Leah carried no title, no yichus, no fame, and her husband was a God-fearing working man who took seriously the times he set aside for Torah-learning.
She never gave shiurim nor wrote a book.
She never did anything obviously heroic.
With quiet wisdom, she raised a frum family in a mixed Israeli neighborhood in a small, clean apartment.
She was just a nice older lady who lived down the block.
But I soon discovered that Leah possessed a greatness beyond comprehension.
Leah once told me, “Love is the most important thing in the world. I was in Auschwitz. Auschwitz was the product of hate. Auschwitz taught me the importance of love.”
Then she continued to talk about love, love, love. And how hate must be avoided at all costs. And she was adamant about avoiding anger.
“We must love everyone. There is something to love in every person.”
Yet at the same time, Leah wasn’t superficial about love.
She never showed approval nor turned a blind eye to bad behavior; instead, her face glowed with concern as she pondered the best way to handle things.
Once, she took me aside, put her hand on my arm, and quietly said, “I know you’re a very fine girl. I really like you. But other people who don’t know you might get the wrong impression because of the slit in your skirt. I know how to sew really well and I can just sew it up for you in a way that looks nice. I’d be happy to do it; it would be no bother. Please understand, I don’t look down on you at all. I see that you are a very fine, tzanua girl. I just don’t want other people who don’t know you like I do to get the wrong impression.”
And she meant it. I felt like she genuinely cared about me.
Though Leah was the real deal, don’t think that she received the appreciation she deserved.
No, that doesn't happen in This World.
Even the people who considered her a tzaddeikes were just as prone to brush off her adherence to basic halacha as “stringent” or consider her determination to love and avoid anger as an endearing quirk.
Yes, these same people chuckled at her affectionately and waved off her advice, just as they would a child.
One "frum" yet proudly modern person even teased Leah about how Leah would lovingly warn single girls not to allow themselves to be “exploited” before they were married.
Leah would just look at these people, clearly measuring the best way to respond. Often, there was nothing for her to do but shrug and sigh, then renew her resolve and soldier on. She knew Hashem was in charge. She’d carried out her responsibility and the rest was up to Him.
Even this person’s making light of basic halacha was from Hashem.
That’s right. Hashem is in charge. Why should she ever give in to anger or hate?
The fact that a survivor of genocide was so normal, so humble, and so emotionally healthy is a testament to the profound depth of Leah’s emuna.
The person Leah loved most was her husband, Aharon. When he died after a long illness, Leah made sure she said, “Baruch Dayan Emes” before bursting into tears.
As we are bitterly aware, Auschwitz was a place permeated with the horrifying smell of burning Jews, a place that never gave a moment’s respite from the worst torture and death, a place where even the most helpless Jewish baby was considered a verminous threat that must be exterminated at all costs.
We can only imagine how many terrible decrees were canceled, how many dinim were sweetened, and how many miracles were wrought sheerly by the unwavering conviction of this quiet Jewish survivor that Auschwitz was a lesson in the importance of love.