The following story was brought to light by Rabbi Yerachmiel Tilles, associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, who received it from Chaim Berkowitz of Tzefas, who heard it from Yosef Hurwitz of Miami, who got it from the protagonist’s family. A young man named Avremel Greenbaum was a youth during the Holocaust, and although he managed to survive, he lost his entire family in the conflagration. Soon after the war, he immigrated to the United States and renounced his religion. He wanted nothing more to do with Judaism. He was no longer Avremel Greenbaum; he now called himself Aaron Green. Following opportunity, he moved to Alabama and happened to marry a Jewish woman there. They started a family and named their oldest son Jeffrey. They raised him devoid of religion and Jewish observance.
The day his son Jeffrey turned 13, Aaron decided that he was not going to celebrate his son’s bar mitzvah. Instead, he would recognize Jeffrey’s birthday by taking him to the mall and buying him anything he wanted there. Sky’s the limit, he told his son. They went to a big electronics store but Jeffrey didn’t really seem interested in gadgets. He continuously gazed across the way at an antique store. He was mesmerized by the old artifacts on display and couldn’t take his eyes off of it.
He told his father, “Dad, I really don’t want anything from the electronics store. I want to go across to the antique shop.” When they got there, the boy walked inside and was perusing when he noticed an item on a shelf. He pointed to an old wooden menorah. He was fascinated by it. He learned that it was called a menorah. “Dad, that’s what I want for my bar mitzvah. Something Jewish.” His father couldn’t believe it. He was letting his child have anything he wanted in the whole mall and this is what he was choosing? An old wooden artifact? Nevertheless, he couldn’t talk his son out of it.
Aaron asked the shop-owner the price of the menorah, but the man replied, “Sorry, that’s not for sale.”
The father said, “What do you mean? This is a store.” He offered a lot of money for it. The owner apologized for putting the menorah on a shelf. He explained, “I found out the history of this menorah. A man constructed it during the war and it took him months to gather the wood. It survived, but he did not. It’s a collector’s item. Sorry, but it’s not for sale.”
Jeffrey, though, was insistent. “That’s what I want. All I want is the menorah!” So Aaron Green, unable to tell his son no, kept raising his offer on the wooden menorah until the owner finally agreed to sell for an exorbitant price. The boy was so excited. He took the menorah up to his room and played with it every day.
One day, his parents heard a crash from their son’s room. They ran upstairs and saw the menorah shattered in pieces. The father yelled at his son for being so careless, as he paid so much money for it. The boy was devastated, as well. Afterwards, Aaron began to have misgivings for screaming at his son. He told the boy, “Let’s try to glue it back together.”
While examining one of the cracked pieces, Aaron noticed a piece of paper wedged inside the wood. He pulled it out and started reading. Tears began to well up in his eyes and suddenly he lost consciousness and fainted. His family threw water on him and revived him. “What happened?” they asked. Aaron could not talk for a few long minutes.
Finally, he gathered himself together and held up the piece of paper. “Let me read you this letter,” he said almost inaudibly. It was written in Yiddish, and Aaron read it and translated it into English. “To whoever finds this menorah, I want you to know, I constructed it not knowing if I would ever have the opportunity to light it. Who knows if I will live to the day I see it being kindled? In all probability, going through this war, I will not. But if providence brings this menorah to your hands, you who are reading this letter, promise me you will light it for me and for us, my family, and those who gave their lives to serve Hashem.” Aaron Green then looked up at his family with tears in his eyes and, in a choked-up voice, he said, “The letter is signed by my father.” They were all speechless. It seemed like a message from beyond the grave.
In time, Aaron – now Avremel again – and family took the message to heart and returned to Torah and mitzvos. The hashgachah was unbelievable, taking a menorah from Europe and bringing it back to the family in a remote mall in Alabama.