This is a story about a kvitel, a little prayer note, that connects five
generations of my family. It connects my great-grandfather, Dov Beirish Weinberg
of Krakow, with my eldest daughter, Ariella Rachel Weinberg of
It is a story about the power of Jewish history, about
survival beyond the Holocaust, and about the Jewish people’s historic return to
the Land of Israel. It happened only five years ago.
Shortly after the
passing in 2006 of my father, MK Prof. Henry H. (Zvi Meir) Weinberg, of blessed
memory, my brothers and I were digging through the voluminous papers and books
in his Jerusalem apartment.
Among his religious books we discovered a
first-edition copy of Pardes Mordechai (a volume of Torah commentary written by
my step-grandfather Rabbi Mordechai Wulliger and published in 1928 in Munkatch,
Inside the faded book, my father had stashed documents in
neatly labeled envelopes, like a filing cabinet. Clearly, he wanted us to find
these papers. One of the envelopes had a red tab on it, and was labeled “The
‘new’ cemetery in Krakow.”
Inside that envelope, I found a photo of my
great-grandfather’s gravestone in Krakow. I had seen the photograph before,
since my father had traveled to Poland with Prime Minister Netanyahu in 1998,
and had searched for hours through the vast, ancient, partly destroyed and
overgrown “new Jewish cemetery” in Krakow until he found the gravestone of his
This find was of enormous importance to my father, since he
had fled Krakow together with his father and siblings on Saturday night,
September 2, 1939, and lost many members of the family to the Nazi Holocaust. He
viewed his aliya, his election to Knesset (in 1996, as a representative of Natan
Sharansky’s Yisrael B’Aliya party), and the fact that all his children and
grandchildren were living alongside him in Israel, as a kind of
A victory over Hitler.
Most interestingly, inside
that envelope stuffed into the old book was also a makeshift map of the Krakow
cemetery, sketched out by my father, with instructions on how to find Dov
Beirish Weinberg’s grave. Even more surprisingly, attached to the map was a
kvitel (a prayer note, of the type that is often scribbled, folded and tucked
into the crevices of the Western Wall in Jerusalem. There is a tradition to also
leave such notes at the graves of ancestors).
The kvitel was a prayer for
the health of an ill relative. Attached to it was a handwritten request: “Please
deliver this kvitel to the grave of my grandfather.”
astonishing! A last request from our father, sending us on a mission to the
grave of our great-grandfather. A last request, so carefully mapped out and left
conspicuously behind for us to find.
Here is the rub: That day – the day
I found the book, the photo, the map, the kvitel, and the request – was a mere
four days before my daughter Ariella was scheduled to leave with her high school
class on a heritage trip to Poland and Krakow.
Four days! Could my father
have known? Could this merely be coincidence? I have never believed it
Furthermore, I have never believed it just happenstance that Ariella
was “chosen” for this mission. Ariella Rachel was my father’s oldest and
favorite grandchild, named after his mother, Rachel Weinberg of Krakow. Ariella
and her zeidy (Yiddish for grandfather) had a special relationship. Ariella was
now on a mission for her zeidy, to her greatgreat- grandfather’s grave in
Krakow, to deliver the kvitel.
Breaking away from her class to make a
personal side-trip to the cemetery in Krakow was not easy. It required approval
by the Israeli security team that accompanies each Israeli class in Poland, the
accompaniment of a teacher, and special transportation arrangements. And there
wasn’t much time, either to visit the cemetery or to search for the
But using zeidy’s map, which was extraordinarily accurate, Ariella
succeeded in her mission. She quickly found the grave of Dov Beirish Weinberg,
and delivered the kvitel. Then she placed photos of our family on the
gravestone, and lit 10 candles shaped into the Hebrew word chai
“What should I do if I get to the grave?” Ariella had asked me
at Ben- Gurion Airport before she left for Poland.
“Well,” I answered,
“you deliver the kvitel.
Then you can say Psalms. And then you can say to
Dov Beirish: ‘Hi! I’m your great-great-granddaughter! The family survived
Hitler, and I live in the sovereign state of the Jewish people, in Israel!” And
so she did.
Upon her return to Israel, Ariella excitedly showed me photos
from the cemetery in Krakow. “I wish I could show these to zeidy and tell him
that I made it to Dov Beirish’s grave with the kvitel,” she told
"Don’t worry,” I replied. “I’m sure that zeidy already knows....”