From Chicken Soup for the Jewish Soul

The Man Who Waited Forty-Five
Years to Blow His Shofar

Once you have lived a moment at the Western Wall, you never go away.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

At the end of World War II, after fighting the Germans for three years, Yasha returned home to Kiev. When he arrived there, he learned that the Germans had murdered all of his family. He went to his old house and found strangers living there. He searched the neighborhood seeking someone who could tell him anything about his family. Finally, he found a neighbor who told him that just before the Germans had rounded up all the Jews, Yasha’s father had come to him and given him something for Yasha. The neighbor took him inside his house, down into the cellar. Yasha felt tears in his eyes. His father must have known that the Germans were going to kill all the Jews. What was it that he wanted Yasha to have?

The neighbor pulled out something from underneath a pile of boxes. It was a shofar, his father’s shofar. The neighbor handed it to him and said: “Your father told me that you were to blow this when the Germans have been defeated and the Jews were safe and free.”

In the year that followed, Yasha found a job and an apartment. A few thousand Jews who had escaped the German murderers or, like him, had been in the army, returned to Kiev. Yasha tried to determine when he should blow the shofar. The Germans had murdered thirty-five thousand Jews from Kiev in a ravine outside the city called Babi Yar. Yasha decided that on the anniversary of the two days when the slaughter was carried out, he would go to Babi Yar. Maybe he would even blow the shofar there.

It seems as though dozens of other Jews also had the same idea. When Yasha arrived at Babi Yar, people were there saying the Kaddish. Before he could blow his shofar, the Russian police suddenly appeared and told the people that they had to go home. They had no right to conduct a demonstration or a prayer service at this place. The people protested and the policemen beat several of them. Yasha decided that even if the Germans had been defeated, the Jews were still not safe or free. He could not blow the shofar.

Years went by. Many Jews wanted to build a monument at Babi Yar to commemorate the thousands of Jews who had been murdered there. The Russian government refused to allow them to do that. Finally, the government decided that it would build the monument. When it was finished, Yasha took his shofar and went to Babi Yar. He looked at the monument. It mentioned the different nationalities of the people who were killed there. It did not mention the Jews, though over half of those who died were Jewish. Yasha decided that he could not blow the shofar, for although the Jews were safe in Russia, they were not free to be Jews.

Then, in 1967, Israel won the Six-Day War. The Russian government supported the Arabs and every day attacked Israel in the newspapers and on the radio. Yasha had become the manager of a large factory. Together with a number of other factory managers, Yasha was called to the mayor’s office and told to sign a statement for the newspapers attacking Israel. He refused. In a few weeks, he was sent to another job, which was much harder and paid less. Yasha decided that the Jews would never be free in Russia. So he applied for a visa to go to Israel. It was refused, and a little later he lost his job. However, each year he applied again.

At long last, in the summer of 1973, Yasha received his visa. But his wife refused to go to Israel with him. She said, “It is too dangerous to live in Israel.” Yasha pleaded with her, but she preferred the peace and safety of Kiev to the risk of living in a Jewish State.

So Yasha decided to go himself and send for her later. He left as soon as he could, arriving in Israel with only two suitcases and his father’s shofar. It was just after Rosh Hashanah, so Yasha decided that he would wait until the end of Yom Kippur to blow his father’s shofar. Yom Kippur afternoon, while he was in the synagogue praying, he suddenly noticed that all of the young men were leaving. A little later he heard the sound of air-raid sirens. The Arabs had attacked Israel in the middle of the holiest day of the year.

“Oy,” said Yasha, “now that the Jews in the Land of Israel are free, they are not safe. I still can’t blow my father’s shofar.”

After weeks of very difficult fighting, Israel defeated the Arab armies that had attacked it and the land was safe. But the Yom Kippur War had frightened Yasha’s wife even more and for a few more years she refused to join him. When she was finally ready to move, the government stopped letting Jews leave Russia.

More years passed. Then Mr. Gorbachev came to power and he permitted Jews to go to Israel. Because a lot of Russian people blamed Jews for their troubles, many Jews became afraid to remain in Russia. Some came to America, but most went to Israel. Yasha’s wife now realized that the risk of living in Israel was much less than the risk of living in Russia. In 1990, two hundred thousand Jews came to Israel. One of them was Yasha’s wife.

On Rosh Hashanah in 1990, forty-five years after he had returned home and been given his father’s shofar, Yasha was at last able to fulfill his father’s last request. Now, indeed, the Germans had been defeated and the Jews were both free and safe in the Land of Israel. Yasha blew the shofar. It was the happiest moment of his life.

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

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