There are certain occasions that demand celebration. Bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings, and holidays are the normal and regular situations that require parties, feasts, or festivals. However, turning 100 years old is a joyous occasion that few can attest to. The celebrated centenarian is my husband’s mom, my mother-in-law, Mindl Perl Orner. On Sunday, January 13, most of her 23 great-grandchildren, eight grandchildren, and three sons will be rejoicing during “Bubby Orner’s 100 Years Loved Brunch.”
Complete with dozens and dozens of pink roses, white and silver lace cloths, and a lavish multi-tiered birthday cake, the party won’t even reflect a minor percentage of the love her family has for this very special birthday girl!
As last week parshah, V’eirah, and this week’s parshah, Bo, recount the remaining 10 makos that Hashem inflicted on Egypt, the Maaseh Nisim explains that each of these makos were a symbol vis-à-vis each of the 10 creations of the world as detailed in Parshas Bereishis. For Egypt was then the superpower in the planet, and Hashem signified that though as the only Creator of the world, He could create water and then take it away by converting it into blood (makas dam). And so on for each of the creations and the makah equivalent. And the 10th and last makah of makas bechoros was against the creation of life in human beings, as Adam was only created after all of the other creations, as stated in Parshas Bereishis. And this coming week we read and hear Parshas Bo, which talks about makas bechoros. Hashem creates life and He also takes life away. For my mother-in-law, it is a celebration that, baruch Hashem, Mindl Perl has the zechus of Hashem providing her with the honor and opportunity of celebrating this very special birthday.
Her story begins as Mindl Perl H., born 100 years ago in Sosnowiec, Poland. This city is situated in Silesia Uplands, on the banks of Czarna Przemsza River and its tributary Brynica River, about 50 miles north of the city of Krakow.
As the first daughter of five children in a chasidish family (Jurike), she attended Bais Yaakov in her town in Poland. In September of 1939, as World War II and the Nazi regime took hold of the country of Poland, the Jewish population had been gathered in ghettos. When the Sosnowiec’ ghetto was being liquidated and terminated, Mindl Perl was taken first to the work concentration camps of Peterswaldah in 1941 and then Blechammer in Germany in 1943, where she survived as a cook in the Nazi officers’ staff kitchen. Before she had been shipped out, her mother “hot zie git gebentched” (she blessed her well) that she should be protected, as her mother was a daughter of the chasidishe rabbi in a shul in Katowice who had been taught limudei kodesh and followed a pious life pursuing tzedakah and hachnasas orchim. Her mother’s brachah was such a cloak of protection in that it blinded the Nazis as to Mindl Perl’s missing index finger in her right hand, which she had amputated when she was a girl. The Nazis did not allow people with physical defects to be part of their slave working camps, and instead such victims were shipped to death camps. While at the two concentration camps where she worked in the kitchen, she gladly sacrificed her own meals in order to smuggle food out to feed 36 women who were starved through the cruel and inhuman tactics of the Third Reich’s elimination process of Polish Jewry.
Among the only survivors in her family, she carried on her life after the war with her husband, Moshe Orner. Living in Heidelberg, Germany, she utilized her knowledge of the kitchen to find work at the UNRA.
In 1952, Mina and Moshe Orner, along with their then-two sons, Irving (Yisroel) and Hersch, moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina. She was already fluent in four languages, and Spanish was her next linguistic challenge. There the couple and their growing family (another son was born, my husband Felipe) thrived within the Jewish community. Coupled with overseeing a sweater factory and export chemical business, she was always involved in Jewish organizations and philanthropy and aided in kashrus program in her sons’ school, Heichal HaTorah. In 1974, Mindl Perl and her husband moved to Kew Gardens Hills, joined by their sons who had previously arrived in the USA and became American right in the heart of the Jewish community of Queens, New York. Mindl Perl continued her involvement in Jewish causes with Rebbitzen Shoenfeld, z”l, with aiding hachnasas kallah programs along with Rosh Chodesh seudos together with the mispalelim of Rabbi Gelernter’s shul (z”l). She’s watched her family grow into a large and loving group of sons, daughters-in-law, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. She’s groomed, nurtured, adored, and raised doctors, lawyers, CPAs, and engineers and instilled in them yiras shamayim, emunah, and bitachon.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of blessed memory, zt”l, used to celebrate his birthday with great joy and merriment, using the following rationale: When a person is in great danger one day and is saved miraculously, he is obligated to thank G-d for performing that miracle for him each year as that day comes around, and to make what is known as a seudas hoda’ah, a party of thanks. The Rebbe’s wisdom continues with acknowledging the miracle of childbirth, which is the greatest miracle of all. Mindl Perl Orner is a survivor of the Holocaust, which is a miracle upon itself, but she is a champion example of moving past the tragedy into a true celebration of life! One hundred years plus 20 more!
Happy 100th birthday to Bubby Orner, indeed!
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Tobi Rubinstein is a retired fashion and marketing executive of 35 years who currently produces runway and lifestyle events for NYFW, specializing in Israel’s leading artists and designers. She is the founder of The House of Faith N Fashion, fusing culture and Torah. Tobi was a fashion collaboration and guest expert for ABC, Geraldo Rivera, Huffington Post, Lifetime, NBC, Bravo, and Arise. She hosted her own radio and reality TV series. Tobi is a mother, wife, dog owner, and shoe lover.