#332 (s5764-24/ 10 Adar)

ESTHER'S STORY: Providence, a Prisoner, and a Princess

Every night before bed, despite the pressures of Soviet communism, her mother lovingly told her, "Esther, never forget; you are a Jewish girl."


ESTHER'S STORY: Providence, a Prisoner, and a Princess

Sara Labkowski of Crown Heights told the following story to me about 20 years ago. At that time, she said the Lubavitcher Rebbe had requested of the man to whom this all happened to write it down for others to know. The following is the account as I remember it.

Esther was raised in the former Soviet Union. She was 6 years old when her parents began fighting bitterly about her education. Her mother insisted that Esther had to know that she was Jewish and what that meant. And so, every night, Esther's mother said the 'Shema' with her and lovingly told her these words, "Esther, you are a Jewish girl. Esther, remember this - you are a Bas Yisroel (Daughter of Israel). Never forget, Esther, you are a Jewish girl."

Esther's father considered all this dangerous. He knew that Esther's teacher, a loyal communist of the USSR, would interrogate any student showing the least bit of religious sentiment and report it promptly to the authorities. Esther's father did not want to risk his own life, and certainly not that of his daughter's. Each night, as he stood in the doorway of little Esther's room, he listened with alarm to his wife's bedtime ritual. And each night, as his wife exited the room, he repeated how she was putting them all in danger.

Then, not long after this, Esther's mother passed away. Esther and her father were left alone. And now that there was no interference, Esther's father took his daughter's education into his own hands. No longer did Esther recite the Shema at bedtime, no longer did Esther hear those loving words telling her that she was a Bas Yisroel.

One night, Esther was awakened by the sounds of voices from another room in the house. Curious, she got out of bed and went to see what this midnight conversation was all about. When she got to the doorway, she saw her father deeply engrossed in conversation with a man she had never seen before. He was dressed strangely, with a long beard, a long black coat and white fringes on the ends of his garments. Unnoticed, Esther watched the scene for a while and then returned to her bed.

The following morning, Esther's teacher greeted the students as usual and then made an astonishing announcement:
"Children, last night a dangerous enemy of our Mother Russia visited someone's home. This man has a long beard, whiter fringes on his clothes and a long black coat. Anyone in our class who saw this person should immediately inform me. He is a very dangerous man and wants to harm you. You will be doing Mother Russia a great noble deed to let us know if you saw him."

Trusting her teacher completely, Esther raised her hand. "He was in my house last night. I saw him. He was talking to my father."

"What a good, loyal citizen you are, Esther," her teacher said with a broad smile. The teacher lost no time in sending a message to the principal who hurried in and also praised Esther in front of the other students.
When the lessons were over for the day, Esther went home. To her surprise, her father did not come home at his usual hour, nor did he come home later. In fact, though she waited, he never came home again. From then on, the Communist State took complete responsibility for Esther's upbringing.

Unbeknownst to Esther, her father had been sent to Siberia after interrogation and torture. All too late, he realized how right his wife had been. Had he continued his wife's lessons to Esther this would not have happened, for she would have understood what the man in the black coat represented. He himself should have taught her that despite the cruel pressure and dangers of the government, Judaism is not to be forfeited at any expense. Despite their despicable lies, Judaism is viable, good and eternal. Had he educated his daughter so, she would not have revealed what she did. Her loyalties would have been to Torah, and not to the State. Only now did he realize his mistake.

And worse than his own miserable plight were his anxieties for Esther's future. He knew only too well that his daughter was now in a government institution for orphans being indoctrinated with communist dogma.

Years passed and Esther grew into a fine young woman. A seemingly ardent member of the Communist Youth Movement, she was elected to be part of a group privileged to visit Mexico. What the Communist Youth Movement did not know was that Esther had secretly decided to defect once she arrived in Mexico. She managed to hide herself until she was certain that her group had returned to Russia and had ceased searching for her.

In time, Esther married. Her husband was a traditional Jew and tried very hard to explain to her the importance of Jewish practices. Although she had no patience for this herself, she consented to his wishes for a kosher home.

One day, her husband was riding a city bus, when an elderly Jewish man in Chassidic garb approached him and spoke in Yiddish.
"Do you have a place for me to stay in your home?"

Esther's husband was a kind and hospitable man and quickly agreed to accommodate the stranger. When they arrived home, her husband had served him a good meal and showed him to a fine guest room. As the old man lay down to rest, he was disturbed by an intense argument in the next room.

"Why did you bring that man here? Who needs him? We have enough going on here!"

When the argument finally subsided, the old man emerged from his room with his suitcase packed and the excuse that he had forgotten something and would not be able to stay with them. Esther and her husband realized that their words had been overheard. Regretting her hash words that had caused the old man pain and embarrassment, she insisted that he stay. The guest explained that he needed to travel extensively and would be gone for long periods of time, but if their home could be his base to which he could return after those excursions he would be most appreciative. Esther and her husband readily agreed.

And as the weeks and months passed, their guest became a beloved part of their home. In return, the old man noticed that Esther and her husband disagreed on Jewish observance and gradually he was able to influence his hostess to a greater appreciation and observance of mitzvahs.

One day, shortly before Purim, the old man requested a favor of his host and hostess.
"Every year, on Purim, it is my custom to don the clothing I wore as a prisoner in Russia in remembrance of the great miracles G-d did in enabling me to survive the cruel ordeals there. Would you accommodate the wishes of an old man? Would you be so kind as to invite your neighbors and friends for a Purim party and let me put on a Purim play?"

Esther and her husband readily agreed.

Purim arrived and their home was packed with friends and acquaintances. The tables were laden with Esther's delicious treats. When the Purim celebrations were at their peak, the old man took the floor and began to relate the ancient story of Purim. Everyone listened with rapt attention.

As the old man came to the part where the king's officers chose Mordechai's niece and he sees there is no alternative than she go to the palace, he recited these words:
"Esther, you are a Jewish girl. Esther, remember this - you are a Bas Yisroel. Never forget, Esther, you are a Jewish daughter."

Everyone in the house suddenly turned their attention to the hostess of the party who suddenly cried out and fainted. Her husband carried her away from the crowd, into their room and the old man rushed into the bedroom to inquire about the condition of his hostess.

"Don't worry," said her husband, "She worked very hard today preparing the party and is probably exhausted. I am sure she'll be okay."

As the old man stood over the bed looking with concern at Esther, his gaze was drawn to an old photograph at her bedside. And at the same moment, Esther regained consciousness.

"'Where did you get that photograph?" he demanded in a choked voice.

Esther turned white. In all the years since her defection, her fear of being found never left her. "Why do you want to know?" she asked warily.

"That" he cried softly, "is my wife."

Esther's eyes filled with tears as she suddenly realized exactly who was this old man standing there in his tattered prison clothing.

"That," whispered Esther, "is my mother."

[Slightly adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles from
Permutations #6 ( S.M. Blasberg, 02-651-3840).]


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.

back to Top   back to Index   Stories home page
Redesign and implementation - By WEB-ACTION