Paving a path for our children.
It's snowing again in New York. Outside, soft white powder blankets the bare trees and red brick driveway.
"Mommy, can we go outside and play?" ask my children. "Don't worry, the snow is stopping and it's not even deep."
As I send them out in hats and gloves, boots warming their feet, I am reminded of a story my mother told me about her childhood.
The winds of war were blowing over Hungary. My grandparents decided that they would take my mother and her two brothers to visit their Bubby and Zeidy one last time before the inevitable Nazi occupation. The trip, by both trains and horse and carriage, would be a long and dangerous one. My grandfather's pure white beard and rabbinical attire could easily bring on vicious beatings for the entire family. Despite the severe cold and peril, the decision to embark upon this hazardous journey was made.
Hard snow was falling; yet Bubby and Zeidy stood outside in the freezing cold, waiting anxiously for their children's arrival. Finally, the horse and carriage arrived to the little home in the village of Nadudvar where my great grandfather, Rabbi Yisroel HaLevi Jungreis, was the spiritual leader.
The children were embraced with delighted hugs and warm kisses. Inside, sweet treats and a warm meal were waiting. Considering the poverty and painful events of that time, the beautiful spread was almost an impossible miracle.
Zeidy's study, lined from floor to ceiling with his holy books, was my mother's favorite place to be. My mother would sit on her grandfather's lap as he would immerse himself in the study of Torah. The room would fill with Zeidy's melodious voice, as he would be singing and chanting the words while he learned. There was a warmth felt there, a comfort that touched even a little child's soul.
After spending precious days together, the final day of the visit had arrived. The family was scheduled to return home to the city of Szeged. A sorrowful sadness filled the air. My mother sat once again with her Zeidy, neither one knowing that this would be their last goodbye. As my mother looked up at her grandfather's face, she saw that he was crying.
Frightened, my mother ran to find her father. "Zaydie is crying!" "Why is my Zaydie crying?"
Eyes glistening, my grandfather took his daughter's small hand into his. "Come," my grandfather said. "Let's take a walk outside and I'll explain to you why Zeidy is crying."
"I am going to walk a little ahead. Be sure to follow in my footsteps."
After putting on her boots and gloves, my mother and her father walked out in to the yard. The sky was clear but the ground was packed with deep snow. It was hard to tread and easy to slip.
My grandfather turned toward my mother. "I am going to walk a little ahead," he said. "You are going to walk right behind me, my precious child. Be sure to follow in my footsteps."
After walking like this for a short time, my grandfather stopped. He bent down so that my mother could hear him.
"Do you know why I walked ahead of you?" my grandfather asked, gently.
"So that I could walk in your footsteps," she replied.
"That's right," my grandfather said. And then my grandfather told my mother a truth that would remain with her long beyond that fateful day.
"It's not only when the snow outside becomes so deep that we try to make a path for our children. There will be times in your life that it will be very hard for you to walk. You will feel as if you are walking in a deep snow and you may even be afraid that you will fall. When that happens, I want you to think about this day. I want you to remember your Zeidy and his tears."
"When your Zeidy studies the holy Torah, Zeidy is studying not only for himself, but he is studying so that he can prepare a path for you and for all his precious children. Every time Zeidy prays, he is praying with us in mind. Zeidy's tears are paving a road for you, a road that you will always find there for you even under the deepest snow. Always remember your Zaydie and his tears, my child. God will give you the strength and you never have to be afraid. Ever."
The last time my great grandfather was seen, he was being herded into the gas chambers holding a precious grandchild in his arms. Zeidy was singing to him, trying to shield his sweet child from the awful darkness that surrounded them both.
We must create footsteps for the next generation. Footsteps of courage. Footsteps of compassion. Footsteps of faith.
Though my grandfather did not survive, his tears remained. They created a path so that my mother could find the fortitude to go on, no matter how deep the snow around her fell. My mother's faith has become her legacy, illuminating our path until today.
Each generation faces its own challenges. The snow feels so deep. It is easy to feel afraid and fall. We live in such difficult times. Terrorism. War. Natural disasters. Financial distress. Marital tensions. Challenges with our children.
But remember, you are not walking alone. We have bubbies and zaydies who walked before us, who paved a road with their tears. We must only draw upon their strength and prayers. And as we, ourselves, parent, we must create footsteps for the next generation.
Footsteps of courage. Footsteps of compassion. Footsteps of faith.
I am jolted from my thoughts as I hear my children's laughter outside. They wave and I wave back.
"Look, Mommy!" They are lying on the ground, their arms flapping in the snow. "We made snow angels!"
"You are so right," I think to myself, and smile.
Angels in the snow. May they accompany you wherever you may go.