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A Time to Live

A Time to Live is the exciting and inspiring story of a young girl who discovers Jewish identity amidst a web of danger and family crisis.

Marian Asher grew up in an assimilated Jewish home in Far Rockaway, New York, cut off from all contact with her religious relatives in Florida and Israel. At eighteen, she was on the threshold of adult life. She had enrolled in college, and with the approval of her parents, she was engaged to be married to a medical student named Neal Brennan, the son of a wealthy doctor ... who also happened to be a Gentile. Then her grandfather died, and her world turned upside down.

Her grandfather, Reb Mordechai Asher, has been a religious Jew, and Marian had loved him very much. Marian's parents had always stood as a barrier to minimize contact between her and her grandfather, but at the funeral, Marian is overcome by a flood of emotions which launch her on a journey of discovery into herself and her family's past. She meets Naomi, the diminutive but intense granddaughter of Rabbi Isaacs, and the compassionate and sensitive Shaindee, who has a mysterious past of her own. The first contacts are strained and prickly, but gradually friendships develop, and through these friendships, Marian learns about the wondrous beauty and satisfaction of a Torah-true Jewish life. But as she draws closer to Naomi and Shaindee and becomes more aware of her Jewish identity, Marian comes into sharp conflict, with her parents, her fiancé and her other friends, especially the Jew-hating Kurt, her fiancé's closest buddy.

This touching yet fast-paced story spans a multitude of diverse settings from the horrors of the concentration camps to the scene of an unsolved murder in Boston, from a manic excursion in Coney Island to a gala wedding in Brooklyn. In the end, it is the warm story of how a shattered family is brought together by a spirited and courageous young girl who will let nothing stand in the way of her indomitable search for the truth.

CHANA STAVSKY RUBIN is a noted educator who lives in the New York area. Many hundreds of girls have had the benefit of her wisdom, tutelage and guidance during her thirteen-year tenure on the staff of Bais Yaakov Academy and her term as principal of Tomer Devorah High School. Thousands more will now enjoy these benefits through her exemplary literary efforts.

ISBN 0-935063-48-X Cover Illustration: Gregg Hinlicky


New York, London , Jerusalem.



There is a time to be born. And a time to die ... A time to weep, And a time to laugh.

(Koheles 3:2-4)

chapter one

The shrill sound of the bell penetrated the silence of the house. Two rings were all it took. Just two rings and our lives were irrevocably changed.

"Marian, answer the doorbell, please," Mother said.

"Is this the Asher household?" the young man asked.

In response to the affirmative shake of my head, he handed me a telegram addressed to Mr. J. Asher.

"Daddy, telegram for you," I called out after tipping and thanking the messenger.

My father's fingers shook as he ripped open the telegram. Mother stood next to him, her inquisitive birdlike face showing signs of fear. Telegrams, registered mail and blue coated policemen fall into the category of officialdom and cause trepidation in our household. At that time, I just couldn't understand why. I
 now realize that most of the traumatic events of my parents' lives revolved around official-looking documents.

My father held the telegram with two fingers, delicately, and away from his body as if the paper were burning hot. He walked to the couch and put his head in his hands. There was a tremor in his voice.

"Papa is gone," he said.

My mother's face turned ashen. The tears ran down her face.

"May I?" I
 asked as I took the telegram from my father's hands. We are sorry to inform you," the telegram read, "that your father passed away in the Sunshine Nursing Home this morning. Rabbi Isaacs and I attempted to contact you by phone but your phone was out of order. Please call or come to the home to make arrangements. Tom Layner, Administrator."

We had taken our phone off the hook after midnight because we'd been receiving crank calls. I suppose that is why they couldn't reach us. I took the list of names and phone numbers to call which my father had given me before he and my mother had left for the nursing home. My mother had called my Aunt Leah, my father's sister in Israel. There were no other relatives to call on my father's side. It was ironic that at a time like this, I couldn't cry. Instead, a panorama of uncontrollable thoughts passed through my mind.

I wondered why my grandfather had never gone to live with his daughter in Israel. Why had he stayed in America, living alone so many years? I seemed to remember him saying, "I
 want to be near you, little one. I must be near you. In you lies the future of our family. In you, I will live." Or was my mind playing tricks with me?

I shook my head to sweep away the cobwebs of my imagination. I
 shut my eyes and then opened them. Putting my emotions into a controlled corner in my mind, I
 went to make the telephone calls my father hadassigned me.

The funeral was to be held the same day. I learned that Jewish law required burying a body as soon as possible. My father said that since my grandfather had been a pious man, he would carry out his wishes.

A black shiny car pulled up. My father was sitting in it. My heart was pounding in my chest. I just knew that my grandfather was in that car.The steamy air of this hot summer day surrounded us as we walked to the car. It only added to the heaviness and gloom. I
sat down in the car.

My palms were sweating and my tongue was thick. Reality him me withan uncontrollable loneliness. Grandfather, I'll never see you again!

My mother put her hands over her face. Her body shook as she sobbed. My tear ducts were dry. I could not cry.

Images revolved in my mind ... Grandfather, strong, with his long, black curly sideburns. I
remembered him playing hide-and-go-seek with me. I
remembered his lilting voice as he sang songs to me.

"Why does grandfather have curls?" I
had asked with childish innocence. Was it really so many years ago? Oh, how easy it was to change the subject and steer a child's mind and imagination in other directions. I
never remember receiving an answer, nor was there any continuation of the subject. It just faded away as did so many similar childhood thoughts and questions.

I recalled my grandfather lying in the nursing home, sick and helpless; my strong grandfather was gone. His pale face grew even whiter when I told him about the new boy I had met who was going to be a doctor.

"Who are his parents?" he asked.

"Dr. and Mrs. Brennan," I answered.

"The name ... it doesn't sound Jewish. Is he Jewish?"

"No," I answered with the blindness of youth. "But so what? It doesn't matter."

How much I have learned to understand in these few months. Grandfather, please forgive me. Oh dear Grandfather, please forgive my lack of sensitivity and understanding.

Like a hammer chiseling away at wood, the sounds of my parents voices reached me. I listened to their conversation.

"I'm sorry your sister Leah could not be here," my mother was saying. "I know what Papa meant to her. She urged him so many times to come to spend his last years with her. I remember the letter she wrote him. How she begged him to come, telling him that he'd love Eretz Yisrael and that her husband Moshe couldn't wait to spend the days learning with him. Do you remember Papa's answer? My heart yearns to come,' he replied, but within Malka lies our future. Our family will live through her.' "

"Yes, he had his plans," my father said. Was that a note of sarcasm I detected in his voice? "I could never change him, but I didn't let him change us."

"Too bad that now, of all times, Leah cannot be reached. When I called Israel, it took quite a while to find Moshe. He was giving a shiurin his Yeshiuah. He is a good man, Leah's husband. He told me that it would be impossible to reach Leah, because she's en route to Poland. He would have to wait for her to call. How ironic! She most probably will be standing near your mother's grave at the same time Papa will be buried."

The cars stopped and we walked a short distance. I was bewildered at the group of strange faces of older people. "Who are these people?" I asked. Grandfather's friends," my father answered.

• remembered him once laughingly saying that he was going to his chaurusos.

"What's that, grandfather?" I had asked.

They are my friends who keep the well full of water," he had said. They help me find the fountain of youth. Without it, our old brains would get njsty. It gives us the vitamin injections that help us live." Noting my puzzled expression, he had added, "I
hope one day you too will understand that Torah is life."

We gathered around a gaping hole in the ground. I looked around me. There were tombstones lined up in a precise row. Each one marked off another life in this sea of grass.

It was still. Now I understand what is meant by the stillness of death. No one spoke. There was no movement of feet. The only sound we heard was the cawing of birds flying overhead.

One of the men separated himself from the others. He had a kind face. He looked a little bit like grandfather as I
remembered him.

He spoke in English. I can't understand why I
had a strong feeling that he would have been more comfortable speaking in another tongue, that he was speaking English for my benefit. Perhaps it was because he seemed to be looking in my direction. Perhaps it was just my imagination. I heard someone whisper, "Rabbi Isaacs," so I understood that he was the Rabbi.

"I knew the niftar, the deceased, Reb Mordche for sixty years," Rabbi Isaacs was saying. "We were childhood friends in Poland. His life was a difficult one. As a young boy and the oldest in his family, he was battered by poverty. He had to work hard to help support his family. But at night, the entire shtetl saw the candle burning until daylight. Yes, he worked hard all his years, but Hashem was good to him. He prospered and became wealthy. Throughout everything, he was always an honored and respected man. He married and had children ... and then came Hitler.

"Friends, how can I describe the strength of this person? There were times I saw him sitting quietly, perfectly still, his eyes and hands tightly shut as if to ward off the blows of life, but his faith always remained strong.

"The angry swell of the dark, furious sea of hatred swept over Poland. The waves rose to gigantic heights and then crashed around him, but the thunder of the waves did not break him. Above the roar of the storm, he heard another sound and saw another sight."

I heard soft sobbing. I turned around to see who it came from. It wasn't one person. It seemed as if all my grandfather's friends were sobbing together in unison.

The Rabbi continued, his voice louder, pleading, and at the same time, harsher.

"Ribono Shel Olaml What makes one man see the rays of the sun and brightness rising on the horizon while another sees only the setting of the sun and gloom? Mordche, my friend, Mordche, teach us. Teach your child, your grandchild, all of us that are still living, that are present here today. Teach us how to go on when you, our ray of light, has been extinguished. How will I go on without you, dear friend?

"Oh, what your eyes have seen! You saw your baby son torn from your wife's hands and thrown in the air to be caught on the rifle bayonet of a laughing Nazi. Oh, what your ears have heard! I was there when they told you how your Malka, your dear Malkala died; the peals of hysterical, insane laughter torn out of her throat when one child after the other met death in those heinous inhuman concentration camps.

"And yet," the Rabbi's voice grew softer, he was crying softly, "and yet, you were always firm in your faith. You bolstered mine. "There is a reason for everything,' were your favorite words.

"Relatives and friends," the Rabbi's voice grew stronger and louder. "I saw him waiver only once, and that was when he was rebuffed when he pleaded for someone close to him to come back to Yiddishkeit. 'Please, Hashem!' he cried. Don't let this be the end of my family, because then this would really be the end of my life.

"My dear friend Mordche," the Rabbi cried. "Be a gutter beiterfor uns alle, be a good pleader for all of us where your are going. In Can Eden may you find peace. There, you will intervene and your prayers will be answered. I'll never forget your last words to me. You told me that you were ready to accept whatever Hashem has in store for you.

Dear friend, you accepted your fate all your life. When you said Vidui and the Shema, you looked at peace. Yes, those were your last words. Listen Yisrael, Hashem is our Lord, Hashem is One.' "

I heard someone scream and cry out loudly, "No! No!" I
 looked around to see where the crying was coming from. I hadn't far to go. The voice had been torn from inside of me. I didn't want to believe it. His life couldn't be over. My grandfather couldn't be gone.

I heard my father say some words in a foreign tongue. My mother mumbled the word, "Kaddish."

I looked at the deep hole in the earth. Is that the end of life? We are born we live, we die. Thud, thud. I
heard the clods of earth fall on the coffin. I remembered the words I had heard somewhere in the past... There is a time to Hue and a time to die. A time to cry and a time to laugh.

When is there a time to live? When is there a time to die? What is life!? I
don't think I'll ever forget the sight or the smell of the earth or the realization that one day a person lives and the next day he is gone.

On the drive home from the cemetery, my father was quiet. I
saw my mother glance at him surreptitiously, but my father's lips were drawn tight. There was no conversation, and there was no way for me to know my father's feelings or thoughts.

When we arrived home, I watched as Rabbi Isaacs put white sheets over all the mirrors. My father had put on sneakers at the cemetery. He now sat down on the floor. Rabbi Isaacs gave him a hard-boiled egg which he dipped into ashes. I was mystified at all these strange happenings.

I followed my mother into the kitchen and questioned her. She told me that this was the Jewish ritual for mourning. "Daddy is following it out of respect for grandfather," she explained. The entire week, the house was filled with people. There were old men, friends of my grandfather, wearing black hats or little black skullcaps on their heads. Some of them spoke English, others Yiddish. My parents' friends and business associates also came. They talked about the old country and sacrifices parents had made so that they could receive a proper education in the new world. They discussed how the doors opened to the professions and the business world because of their parents' relinquishment of pleasures. Some looked guilty and others fidgeted uncomfortably. I wondered how often they thought about their parents and grandparents. I was curious whether they visited and took care of them. I made a mental vow to be different.

I tried to keep the youthful image of my grandfather in my mind, but it became intermingled with the last picture I
had of him in the nursing home, a sick, withered old man without any teeth. I
erased it from my mind and thought of the pictures Rabbi Isaacs had painted of my grandfather and then I
felt better. I realized that Rabbi Isaacs had not buried my grandfather. That was just a box and a body in the ground. Rabbi Isaacs had really brought him to life for me.

chapter two

Fortunately, school was over. I hadn't had a complete night of sleep since the funeral. I
kept thinking about my grandfather. It was wonderful for a person to have so much faith, but what had made him have it? What caused him to believe there is a purpose for everything? How could he accept the death of his three children? I
felt that perhaps I could learn some answers from Rabbi Isaacs.

It was a brutally hot Monday when I
decided to drive over to his synagogue. Broadway looked like a street that had tried very hard to stay awake but finally had to close its' eyes at 4:00 p.m. Most of the stores were shuttered and the barricades were up. The heat of the day kept customers in their air-conditioned homes and few would venture outdoors.

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