An old Jewish woman stepped out of her home in a shtetl in Poland alone, her hands above her head. Her husband had died two years earlier and the couple had been without children.
She was known in the shtetl as the seamstress. She would get jobs, small ones, from the townsfolk. That’s how she paid for wood to keep her hovel warm and enough food for the week. She was lent money from the kupah (the central fund for food for the poor) in the shul for food for Shabbat. That bill was almost paid.
The old woman was a compelling sort because she gave tzedakah despite the fact that her finances were so strained. When she would hand a coin to the destitute man sitting on a stool near the shul, she knew he would be eating that evening and she would not.
Although the Torah says you should not become poor yourself by giving more charity than you can, she didn’t see herself that way – as poor, that is.
Once, a mother of a big brood of children asked the seamstress if she would do a complicated job for them and stitch all the family’s woolen coats, as the winter was coming. The mother explained that she couldn’t pay the seamstress for a few weeks. The old woman responded that she couldn’t do the job because it would take her from the work she had to do for her paying customers.
Disheartened, the mother accepted the old woman’s response. The old woman felt bad, but there was nothing she could do. She had been paying off a German soldier stationed in the village, so that he wouldn’t take away her home. She was late with her payment and couldn’t afford to take on a job with deferred compensation.
A single shot rang out and a bullet entered the old woman’s heart. She stood for a moment, looked at the young Nazi soldier and then fell, relieved, at his feet.
Her body lay on the dirt pathway in front of her home all day. Evening arrived, and the woman with the brood of children came with her husband and neighbours to where the old woman lay, respectfully collected her body and put it in a cart.
They wheeled her to the Jewish cemetery, buried the old woman in a shallow grave, and the husband said a short eulogy.
“Here lies our town’s seamstress. Once she was a child, then she became old and God took her. She sewed all of her life, a lofty occupation. The Jewish People sewed in the desert to decorate the Tabernacle’s colourful curtains. We are thankful for her work. May she rest in peace and for eternity sit at God’s feet sewing His holy garments.”
The men said Kaddish, then pushed the cart out of the cemetery. The old Jewish woman’s soul went to heaven.
The next day came, as it always does, and the German soldier moved into the old woman’s home. He picked up an ornately designed sewing box, opened a window and dumped the contents into the street.
On Yom Hashoah remember the Jewish people and all peoples murdered by the Nazis – those who had no family, and those who sewed.
“No one yet knows what awaits the Jews in the 21st century, but we must make every effort to ensure that it is better than what befell them in the 20th, the century of the Holocaust.” -Benjamin Netanyahu