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It Is All Mazel - 070118

Love is not blind - it sees more, not less. But because it sees more, it is willing to see less. ~ Rabbi Julius Gordon
You have to have mazel. ~ Morris Sternberger

You might be wondering why a Holocaust story is in our Israeli dance newsletter. That is good.

Morris Sternberger is technically my first cousin once removed, being my Dad's first cousin. My grandmother and Morris' mother Julie were sisters. After the war, when Morris was picked up by my grandmother in NY, he cried because he thought my grandmother was his mother, the resemblance was so similar. Julie was murdered in Auschwitz.

My grandmother's house had a long hallway. At one end was the kitchen, the bathroom and the one bedroom. In the middle was the living room, where my aunt Lorraine slept. In the front room, slept my Dad, my uncle Jerry, my Dad's uncle Bernie and Morris, along with any other relatives in need. I slept there when we used to visit while I was a child, and also, after college, when I was the last relative to live in that room, before my grandmother died.

I took a special friend to visit the old building in Brighton Beach a couple of years ago. The courtyard, the building, the door and the old street, had all shrunken with age. The neighborhood was overflowing with Russian Jews, and as vibrant and exciting as when I was a child. I can still taste the most delicious Russian, knish like pastry we shared, fresh from the oven, which we bought on the street for 60 cents.

Morris is from my father's side of the family which is from the Carpathian mountain region of Hungry and Czechoslovakia.

The great Lefkowitz was one of my eight great-great grandfathers. He married a beautiful woman and they had 12 children. Leah Lefkowitz married Mordechai Steinberg and they had 10 children. Mordechai was conscripted in the army, sent to Siberia during World War I, and spent seven years walking home. He was a great man and had a long beard. Laughingly, Morris says Mordechai used to like to stop off on his way home from Shul on erev Shabbat for Shnopps at relatives. Morris cried telling me how he saw the Nazi's cut off his grandfather's beard before sending his grandfather to the extermination chambers.

My grandmother Bertha was the oldest of Mordechai's children. She came to the US with a girlfriend when she was 17 after WWI. She married my grandfather Joseph Weitzen and they snuck four of her brothers into the US. On one occassion, Joe rowed a boat into Chesapeake Bay to pick up Rudy, who jumped ship and later came back in legally through Canada.

Morris lived in the Czech area and so Morris and his family were taken to Auschwitz in 1939, when Morris was about 12. When they arrived, Morris was put in one line, while his father and two older brothers were put in another line. There was a Nazi guard with a machine gun separating the lines. A man in Morris' line was wearing nice shoes. In German the guard told the man to hand over his shoes. The man protested, "I need my shoes".

In German, Morris repeats the sinister line the guard said next, "Where you are going, you don't need shoes."

Morris understood the evil message. When the guard turned his head, Morris darted to the other line, and so survived for the time being.

Morris spent six years in the slave camp. During one assembly, Morris' father noticed that everyone the Nazi's called out were either old and decrepit or young and weak. He realized that these people were going to be taken away to be gassed. Morris' father told Morris' older brother, when Morris's name was called, the brother should step out. Sure enough, the Nazi called out Morris' name, and Morris' brother stepped out to take Morris' place in the death call.

Morris' brother saved Morris' life, but risked his own. When the guard saw how big Morris' brother was, the guard told Morris' brother to step back in line.

Morris survived the death march out of Auschwitz, illness and injury, the chaos after the war and two years in a displaced person camp before one of the many miracles of chance that led so many people to reunions with surviving family members. Laura, Morris' sister also survived. His father and brothers did not.

Morris was impressed with my Dad, the dapper American, swinging around in a convertible, with his friends, picking up chicks. Morris married Esther, had two children, ran his own business, got lucky is some investments, and retired to Boca Raton to be near his daughter and grandchildren. One beautiful day, the two of us were sitting by his pool, and Morris said to me, "Look at this, can you believe where I am, from where I have been. Andy, it is all mazel in this world. You have to have mazel."

Tomorrow night I am going to Morris and Esther's for Shabbat dinner. Their daughter Sharon and her family will be there. Sharon has two children. Morris's sister Laura and her husband Boomie will be there too, along with one of their grown children, Julie.

A number of years ago, I was in New York for a Lefkowitz wedding and went Israeli dancing at the 92Y. I was talking to a woman about a decade older than me. Her accent was unusual, but sounded familiar to me and so was her look. I said to her, "Where are you from?"

She said "Czeckoslovakia."

I said, "Do you know any Lefkowitz'?"

She said, "I'm a Lefkowitz."

Her name is Judy Rosenberg and she is my second cousin once removed and a descendant of the great Lefkowitz.

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