Tonight was a memorial evening for my friend Yehudit's Yartzeit, the anniversary of her death. In a couple of days it will be her mother's Yartzeit, too. There were a number of speakers, but I only managed to hear her widower speak about her.
He reminded us that Yehudit was born in Hungary to a wealthy family. She never knew her father; he was dead. When she was in her very early teens, her mother decided that they would be better off leaving Hungary, but it was illegal. A Hungarian official lusted after their luxurious apartment and made a deal. He would help them escape in exchange for the apartment.
Yehudit's mother used whatever connections she had and got them safely to Israel, to a kibbutz. It wasn't a religious kibbutz, which was fine with them. They weren't Torah observant. Actually Yehudit knew nothing about Judaism.
A few years after arriving in Israel, Yehudit's mother became very ill and was hospitalized. She argued with the doctors about fasting on Yom Kippur. Yehudit's mother insisted on fasting, and the doctors were certain that it would endanger her life even more. Yehudit was horrified.
"You must eat. Listen to your doctors!"Yehudit agreed, but she wanted to know what this fasting was, and what was this Yom Kippur that had her mother so concerned. She began to investigate Judaism and study it. Soon she felt it necessary to leave the kibbutz and totally change her life. Yehudit became a strongly committed Torah observant Jew. She met her husband, married and raised their children to be strictly religious, also.
"I'll eat but only on the condition that you fast instead."
I once brought some journalists to meet Yehudit. She showed us the family vineyard, which was very impressive. She told us that her family was like that vineyard. When they had added to their house, the vines had seemingly been destroyed. The builders had inadvertently crushed the plants. Throughout that first winter, they were certain that there was nothing left. But in the spring a few leaves and then vines began to sprout from the earth. Before long, again, they were enjoying the grapes.
Yehudit told us that she and her mother had been far removed from Jewish Life in Hungary. She knew nothing of Judaism even in her early years in Israel. Her Jewish awakening started with Yom Kippur...