Reclaiming Memories

Reclaiming Memories

By Rabbi Dani Staum

 This past week, I attended the Torah Umesorah convention on Thursday and Friday. As I was driving up to the convention, it reminded me of my trip to the convention last year. In May 2016, I also attended the convention, but had to come home on Thursday night.

As I wrote a few months ago, in March last year we were stunned to find out that we were expecting twins.

We subsequently found out that our twins had a serious condition called TTTS (Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome).

Our doctor had us transfer to Columbia Hospital, and our first appointment was the Friday morning in May of the Torah Umesorah Convention.

The next week, we had to make a grueling decision whether to undergo a procedure that would sever the connections between the babies in utero with a laser. The procedure is currently only performed in four hospitals in the United States: in San Francisco, Cincinnati, Philadelphia (CHOP), and Columbia in Manhattan. Our doctor in Columbia felt that we should proceed, but since it wasn’t absolutely clear that it was necessary (and because it posed its own risks) he told us that we had to decide.

It was the most difficult half hour of our lives. It was an incredibly arduous decision to have to make under pressure – one that affected the lives of our unborn babies.

We consulted with Rav Dovid Cohen, and our rav, Rabbi Chaim Schabes, and we were advised to proceed.

We then had to wait to see if it was successful. It was a very difficult few months, with bi-weekly appointments fraught with anxiety.

And then, eight months ago, on 6 Elul 5776 (September 9, 2016) our beautiful twins were born healthy, a minute apart from each other. Eight days later, b’chasdei Hashem, the brisim were bi’zman.

In his Haggadah, Rav Avigdor Nebenzhal shlita asks why klal Yisrael were commanded to eat Maror at the first national Seder, in Mitzrayim, the night before the redemption. It’s understandable that such a reminder was necessary for future generations. However, did they really need a symbolic reminder of the painful servitude they had endured, and barely survived, when they were still in the land of their oppression?

Rav Nebenzhal answers that the bitter enslavement ended six months before the redemption. Six months is more than enough time for the human mind to begin to forget what has occurred. Even in Egypt they needed a symbol to help them focus on how far they had come, and what they had suffered through.

When my Bubby – she should live and be well – would recount some of the travails she endured during World War II, including time spent in Siberia, she would quip that she felt as if she was talking about someone else. It was hard to remember that she herself had actually lived through such terrible times.

My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, relates that he was a young boy living in Chicago in 1948, when the state of Israel was declared. Shortly after the declaration, there was a rally in Chicago Stadium. Many of his rebbeim, who could have hardly been called Zionists, were present at that rally, and when they raised the Israeli flag, they wept along with everyone else.

The only way to not lose that sense of reality is by being conscious of it, and trying to maintain the original emotions we felt

Rabbi Wein would lament that later generations cannot relate to the emotions of back then. By now, it has all become politicized, with the main focus on whether you say Hallel or Tachanun on Yom HaAtzmaut. But the feelings of humility and gratitude to Hashem for the miracles witnessed in the War of Independence, as well as the gift of Eretz Yisrael, are largely lost.

I just read the book “28 Iyar” by Rabbi Emanuel Feldman. It is his personal diary from 1967, when his family spent a year in Eretz Yisrael.

The book provides a small glimpse into the incredible tension and anxiety that wracked the country before the Six-Day War, as well as the unbelievable euphoria that was felt by the uncanny miraculous victories, including the reunification of Yerushalayim.

In regard to those events, too, we are so far removed and can hardly feel a proper sense of hakaras ha’tov for what we take for granted, such as being able to visit and daven at the Kosel, Kever Rachel, and M’aras HaMachpeilah.

For us personally, eight months later, we surely delight and can’t get enough of the twin brachos that Hashem endowed us with. However, it’s so easy to forget the extent of how much gratitude we should have for them, and really for all of our children, and all the blessings Hashem granted, and grants us constantly.

Are those twins really the same beings that were once Baby A and Baby B, for whom we were so worried, and for whom we davened so many t’filos?

Eight months is ample time to obscure our collective memory. The only way to not lose that sense of reality is by being conscious of it, and trying to maintain the original emotions we felt.

Intellectual memory is only a bunch of facts. It’s the endemic emotions that bring those memories to life, and grant them long-lasting meaning.

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is the Rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead, as well as guidance counselor and fifth-grade rebbe in ASHAR, and Principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor. He can be reached at His website is