Every family has its stories. Some are documented and one hundred percent accurate. Others grow and change to the point that they are little more than legends. I’m not sure into which category this story falls. I never met the protagonist as he died over sixty years ago, before I was born. The source of the tale for me was my father and I don't know if he heard it from his father or directly from his Uncle Aaron, my grandfather’s sibling.
At the time World War One broke out my grandfather had three brothers. Two had left their home in Germany and settled in America years earlier. My grandfather had been in a horrible accident as a young man. While driving his wagon his horse spooked and galloped out-of-control. My grandfather fell to the ground tangled in the reins and was dragged a long distance. He suffered the rest of his life from a lame hand and therefore was not drafted into the army. Uncle Aaron was the only of the brothers who had that dubious honor.
The Kaiser’s army was not like the Czar’s armed forces and my great-uncle was treated as well as the other soldiers even though he made no attempt to hide the fact that he was Jewish. Before the war broke out he and my grandfather had a thriving cattle business in Jesberg, the village that had been their family home for generations. Once in the army Uncle Aaron’s commanding officer was glad to use my uncle’s expertise with animals.
So it was that when he was stationed in Russia he was given the task to inspect the livestock being requisitioned. Russian villagers were ordered to bring their animals to the army base. Uncle Aaron checked them one-by-one. In the line stood a Jewish farmer with one dairy cow, his only source for the milk, cheese, and butter that provided his livelihood. Uncle Aaron’s heart went out to the man and he declared that the cow was unwell, not fit for the German army.
No one questioned his pronouncement and the Jewish man returned home with his animal. That was not the end of his interaction with my Uncle Aaron, though. For the duration of the time his unit was stationed in that Russian village my uncle ate his Shabbat meals at the farmer’s table whenever he could. Germany and Russia may have been bitter enemies locked in hostile battles but my uncle and the farmer knew that they were brothers and that transcended artificial borders.
This week we are observing the fast of the tenth of Tevet that marks the beginning of the siege by Nebuchadnezzar 2,500 years ago that led to the destruction of The Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Our Sages teach that in every generation that the Holy Temple is not rebuilt it is as if we have destroyed it from anew. They also teach that it will not be rebuilt until we no longer have senseless hatred between ourselves.
I may have some of details of my Uncle Aaron’s story wrong and I’ve probably forgotten interesting details but the important message has not changed. May we learn to love one another, help each other, and together rebuild the Holy Temple in Jerusalem speedily in our days.
|My Uncle Aaron, far left, with his wife, my grandparents, father, uncle, and cousin|