Aside from the horrendous loss of life the Second World War dealt our people, another disastrous effect of the Holocaust was, for a large portion of survivors, their loss of faith. After what they had been through, they became disenchanted and threw off any semblance of their Jewish past and their lineage. One such man survived World War II in body, but not in spirit. He was “angry” with G-d and vowed to shake off anything to do with religion. After some time in a DP camp, he boarded a ship that brought him to New York, and he settled in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. He soon married a similarly disenchanted woman and started a family. They had a son who was the apple of their eye, but they were careful to raise him without anything resembling Yahadus: no bris milah, no Shabbos, no Torah!
The child grew up with only the slightest awareness of his religion. As it happened, he married a Jewish woman, but there was absolutely nothing even remotely religious about their existence. Just as his father had done to him, he carefully and intentionally instilled a dislike for religion in his children and wouldn’t even celebrate Jewish holidays. It worked for all of his sons – except one. To his displeasure and chagrin, he failed with one child; the boy became a baal t’shuvah!
Although living in very different worlds, the repentant son remained close to his non-religious father and, other than religion, there really was nothing that separated them. And so, when the young man called his dad to inform him of the happy news that he was engaged to be married, and he wanted his father to attend his chasunah, he was shocked by his father’s very hostile reaction. “I have no interest in your religious ceremony! In fact, it pains me. My son, I love you and would do anything you ask of me, but I cannot attend your religious chasunah – it simply conflicts with everything I stand for!”
The son took a few moments to digest this information. But then he seized the moment. “Okay, Dad, so don’t come to my chasunah, if it bothers you so much. But when you say you will do anything else I ask of you, do you really mean it?”
“Yes, anything. If I can physically do it – leave out the religious mumbo jumbo – I will do it for you. I give you my word.”
The son didn’t hesitate. “Okay, Dad. If that’s the case, then the one thing I ask of you is that you have a circumcision!”
A circumcision! The father was shocked. A bris milah was something he always avoided, for it was the quintessential sign of a Jew, the one thing he disliked most. On the other hand, he had given his word to his son to physically perform anything he asked. At first, he said no, but after quite a bit of arguing back and forth, in the end, he agreed and underwent the procedure.
It seemed that the bris had an immediate effect on his psyche for, a few days later, while still recuperating from the difficult surgery, he began to reconsider his decision not to attend his son’s religious ceremony. He would come for a short time, he told himself, definitely not long enough to be influenced by those religious fanatics.
Sure enough, at the wedding, the father was so impressed by the enthusiasm of his son’s friends, that he found himself dancing up a storm and just couldn’t pull himself away! At one point, a man who turned out to be the caterer, approached the father and said, “Sir, I am so inspired by your simchah and countenance that I wish to present you with a gift, something that is very precious: a dollar bill blessed by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson zt”l.”
The father looked at the man and then at the bill, and suddenly, he turned white! A moment later, he fell down to the floor in a dead faint! When he came to, the first words he uttered were, “THAT’S MY BILL!” And then, he fainted again.
When he was fully revived, he explained. “As a teenager growing up in Crown Heights, I once went with a few of my public school buddies on a Sunday morning to an old man who just gives out dollar bills. We stood on line giddily watching as the bearded man handed out dollar after dollar. When my turn arrived, he handed me a bill, which I greedily took and moved on. But suddenly, he called me back and asked me if I had a circumcision. I told him no, and upon hearing my answer, he proceeded to take back my dollar. Cryptically he proclaimed, ‘When you have your bris, I will give you back your dollar.’”
The father shook his head in wonder. “Well, I just had my bris last week, and now all these years later, I see that the rabbi sure did keep his word!”