#514 (s5768-03 / 14 Tishrei 5768)

Discovered With a Lulav

"Let's walk to Starrett City to offer Jews there to shake our lulav-esrog sets. It's only a few miles."

Discovered With a Lulav

by Gitty Munitz

It all began on a warm Sunday afternoon in the fall, the second day of the Sukkot festival. Sunday was the first day on which the blessing over the lulav and etrog could be recited, as the first day of Sukkot that year fell on Shabbat, when this mitzva is not performed.

My nephew Yossi Bryski was discussing with his friends where to go in order to help their fellow Jews fulfill this mitzva that is unique to the Sukkot holiday. They decided to go to Starrett City in Brooklyn, about an hour walk away from 770 Eastern Parkway, Lubvitcher World Headquarters in the Crown Heights district of Brooklyn.

Upon arriving in Starrett City, a neighborhood comprised primarily of apartment buildings, they entered the first building they saw. Quickly scanning the Jewish sounding names on the directory, a friend noted one in particular and said, "Hey, Yossi, look at this one. It's Belkin, your wife's maiden name."

Yossi, however, was more focused on the mitzva at hand and ran up to the first floor with his lulav and etrog and began knocking on doors. In one apartment there was a party in progress, full of Jews who were quite happy to shake the hand (and the lulav) of the enthusiastic young rabbi. By the time Yossi worked his way through the entire crowd, it was really getting late, and by all logic, it was time to start the long walk back to Crown Heights. But something compelled him to keep going.

He ran up another flight of stairs. People were very friendly, but not Jewish. One gentleman smiled sympathetically and said, "Sorry, Rabbi. I'm not Jewish, but the lady in the apartment above me is."

"Thanks," called Yossi, as he dashed up to the third floor. He knocked on the door of the apartment above and said who he was and what he wanted. But alas the door remained locked. "No thanks. I'm not interested," said a voice through the door.

Oh well, thought Yossi, as he started to leave. He was about to climb down the stairs when suddenly there was the sound of a chain being pulled back, a door opening and the voice of a woman calling out, "Wait! I've changed my mind!" Yossi ran back with the lulav and etrog and helped her do the mitzva.

What's your name?" she asked afterward. "Yossi Bryski," he replied. "My name," she said, "is Galina Belkin."

Suddenly Yossi remembered his friend's words. "That's incredible!" said Yossi. "What Divine Providence; my wife's name is Belkin! Maybe we're related. Where is your husband from?"
She explained that her husband had died two years before, and she really didn't know much about his family. Galina continued to tell Yossi about herself. She was originally from Russia and she was a travel agent. She handed him her business card. (Nice young man, potential customer, why not?)

Yossi gave the card a fleeting glance and was about to stuff it in his pocket as he headed for the stairs when he did a double-take. Her name, on the card was "Galina Munitz." Shocked, Yossi said, "My mother's maiden name is Munitz! What are some of the names in your family?" he asked.

"My father was Laibel and his father was Alexander Sender."

"My great-grandfather was Alexander Sender!" whispered Yossi. [My husband is named after him. -GM]

After a few seconds of listening to the names of Galina's relatives, there was only one possible conclusion: "My mother has a long-lost first cousin!" said Yossi wonderingly.
Yossi promised to get in touch with Galina when the holiday was over. Then, he walked home with the other men, eager to relate the news to his parents. You can imagine that when the story got out, it sent shock waves throughout the entire Munitz family. After the first days of the holiday were over, Yossi's mother, Sara (Munitz) Bryski contacted our newly discovered first cousin Galina. She quickly organized a mini-reunion, as my sister-in-law Devorah (Munitz) Rodal, an emissary of the Rebbe in Italy, was leaving New York that same night back to Milan.

Galina arrived at the Bryski home, which was spilling over with Munitzes, together with her only child, Mark. Then they were able to clarify all the details for the family tree.
When my father-in-law, Reb Yisroel Meir Munitz passed away 24 years ago, his brother Laibel (Galina's father) was still in Russia, behind the Iron curtain and out of touch. Yisroel Meir surely thought his brother was dead, and Laibel probably feared the same for his brother, Yisroel Meir. Reb Yisroel Meir Munitz also had two other brothers, one of whom died of hunger in the siege of Leningrad. Nobody knows what became of the other one. There was also a sister named Emma who lived in Israel.

Laibel changed his name to Lev Alexandrovich (in memory of his father, Sender Alexander) and moved to Rishon Litziyon in Israel, not knowing that just a couple of miles away, in Bayit Vegan, Jerusalem, lived his sister Emma. For the rest of his life, neither of them even imagined that the other was still alive.

Laibel named his other daughter Emma after his sister whom he thought he had lost in the Holocaust. Galina named her only child after her uncle Yisroel Meir, whom she thought had passed away, though at the time Mark was born, Yisroel Meir Munitz was alive and well and living in Brooklyn.

Last year, the Munitz children - the seven sons and daughters of Reb Yisroel Meir Munitz - found some brand new first cousins. And cousins celebrate with each other, especially holidays! A family Chanuka party was held and Galina and Mark came. Emma (Galina's sister) and her husband also came with their only child, Michael. Imagine their astonishment to find that we are all, thank G-d, blessed with large families, including one who has (bli ayin hora) 17 wonderful children.

It seems it took a young Lubavitcher chasid who was determined to walk a couple of miles to help his fellow Jews do the mitzva of blessing the lulav and etrog to bring about the reunion of a family that has been separated for more than three decades!


[Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from the version as posted on L'Chaim #839,from an article in Neshei Chabad Newsletter (a much higher quality publication than its title might sound).]

Yrachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and editor of Ascent Quarterly and the AscentOfSafed.com and KabbalaOnline.org websites. He has hundreds of published stories to his credit.

A 48 page soft-covered booklet containing eleven of his most popular stories may be ordered on our store site.

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