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The Miracle of Conincidence

Jonah and the Golden Dove


"What is the theme of the Book of Job?"  With a gruff voice, Irving Rifkin addressed his sixth grade class of eighteen entirely bored students of Judaism. In most ways, it seemed like any other Saturday morning at Central B'nai Synagogue.  The temple was located in a quiet residential neighborhood outside New York City in the suburbs of an affluent community on Long Island.  Mr. Rifkin had just turned fifty.  He wore his usual long sleeve light blue dress shirt, a brown and blue striped bowtie, a pair of chocolate brown slacks, and a pair of cordovan shoes that sorely needed a good polishing and some lubricant to stop their squeeking. 

Without contesting the decision, Jonah willingly accepted expulsion from the religious school following Rifkin's recommendation to the synagogue's president. Without anger, Jonah?s father and mother did not fight against his expulsion. Discreetly his parents agreed that it might be for the best.

The year was nearly over when Jonah's Grandfather, Moshe Goldstein, asked him what had happened. Learning about Jonah?s encounter, Moshe became incensed with Rifkin's mistreatment of his beloved Grandson. A week later, his Grandfater met with the Synagogue?s president and the Rabbi.
It was 1959 late in December. The electric heater had two settings - off and on. The room was stifling hot. A sports jacket, dress slacks, shirt, and tie were mandatory attire for the boys; skirts, dress blouses, and stockings for the girls. Wiping off the sweat gathering on his brow, Rifkin took off his soggy jacket and rolled up his sleeves. His right hairy forearm exposed three dark numbers that the Nazis had burned deep into his skin.
It was the evening of the year's first snowfall, the Sabbath candles were flickering on the dinner table, when the Gestapo broke open the front door.  With their machine guns cocked, the young Nazis pulled Irving and his family away from the dinner table and forced them to the streets, where there were hundreds of other impromptu abductions in progress. Irv, his wife -Julia, and nine-year-old daughter, Anne, boarded the tightly packed truck parked outside their home. Hauling off its human cargo, the truck roared down the street. Squeezed tightly into the wire mesh and dark green canvas, the white faces and dark, tear-filled eyes disappeared into the snowy night.
The dreadful rumor had become reality; almost a year had passed since Hitler began rounding up the Jews. Inside the barbwire fences of Dachau, the truck unloaded. The soldiers efficiently classified the new prisoners and separated Irv from his daughter and wife. The sound of their screams still echoed endlessly in his ears. Some of the Jews became the unwilling participants in hideous medical experiments, some - for the sexual gratification of the Nazi officers, a few -for their valuable skills, and the majority were marked for immediate execution.
"Who is this man - Rifkin? Why should he kick my Grandson? Because he didn't like his questions?   I'll glue his fat ass to the pew when I find him. This, I promise; God forgive me! I am a survivor of Auschwitz; do you think I have not asked these questions too? Who here has the right to stand in the way of my Grandson's Bar Mitzvah day? Let me see someone here answer Jonah's questions? Have you not asked the same questions? If God gave him the right to think and ask them, who has the right to punish him?"
The Rabbi and the president of the synagogue apologized after hearing the full story. Admitting that his attitudes towards teaching and his students were sorely lacking, Mr. Rifkin immediately resigned from teaching and returned to his original career. He left a short note for the Rabbi to give to Jonah which read: "I don't have the answers to your questions about Job and I am sorry for my behavior; it was not fair to you."
 Irv Rifkin was a jeweler, an excellent craftsman, and a good businessman. Before Hitler came to power, he had provided a good living for his wife and daughter. During that time, he taught his daughter the jewelry business. Those were good days, he often reflected.  At first, it seemed terrifying to return to his profession. The first piece of jewelry Irv created was a gold dove with an olive branch hanging from its beak.   Five tiny emeralds mounted with a setting of four delicate gold prongs made up the leaves of the olive bough.   Irv went to work for a well-known Jeweler in Manhattan.  Six years later in 1968, he opened his own shop in Queens, where he lived nearby in a one-room apartment. His business prospered.

When the Nazis surrendered seven years later, the Allied and American troops discovered the horrors of Dachau, Auschwitz, and the other infamous death camps. Lieutenant Colonel Lewis Weinstein, chief of the liaison section of General Eisenhower's staff, approached the entrance to Dachau. The four-star general leaned over and vomited at the sight of the victims- some still living, some dead. General Patton held his head with one hand, his stomach with the other. Witnessing the most wretched site of human cruelty that he had ever seen, Lt. Col. Weinstein became ill, as well. After regaining his composure, Weinstein urged the General to send immediate cables to President Roosevelt, Churchill, and DeGaulle urging others to come witness the indescribable. Eisenhower responded promptly.

"I have never felt able to describe my emotional reaction when I first came face to face with indisputable evidence of Nazi brutality and ruthless disregard of every shred of decency... I visited every nook and cranny of the camp because I felt it my duty to be in a position from then on to testify at first hand about these things in case there ever grew up at home the belief or assumption that the stories of Nazi brutality were just propaganda," General Eisenhower wrote in a letter to Chief of Staff, George Marshall on April 12, 1945.
Among the living corpses, waiting for death's reprieve was Irving Rifkin.  He had seen the bewildered faces of the General and the top brass.  Two medics carried Irv by stretcher from the confines of Dachau. His wife and daughter had vanished nearly seven years before without any trace of their existence left behind.  On the first snowfall of every year since, Rifkin looked up to the silent gray skies above to ask God,  why?

Standing before his class, he remembered the weather forecast that he had heard on his drive to school earlier that morning. The weathermen were predicting six inches of snow beginning in the late afternoon. Rifkin waited impatiently hoping for one student to answer his question on the book of Job. The sight of an innocent group of children untouched by tragedy provoked his tormented soul that was still caught in Dachau despite the twenty-two years that had elapsed.

"Come on - give me a break today. What is the theme in the Book of Job?" Knowing that they had not searched for the elusive theme, some of the students opened their notebooks making sure to display their pages of scribble and meaningless conjecture.
"Would someone - anyone, please tell us what the theme is. Isn't there one of you - just one of you who can give me an answer today?Someone, answer me. Answer me." He shrieked. Rifkin grew angrier. Some students turned their notebooks to an unrelated page only pretending to have completed their homework.  Jonah Solomon, a thin student with dark curly hair sitting in the corner of the room pulled from his pocket a piece of folded paper that he held in his hands.

"This was your homework. Why don't I see a hand raised?"  

What idiot would volunteer? Jonah thought to himself shaking his head in disbelief.

Rifkin paused for nearly a minute staring with annoyance at Jonah?s folded paper. Like a lion pacing inside his lonely cage, he crossed the room searching for an easy victim to maul. Schlepping his noisey shoes against the gritty linoleum floors, he spoke again - first softly and controlled until it degenerated into snarling growls and shouts.

 "Job had lost nearly everything - everything! Sickness ...despair ... incapable of accepting his losses... incapable of accepting his grief, he could do nothing - nothing!  So, he talked to God searching desperately for an answer. Whom else could he complain to but to God, Almighty? He pleaded for mercy - for understanding, but neither came.   Job explained to God that he had lived a righteous life - that he had kept the Sabbath and had followed the laws of the Torah. Don't I deserve better than this? What have I done? Why me? Why me? Why have you, the mightiest of all, the holiest of the holy; why have you forsaken me"? 

Rifkin's eyes scanned the room. Jonah Solomon looked down at his folded paper hoping to conceal its contents.

"Job surrendered to his confusion. How could he, a mortal being of finite intelligence, expect to understand God's mysterious ways? After a long dialogue with God, Job admitted his ignorance and blindly accepted God's will.   And then, his herds of oxen and sheep grew strong and multiplied. His barren land turned fertile yielding an abundance of fruits, as never before. He had become richer - richer even than he was before his tragic losses.

"Now take out your pencils and write this down." Rifkin recited the theme demanding that everyone write each word exactly as he spoke them: "We are not capable ... we are not capable of understanding the intricate doings of God! We are not capable of understanding the intricate doings of God! We are not capable! Not capable!" As he finished his raving, Jonah jotted down another sentence on the blank side of his folded page.  

"What am I doing here in religious school every Saturday morning, if not to learn more about God?"  Jonah added the question to his paper.

"Yes, Mr. Solomon. Did you write down the theme?"

"Yes, I did ? but it makes no sense to me.?

"Well Mr. Solomon, please read to us your opinion from that folded piece of paper that you've been fondling with such great care all morning."

"Alright. I asked God some questions too, but I haven't received any answers yet."  The students in the room laughed and then immediately stopped, as Mr. Rifkin's eyes scanned each of their faces.

"The theme, which I'm supposed to accept states: we are not capable of understanding the intricate doings of God.   If I've come here to learn more about God, my understanding should improve; wouldn't you think?  But, this tells me that I shouldn't even try.   Why would an all-powerful God, all knowing, loving God need to teach Job faithfulness by punishing him?  Why would a loving, all-powerful God bring death, illness, and poverty? I pray to God and He never replies; but Job is able to have long conversations. Why did God show his miracles only to those who lived two thousand years ago? Where are God's miracles now? Where were God's miracles during the Holocaust? If we are not capable of understanding the intricate doings of God then what are we doing here every Saturday morning"?

Jonah's classmates roared with laughter until Rifkin's angry eyes turned on them one by one. Silence reigned again. Rifkin's face burned red.

"Get out! Get out! Get out!? Rifkin screamed. He opened the door slamming it against the wall and then kicked Jonah in the pants, as he crossed over the threshold of the door.

Inscribed in gold leaf lettering on his storefront window he displayed his business name:
 "Rifkin's Fine Jewelry," with the etching of the gold dove. On her last birthday, Irv had given his wife, Julia, a gold chain with the gold dove carrying an olive bough.   In remembrance of his wife, he was proud to display the picture of the gold dove.  One night just before closing up, the door buzzed.  A pretty, middle-aged woman entered his shop.

"I was just about ready to lock-up and so now I can give you my undivided attention. What can I do for you, young lady?" 

 He asked as he turned around with a smile on his face.

"Irving Rifkin? Are you Mr. Rif - Papa? Papa, is that you?" Irv stared  silently and grabbed his face with both hands.

"Oh my God, Anne, Anne. Oh God?" He took off his glasses and stepped down from behind his counter.  In awe, he peered through his eyes that were welling up with tears.

"Yes Papa, it's me, Anne." Cupping her head closely to his, Irv embraced her as she hugged him tightly. Wiping his eyes, he stood back and gazed at herr.  She was a woman - nearly forty. She was ten when the Nazis had taken her away.

"I thought you were ..."

"Yes Papa, yes.  I thought the same."  Wiping a tear that rolled down her cheek, she bobbed her head to agree.

"Is your mother ..."

"No, Papa. No Papa.  A few weeks after they came for us, she caught pneumonia and died during the night." Irv shook his head and smiled;  "Oh my God ? this is a miracle. You?re alive. You're here - standing here with me. You look so pretty, like your - just like your mother."

"Thank you, Papa. I knew you had always wanted to come to America and not long after the liberation I came to New York to begin looking for you. I thought you'd go to New York City, because of your jewelry and that's what brought me to New York."  I thought you might be here. When Mom got sick with the pneumonia, she gave me her best friend?s phone number and address - you know Bev Simon... and her husband, Joel."  Irv nodded.

"They took me in for a few years  and while I was taking classes, I met Allen, my husband."

"I also made inquiries with all the local and foreign agencies to help find any records of you and your mother, but there were none. The Nazis destroyed most of  those files dating back to 1937; they knew they were going to be tried for war crimes.  And, with all the death I had seen around me, I thought you were among them.

Oh my God, you have grown into such a beautiful woman. When I saw you, the first thing I noticed was that you have your mother's eyes ... and just as tall too."

"Papa you have a Granddaughter. Her name is Julie. She's seventeen. Julie is in college at New York University majoring in journalism. I married a wonderful man; I'm sure you'll like Allen. He's a chef at a fine restaurant in Forest Hills - not far from where we live. I saw the picture of the dove and the logo of the dove in your window when I crossed the street. I have the dove you had given Mama for her birthday. Look here; I usually wear it!"  She parted the lapel on her blouse and pulled out the gold chain that she wore around her neck.

"Who else could it be? I said to myself in shock. And, when I saw ? Rifkin!" She placed her open hand upon her chest.

"Years ago I gave-up looking in the phone books and the papers for Jewelers. When did you open your shop?"

"After the war, I came to the States and went into teaching. I taught high school math and on Saturday mornings, I taught Judaism at the Synagogue.  I left teaching and went to work for a Jeweler in Manhattan.   Big operation this guy -Sy Goodman has. I saved up some money and then opened this shop in 1960. I don?t believe it! Let me lock up the shop so we can talk more."

"How did you get this dove?"

"I worked in the commandant's office in Dachau; because I knew numbers and jewelry they had me doing some of the bookkeeping and appraising the jewlery confiscated from the new prisoners ... you know.

Wait until you meet Julie. She always asks me to get her a gold dove to wear around her neck...especially because of her activities with the peace movement and her opposition to the war in Vietnam. Why did you go into teaching?"

"When I came here from Germany, I wanted nothing to do with my old life. I had nothing left but grief and then it also hurt to see children who were your age. Their innocent lives often reminded me about the childhood I thought you had lost - the life that I had lost too."

One Saturday morning I was teaching about Job. We had been studying the Book of Job for two weeks. I had no patience. I demanded that the class write down the theme on a piece of paper. I recited it: we're not capable of understanding the intricate doings of God. I yelled a lot. I felt like a miserable crank; I was a miserable crank!
This one student, Jonah...Jonah Solomon; I still remmeber his name.  He asked some upsetting  questions - questions I that I was too afraid and too angry to answer.  Questions I tried to answer myself, but couldn't. This little kid, Jonah, disagreed with the theme of Job. I still remember what this little kid said when he started talking: 'I asked God some questions too, but I haven?t received any answers yet.' That alone got me going.  He wrote down several questions."
"What are we doing here in religious school every Saturday morning, if not to learn more about God's ways? Why would a loving, omnipotent God, an all knowing God need to punish anyone to teach them faithfulness? Why would an all-powerful, loving God bring death, illness, and poverty? Why did God show his miracles only to those who lived over two thousand years ago? 

 Where was God during the holocaust"?

I was so angry with this kid that I kicked him out of the classroom and had him suspended.  I was really angry at God.  I resigned and apologized. I was wrong.  I had the same questions and could not answer them myself.   I suppose ... if it  wasn't for Jonah and his questions about Job, we may never have met again; you know what I mean?"

"Yes Papa ? If it wasn?t for Jonah and the gold dove..."