(Devorah Gliksman also authored another of my favorites, a memoir of the Paneth family from pre-WWII until they reached America: The Sun & the Shield.)
Born in Czechoslovakia in 1933 to a loving regal mother and a father who was both a talmid chacham & the epitome of bitachon & exemplary character, Sori led a charmed life with her younger sister Ruti.
Sori & Ruti received an ideal upbringing from caring, frum, devoted parents.
Interestingly, Sori's mother's chassidish father decided to wed her to the Litvish Shmuel Juda Binyomin Bernfeld in an effort to save his daughter from the encroaching Haskalah & Reform Movement—the Sori's chassidish grandfather believed that by marrying off his daughter to a talmid chacham, she would be saved & protected from the poisonous winds of change.
And he was right.
Sori's parents enjoyed an idyllic marriage together, full of the richness of Torah.
Together, they succeeded in imbuing their children with yirat Shamayim, bitachon, and wholeheartedly joyful devotion to Torah & mitzvot.
Proof of Hashem's Hand: She Shouldn't Have Even Survived the Train Ride
Although stories abound of children who survived, I found Sori particularly striking because up to the point she separated from her parents, Sori led a very sheltered & genteel childhood with gentle & loving parents, maids & nannies, plus warm & loving extended family.
Sori herself was a very sweet, well-behaved, lovely, innocent little girl.
Pampered yet disciplined, Sori's parents continued to shelter her & Ruti with piety & gentility even after they were forced to move into the ghetto.
At age 8, Sori's father & mother suddenly told her she needed to wear peasant clothing, get on a train by herself with false identification papers (and a new identity which Sori needed to memorize on the spot, and travel all alone until she would see through the window a distant cousin leave the train from another car.
Furthermore, Sori was only told this right before she needed to actually do it! (This was the best way to handle this difficult situation.)
The family needed to escape to Hungary and they could not do it together.
As I read this, I found myself, How on earth...?!
According to all logic, a little sweet sheltered girl like Sori should never have made it past the train ride.
Usually, the children I read about had experienced more independence & responsibility before they found themselves on their own.
Or they were accompanied by an adult, even one from the non-Jewish underground.
Or they were a bit older than Sori—like age 10 or 12.
Or they possessed spunkier or bolder or shrewder personalities (like Sori's sister Ruti).
Sori was one of these quiet, sweet, guileless little girls.
Her parents had no choice & setting Sori off on her own was clearly agonizing for them (though they outwardly projected calm & resolve to Sori).
Such a sweet, sheltered, refined little girl like Sori should never have survived that journey (which, after successfully getting off the train, included a trek through the woods & a dangerous border-crossing on foot, plus nearly getting ravaged by pitchforks in the hands of Nazified Hungarians searching for Jews as she lay hiding under a stack of hay).
The fact that such a little girl like Sori managed the train journey displayed such a clear Hand of Hashem.
As a Child on the Kasztner Train with the Satmar Rav
The book describes Sori's experiences hiding in Hungary, moving to a different Jewish family (all wonderful) every 3 months, a stint in a Christian orphanage, and a horrific 3-day stay with her sister in a center for immigrants & homeless—including the criminal & mentally ill dregs of Hungarian society.
Hungarian law forced the girls to stay there for 3 days, during which the frum community of Budapest did their best to help the girls by providing them with kosher food & kind treatment.
Sori's family ended up on the Kasztner train with the Satmar Rav Yoel Teitelbaum, which included a stint in the inhuman Bergen-Belsen death camp.
It was fascinating to read the first-hand impressions of the Satmar Rav, whose purity & humble greatness even awed the secular Jews around him.
(Though not everyone. At one point, the Satmar Rav ended up in barracks with "mainly rough, secular people who gave him no rest," as Sori's father described it.)
The Satmar Rav made sure to eat only kosher food (though he permitted others to eat whatever food they could find, kosher or not), he fasted 3 times a week, gave Torah classes, learned privately with others, and made himself available for questions & advice.
On Simchat Torah, the Satmar Rav managed to create an atmosphere of joy amid all the torment, leading everyone in singing & dancing. Sori found this accomplishment miraculous & rejuvenating.
The Satmar Rav risked his life for acts of caring & concern for every other Jew, whether he knew them or not.
A frum woman who dedicated herself to supplying the Satmar Rav with kosher food received his blessing for survival & his promise of a shidduch for her.
She merited to leave that horrible place before the Satmar Rav did.
Settlement in Eretz Yisrael, Plus Struggles against Esav, Yishmael, and the Erev Rav
Sori's family settled in Eretz Yisrael for Torah reasons and distanced themselves from the secular Leftist Tziyonim.
Sori describes the tireless efforts of the secularists in Atlit to secularize the religious.
They insisted religious practices were no longer necessary & that life on a kibbutz would be perfect, painting a picture of "financial prosperity and communal living and utopia for everyone."
Note: In reality, the kibbutzim never achieved this—except for those that eventually turned to capitalist enterprises. The rest survived on government assistance or shut down.
Furthermore, many children who grew up on kibbutzim left due to their traumatic memories of waking up frightened in the children's house at night with no adult around—the person assigned to night duty in the children's house usually abandoned this duty to go to sleep—and their parents unreachable in another building. The children did not enjoy this communist lifestyle and later sought to create normal homes for themselves outside the kibbutz movement. Some "utopia."
These secular Leftist influencers approached the religious Jews with displays of compassion & tremendous concern for all they suffered.
They particularly targeted religious children, many of whom came on their own as Holocaust orphans.
Sori recalls how bad she felt for them, with no way to resist the constant pressure & wooing of the secular Leftists.
Despite the innate gentleness & kindness of Sori's mother, the Leftist onslaught forced her to speak sharply to the camp organizer & counselors, demanding that they leave her daughters alone.
But they ignored Sori's mother.
As Sori sums up on page 273:
"They continued to pester any religious person they encountered and we just had to put up with it."
The chareidi Agudah did its best to help them, and managed to succeed despite the Agudah representatives only allowed to visit (rather than join the staff as the secular Leftists did).
The family rebuilt their life in a suburb of Tel Aviv (later moving to Tel Aviv proper), and even brought a lovely new baby into the world: Yishaye Yosef.
Even before the UN voted to allow the Jews to create their own state, Sori emphasized that she and her family felt at home in Eretz Yisrael (page 291-2):
"We were so happy to be here. We felt we had finally come home...for Eretz Yisrael is the home of every Jew."
During Israel's 1948 War of Independence, Sori's father felt so sure of Mashiach's imminent arrival, he laid out his Shabbat clothes every night so he'd be ready to greet Mashiach upon waking up.
(He continued to do this until the end of his life in I think the 1960s.)
The book does an excellent job of describing the mixed feelings the non-Tziyoni frum Jews experienced during that time.
On one hand, Sori felt that Hashem's Great Love for Am Yisrael would allow the Jews (despite the secular majority) to triumph. She & everyone else felt innate optimism, a feeling of unity with all other Jews despite their level of practice, pride in their Land & the Jewish soldiers fighting to defend both the Land & the people, plus they felt united with other Jews in the desire for the struggle to "culminate in a safe, secure haven for Yidden from all over."
She describes her initial perception of the Jewish victory as "a dream come true" and "To live in a place run by Jews, for our benefit, without being subjects of anti-Semitic rulers" and as a "harbinger of Mashiach's times."
Yet events in 1949 would mar than initial optimism, noted on page 304:
"Yet we soon found out that this 'dream' had some very disturbing twists and turns to it."
In 1949, the Israeli government brought 40,000 Jews from Yemen to Eretz Yisrael.
A Rare & Perceptive Inside View of What Happened to the Yemenite Jews
Fortunately, we have Sori's.
She remembers when they moved into her Yad Eliyahu neighborhood (a suburb of Tel Aviv) with nothing but the clothes they wore, optimism, and large families of children.
Sori found them very religious, very pleasant—and very poor. She describes them as "very simple, sweet people who were staunch believers in Hashem and in their mesorah."
Sori's fondness & admiration for her new neighbors made what happened next all the more painful.
The Tziyoni leaders began a campaign of pressure on the Yemenite Jews to change their ways.
These leaders & their minions actively worked to convince the Yemenites to change their views and compromise on Torah & mitzvot.
They confused the Yemenite Jews with lies, claiming that they—these secular Leftists—also kept Torah...just in a different way. These propagandists asserted that things had changed.
They insisted the Yemenites were "crippling" their children.
The pressure started in the maabarot tent camps & continued into this Tel Aviv neighborhood, where the large Yemenite families lived in impossibly cramped apartments in poverty with little food.
The secular Leftists boasted of their generosity regarding the cramped housing they gave the Yemenite Jews in Yad Eliyahu, insisting they could not give them larger homes & claimed they were trying to find jobs for the Yemenite husbands.
They promised to take the children to a place where the children would receive sunlight, nutritious food, spacious living, and fresh air.
(Remember, the journey from Yemen and the stint in the squalid maabarot prior to Yad Eliyahu greatly weakened the children's physical health, which they found difficult to regain living in cramped conditions of Yad Eliyahu without porches or yards, and without enough money for plentiful food.)
The Jewish Agency reps promised the children would return home "happy and rejuvenated."
After tremendous pressure over the long term on these impoverished people, most parents finally capitulated out of concern for their children's health & the reassurance of the observance of religious traditions.
The Jewish agency counselors cleverly showed up in conservative (though modern) clothing to take the children.
Sori & her family watched the scene with great foreboding.
She described the counselors as young men & women brimming with health & energy (something very attractive to young children).
As they took the Yemenite children to the waiting buses, Sori noted how the "Large, pale, white palms clasped the small chocolate brown hands tightly" and how the petite, undernourished "waifs" were dwarfed by the "ebullient counselors both physically and emotionally."
It foreshadowed what was to come later.
During the absence of the children, Sori felt pained by the infinitely sad eyes of the Yemenite mothers who remained behind without their children.
A few months later, these formerly sweet refined children returned with shrieks & wild noise.
Sori described feeling ill upon seeing how the children appeared after a few months in the hands of the secular Leftists.
Yes, the children returned well-fed, happy, confident, and wearing new clothes.
But as Sori saw it (page 308):
"Gone were the shy, reserved, story-book children who had boarded the buses just a few short months earlier."
Their mothers burst into weeping, and continued weeping even as the children reassured them they still kept Torah & mitzvot.
Yet the children only went through the motions of mitzvot out of respect for their parents.
The fathers looked stoic & upset, and Sori's heart ached for them all.
As time went on, Sori realized that the Jewish Agency representatives had "secularized those children beyond recognition."
She viewed their initial campaign to wear down the parents as "all but kidnapped" these Yemenite Jewish children.
She continued to see profound sadness in the eyes of the Yemenite mothers long after the return of the children.
Finally, Agudah received permission to send their own representatives to the maabarot for one summer.
Sori chose to go help.
Due to her former imprisonment in Bergen-Belsen, Sori did not experience the shock her friends experienced upon encountering the squalid conditions in the camp.
Sori described the children as "sweet" with "sunny personalities" despite the impoverished conditions.
The parents expressed their gratitude & pleasure over their children finally receiving a Jewish education in contrast to the "foolishness" taught in the secular schools infiltrating the maabarot.
Sori noted that most of the children participated eagerly with the Agudah counselors & even happily readopted some of their old traditions.
After their time was up, Sori and the other Agudah activists tried to maintain contact with these children.
Indeed, with this support, some Yemenite children managed to withstand the unrelenting onslaught of the secular Leftists—and remained religious.
People Who Truly Care about the Right Things Feel Differently & See Things More Accurately
Sori acknowledges that the loss of most of the centuries-old Yemenite community to secularism caused her deep pain, especially as she was forced to watch the process while helpless to do much to stem the onslaught (despite her heroic efforts in the camp & her family's support of Agudah to help their Yemenite brothers & sisters).
On page 310, Sori's great love for her fellow Jews & for Eretz Yisrael cause her to muse:
"To think that here, in Eretz Yisrael, in our own 'free' land, fellow Yidden were coercing their own brothers to abandon their heritage. The realization was shocking and hurtful.
"And it made the formation of the State more bitter than sweet."
However, Sori speaks from a great love & understanding of Torah, Am Yisrael, and Eretz Yisrael.
Listening thoughtfully & open-mindedly to her perceptions can help us understand where our true struggle lies & to whom & what we should really be aligning ourselves.
This is important & still affects us today.
A Healing Love for Eretz Yisrael
However, she looks back on that choice with some reservation.
A part of her regrets not settling in Eretz Yisrael after her marriage, but she acknowledges that everything comes from Hashem and that for some reason, she and her husband decided to settle in England despite her father's pleas for them to settle in Eretz Yisrael.
Despite her humility in describing herself & her accomplishments, reading between the lines indicates that Sori did a lot to build Torah Judaism in England, much of it via girls' education.
Nonetheless, a great love of Eretz Yisrael remains with Sori.
One of the most charming parts of the book lies in Sori's description of life in her family's new apartment in Tel Aviv.
Their apartment stood nearly on the seaside of the Mediterranean.
During the summer nights, the family dealt with the heat & humidity of Tel Aviv by sleeping on the sand of the seashore.
Sori remembers those nights on the sand & how much she relished the cool Mediterranean breeze, the sound of the waves, the spacious night sky filled with sparkling stars, and the salty smell of the sea.
The experience also brought a beautiful wake-up at dawn, accompanied by a dip in the sea, which Sori described as "my own private pool."
- the profound warmth & love Sori's parents managed to give her throughout her entire life, regardless of any traumas or distance
- a vivid description of Jewish life in Pressburg/Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, prior to the Holocaust
- the astounding bitachon Sori's father managed to cultivate & imbue in his family
- the other wonderfully special & heroic people in Sori's extended family
- Sori's experiences during the Holocaust
- Sori's return to Czechoslovakia as an adult
- Sori's years in England, plus her special marriage and raising a family
- Sori's work in England
- Sori's struggles with trauma & healing
- Much, much more!
I'm very grateful to Sori and everyone involved with publishing this invaluable book.
It's very special & offers the reader so much, both as a memoir and as a beautiful & loving guide on how to cultivate a beautiful Torah-based family life & live your life with Hashem despite difficulties & traumas.