of course it was Friday afternoon. I drove down to our local medical center, pleasantly informing them that although I did not expect them to take us in first, I would leave, no matter what, two hours before sunset. They acknowledged and continued helping others; I took a seat and began to wait. Half an hour later, I reminded them of my situation. “Sure, no problem, soon, take a seat…” A few minutes before my self-imposed deadline, I gave them my final “warning.” That worked – they whisked us in and quickly took an x-ray. “Okay, great, thanks, be in touch!” I said and gathered up my belongings.
“What do you mean?” asked the startled nurse. “You have to wait now; a doctor will tell you if you need a cast. You can’t leave now!”
“I am so sorry; I wish we could have done this earlier. But it is not a medical emergency*, a cast can wait. If we need to, we will return after our Shabbos. Bye!” I dashed out, ignoring the astonished expressions of the staff. We arrived home with enough time for me to complete my erev Shabbos preparations and jump into the shower. Predictably, the doctor called, putting my ten year old daughter into a panic. “Mommy! The doctor says you have to come back right now! They need to put on a cast!”
“Mamale, just tell them we will come in after Shabbos. It can wait,” I called out from my shower.
“Mommy! They say you have to come! Talk to them! Please!”
I realized this was beyond her abilities and manage to take the phone. “So sorry it worked out this way, but I will not come back now.”
The doctor was incredulous. “You can’t travel on your Shabbos for medical attention?”
“Really, no. Only for life and death, and this is far from that.”
I held my ground, and we welcomed Shabbos right on time. Interestingly, when I returned to the medical center after Shabbos, the doctor on duty read the x-rays and said, “There is no need for a cast. I see an old small fracture which has healed, but nothing needing attention now.” Oh my.
Years later, my then ten-year-old daughter told me how impressed she was with this incident, which gladdened my heart. It brought me back to my mother’s impressive story. Especially impressive because when her single friend who had tried to persuade her to take my brother out on Shabbos married and had her own baby, she kept in touch with my mother, and let her know, ” I’m managing with my baby, Baruch Hashem, taking him out to the park every day, just like everyone else here – every day, but not on Shabbos.”
* Years later when I consulted a posek, he said that in those set of circumstances, I should have stayed. Always call a Rav when any question arise.
Reprinted with permission from Hamodia