The Tefillin My Grandfather Left Me

David Goldman’s elegy for his father.

I come before you reluctantly, with no fitting words, but in obedience to my father’s instructions. He was a man who gave much and asked little. He asked only for his service to his country to be remembered here. His country’s army will do that by sending an honor guard to his interment. But it should be said here also that he was a courageous man from a courageous family.

His father’s tefellin now have come down to me, made in Byelorus in the year 1901. His family was not learned, but distinguished in its service to K’lal Yisrael nonetheless. Three family members fought as partisans in the Bielsky brigade made famous by the film “Defiance,” and founded large and flourishing families in Eretz Yisrael. My father and his brothers Michael and Robert all fought in the Second World War. Offered a teaching position in the army at home, my father instead volunteered for overseas service in the Pacific. He considered it a privilege to risk his life for his country. When I consider the heroism of this generation, I tremble in awe, and hope only that some of its merit accrues to us.

Rabbi Meir Soloveichik called to my attention the Sages’ debate about Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones that came back to life. Was it history or only allegory? We read in Sanhedrin 92B:

R. Eliezer the son of R. Jose the Galilean said: The dead whom Ezekiel revived went up to Palestine, married wives and begat sons and daughters. R. Judah b. Bathyra rose up and said: I am one of their descendants, and these are the tefillin which my grandfather left me [as an heirloom] from them.

My father’s generation restored the Jewish people from the dry bones of the Holocaust. And these are the tefillin which my grandfather left me as an heirloom from them.


David P. Goldman is a columnist for Asia Times and PJMedia.

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