Remembering & Preparing for the High Holidays

By Rabbi Mendy Piekarski

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Remembering & Preparing for the High Holidays
In the waning days of summer during the early 1940s, a tale of courage and determination unfolded in the midst of dire circumstances. Meir Halberstam, a 13-year-old boy, found himself in a Siberian Labor camp alongside his grandfather, Rabbi Sinai Halberstam. Fleeing from the impending war, they had sought refuge in Russia from their native Poland. Yet, the Russian authorities viewed Polish refugees as potential adversaries, subjecting them to grueling labor in the unforgiving Siberian wilderness. Amidst this challenging environment, Meir noticed an unusual sadness in his grandfather’s eyes and dared to ask the source. Rabbi Sinai Halberstam’s response revealed a poignant concern: “Rosh Hashanah is coming, and I don’t know how we will be allowed to blow the Shofar (ram’s horn) for the Holiday.” As the holiday loomed only two days away, Meir’s determination sparked a daring plan. Under the cover of night, Meir embarked on a perilous mission. Recognizing that the guards were inebriated, he stealthily navigated the camp’s confines and ascended the tower that held a prominent bell. In a daring act of defiance, he managed to sever the cord holding the bell, causing it to crash and shatter into fragments. With swiftness born of desperation, Meir made his retreat, avoiding detection and returning to the safety of his bunker. The dawn revealed a broken bell, leaving the guards with the conundrum of awakening the prisoners without their customary signal. Meir’s uncle, undeterred, approached the head commander with a creative solution: “My father possesses an old shepherd’s horn that can rouse everyone from slumber.” The commander demanded the horn’s immediate presentation. Upon its arrival, attempts to sound the horn [the prisoners] proved futile. Meir’s uncle, however, advocated for his father’s expertise as a skilled horn blower, proposing that he could awaken the camp until a replacement bell was procured. The commander, influenced by this persuasive argument, acquiesced. News spread rapidly throughout the camp, electrifying the spirits of all Jewish prisoners. The message was clear: on Rosh Hashanah, the Shofar would resound, echoing the ancient traditions even within the confines of the Siberian labor camp. Rabbi Sinai Halberstam, respected and revered, would breathe life into the Shofar, a symbol of faith unyielding in the face of adversity. As the momentous morning of Rosh Hashanah arrived, Rabbi Sinai Halberstam fulfilled his role. The piercing sound of the shofar reverberated through the labor camp, serving as a testament to the indomitable spirit of those who clung to their faith even in the harshest circumstances. This poignant act of devotion, born of necessity, stands as a reminder of the sacrifices endured by the Jewish people to safeguard their heritage. Today, we are fortunate to reside in a time and place where religious freedom is upheld, allowing us to celebrate Rosh Hashanah with pride. We draw inspiration from the story of Meir Halberstam and Rabbi Sinai Halberstam, a testament to the enduring power of faith and resilience. This Rosh Hashanah, September 16-17, we invite you to join us at Chabad of Topanga for the shofar blowing, commemorating a journey of unwavering devotion that resonates across generations. Wishing you a meaningful and happy High Holidays. For more information regarding Rosh Hashanah, Sept. 16-17, and Yom Kippur, Sept.24 (begins at sundown): (310) 455-1597; or visit Rabbi Dovid Weiss or Rabbi Mendy Piekarski at ChabadofTopanga.com.

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September 1, 2023

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