The Almighty and I the Devine Spirit in the Lodz ghetto

The Almighty and I have had many disagreements in the past, but matters came to a head in the Lodz Ghetto on my twelfth birthday.

My mother conferred upon me the full status of a Barmitzvah boy, as my father was dead and my two elder brothers and two sisters were in other ghettos. In the twilight of every Shabbat, she would talk to me in a most serious fashion about all manner of things; especially about my ancestors (distinguished rabbis and talmudic scholars) and how they personally intervened with the Almighty. Once, when my eldest brother was critically ill, my great-grandfather Rabbi Henoch of Alexander appeared to her in the dead of night and pronounced that my brother would live, contrary to expert medical opinion. I knew of course that I was also a very near relative of the illustrious Gerer rebbe. So my chutzpa grew and grew and I started to demand of the Almighty straight answers. “Why,” I asked “does he let the Nazis throw down sick children from a fourth floor window into lorries to be taken to Auschwitz?”

I worked in a children’s hospital – office boy cum porter and big brother to the sick children. I was the only one in the hospital whom the parents of the sick children would trust with their precious food parcels (saved from their own meagre rations), to be safely delivered to the children’s sick beds.

And so, the Almighty and I grew further apart, till one Sunday morning we parted company. I discovered in an obscure part of the ghetto a fascinating library full of communist literature, Emile Zola’s “Germinal”, “The Communist Manifesto”, and others. The answers were there, loud and clear. My conversation lasted until Friday.

On Friday night, my mother lit the Shabbat candles and we both intoned in Hebrew “Shalom Aleichem Malachei Hashalom” – “Welcome Angels of Peace” – by then, I felt the Shekhina (Divine Presence) in our house. The meal was of course marvellous, Jewish mothers in the ghetto had perfected the art of making gefilte fish and tsimes out of potato peelings. But I eagerly looked forward to the second part of Friday night, the Oneg Shabbat with Jacob.

Jacob was eighteen, thin, tubercular with fiery brown eyes, and a large forehead. He was the leader of a secret Zionist youth group, which met every Friday night, at a factory which made uniforms for the Germans. When Jacob spoke of the Hebrew poets the Divine Presence rested upon him.

“You will all survive and one day see Eretz Israel. The Nazis will perish”, he kept prophesying. If arguing with the Almighty I found difficult – arguing with Jacob was impossible!

Friday night was a happy night.

The Almighty and I have a much better relationship now. I forgive Him his imperfections, and he is I think, quite reconciled to my fallen star, for my children can hardly claim to be the sons of a rabbi. However, on Friday night when my wife lights the Shabbat candles, and we all kiss her Shabbat Shalom, I feel that the Divine Presence cannot be far away

Felix Berger