Faigy was part of our group of ladies who learned together every other week, delving into topics related to building a trusting relationship with God. One week Faigy took on an uncharacteristically serious tone as she started to tell us the story of her parents. She first described her mother’s childhood in an Orthodox home in Belgium before the demonic thunder and lightning of the Holocaust descended on their idyllic world and how the family were constantly on the run until the end of the war.

Faigy’s father’s story continues to fascinate me until today. He also lived in Belgium as well as other parts of Western Europe, but he was not raised in an observant home. It was heartbreaking to watch Faigy’s tears as she described how a Nazi beast beat her father to a pulp and left him in a river of blood. Faigy described the event as if she had just personally witnessed the attack on her beloved father.

The author with her grandchildren at the bris of the first grandson named after Chaim

“After the war, my father found himself with a group of young Orthodox Jews,” Faigy told us. “Knowing very little about his own heritage, he felt comforted in the presence of these determined contemporaries. Slowly he took on mitzvah observance and in time he found his wife. Eventually the new couple made their way to America, started a business and built a thriving Jewishly observant home."

In the shards of the Holocaust he found a relationship with God.

The words of Rav Shach, the great Rosh Yeshiva of Ponevezh echo in my mind: “Those who left Judaism after the Holocaust, we can understand. Those who remained faithful, we will never be able to fully understand.” But Faigy's father did not remain faithful; it was in the shards of the Holocaust that he found a relationship with God. This is where my fascination lays.

But perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised. I can think of a story that happened to us when we were sitting shiva for my husband, Chaim hy’d, who passed away from his wounds in the Har Nof attack. During the shiva we were inundated by people, friends and strangers alike, all coming to connect with us as they gave us their condolences. A few journalists came to hear the story, so that they could share what we went through with their readers. One journalist spent a fair amount of time respectfully listening to my sons talk about their father and the difficult year leading up to his passing.

A few hours later that same day, the journalist returned with an older American Jewish couple. They were very eager to speak to me. The journalist told me that after leaving our home earlier that day he went into town to take care of some errands when he happened upon this older non-religious couple. They were touring Israel and had taken some time out to relax downtown. The couple and the journalist started to talk and for some reason, the journalist told the couple about our shiva.

Chaim and Risa Rotman

He described to them what had happened in the shul in Har Nof and how two terrorists entered the holy sanctuary loaded with guns, knives and cleavers bent on accomplishing as much destruction as possible. Before the police shot them down, these terrorists left four men dead, four widows and 25 orphans. They also left my husband, Chaim (amongst others who thank God recovered from their wounds) hanging between the upper and lower worlds.

For one year we watched Chaim hang on to the slippery thread of life before his passing. It was a year of tremendous Kiddush Hashem. Nurses, doctors, patients and their families at the various hospitals Chaim entered and departed were witnessed to how his loving family and community took care of him and each other. Men came to sit by his side and learn together. Loving packages of food were distributed freely. Comments from the spectators like, “We have never seen anything like this before,” were not unusual.

Throughout this difficult time the family and community didn’t just keep our faith but nurtured it and watched it blossom into a community of kindness.

The journalist continued to explained to the non-religious couple how throughout our test, we – the family and community as a whole – didn’t just keep our faith but nurtured it and watched it blossom into a community of chesed and kindness.

Facing the couple, the husband now spoke up as his wife nodded along. “We were very taken with your story, Mrs. Rotman. I don’t want your husband’s death to be in vain. I have to discover my Judaism. When I heard your story, I asked this man,” he said pointing to the journalist, “to take me to a place where I could purchase a pair of good-quality tefillin. I heard that your husband never missed wearing his tefillin until the day of the attack. I am well into my 70s and have never once put on tefillin. Now I will start wearing tefillin in your husband’s memory.”

Everyone in the room was left speechless. We were witnessing the unconquerable strength of the Jewish people in the face of their adversaries. They can maim us, harm us, and even kill us but they will never take away our souls that are thirsty for a connection with the Divine.