In Miriam Cohen’s biographical book, A Daughter of Two Mothers, we meet Rivka and Nachman Klar of Selish [Vinograd], Hungary, and their many children.
Rivka and Nachman Klar are warm, humble, intelligent, and kind people who live in such poverty that they serve soup to their hungry guests while filling their own bowls with plain hot water.
Their home consists of a small bedroom for the parents and one other large room which serves as the family's kitchen/dining room/living room during the day and the children’s bedroom at night, with beds comprised of mattresses lain over chairs.
Light came from kerosene lanterns, water from a community well outside, refrigeration was created by placing food between the glass panes of a window in cold weather, and the toilet was an outhouse in a shared courtyard. Yet the family managed happily in their impoverished state, with Nachman Klar eking out a living via his highly skilled carpentry and an older daughter contributing the salary she made by working at a local store.
Nachman Klar’s main source of work was through a wealthy man in the center of town. In 1933, however, this business was then passed on to the wealthy man’s son, who suddenly decided to fire Nachman Klar. Puzzled by the dismissal of Nachman's dedicated and skilled work and distressed by the sudden loss of income for an already impoverished family, the Klars decide to consult the Spinker Rebbe regarding what they should do next.
This particular Rebbe was known for giving advice in hints only. But this time, the Rebbe outright commanded Nachman Klar to take his family to Eretz Yisrael. The entire village was shocked, but the Klars prepare to do as the Rebbe says.
And by doing so, they managed to avoid the entire devastation of World War II and the Shoah. They never experienced the fear and the creeping discrimination that ended in their entire community being crammed into a ghetto and then later crated off to Auschwitz. They even merited to adopt a beloved orphan from that community when that orphan later finds them in their new Jerusalem home after the Shoah.
Now, what if at the time when Nachman Klar first lost his job, he decided to sue his new boss? What if he started ranting about his terrible fate? It’s easy to imagine what someone in his position could say:
“God, after keeping your Torah so faithfully and in such poverty, this is what you do to me? My family and I have cared and provided for our fellow Jews—Your beloved children—with such sacrifice and dedication! And this is our reward?”
Wouldn’t it be understandable had he complained about the unfair treatment—“Why doesn’t the father say anything to convince his son to keep me on the payroll? He knows how hard I work and how much I need this job!”—or decried the character of the younger generation: “Oy, this young man doesn’t care about work ethic or loyalty; no one understands why he fired me!”
I think most of us would feel that such statements would’ve been completely justified. After all, they were true. Firing Nachman Klar truly wasn't fair. It wasn't rational.
Yet being fired was the impetus to get the family to Eretz Yisrael before Germany was even a threat to the rest of Europe.
In 1933, Hitler had only just come to power and the boycott he’d launched against the Jews didn't really take hold and what did take hold only lasted for one day because the German people just weren’t into it. By the time the Klars actually left Hungary in 1934, the Nazis were still discriminating collectively: not only against the Jews, but against anyone they deemed unfit for society.
In fact, concentration camps and prisons at that time were being filled with mostly non-Jews—union leaders, political opponents, Communists, habitual thieves, homeless vagrants (and anyone else labeled “socially deviant”)—and non-Jewish anti-Nazi news outlets were being shut down. Who knew that 10 years later, Nazi troops would arrive in Selish/Vinograd, start off with all sorts of persecutions, cram the Jews into a ghetto, and then liquidate the entire community down to the very last baby?
Had the Klars stayed, they would’ve experienced the increasing discrimination and ominous curfews and then likely died in a gas chamber. Even if one or two of them had survived, they’d have continued with a life haunted by nightmares and suffering.
But just imagine how long it took for them to realize exactly how lucky they were.
Oh, certainly, they realized at least some of their good fortune upon arriving in Eretz Yisrael, which had only been a dream until then. But it would have been years before they truly understood how much suffering and tragedy they escaped.
Being fired while already in a state of extreme poverty was actually the kindest and most beneficial thing that could happen to Nachman Klar and his family at that time.
But unlike the Klars, we often don't get to see the finale of a particular story in our lives.
Personally, I find it very difficult to feel grateful every time something I don't like happens. It's a struggle each time (but at least I try).
Yet maybe remembering the Klars can give our gratitude-struggle a bit of an extra boost.