Thessaloniki. Once referred to as the "Mother of Israel," its Jewish population of sixty thousand had been slashed to one thousand by the ravages of the Holocaust.
As we were walking in the streets of Thessaloniki, visiting the Jewish store owners, a local Greek man asked us to come into his shop. He then proceeded to tell us an amazing story:
"My mother was a Christian woman who lived in Thessaloniki during the Second World War. She lived next door to a Jewish couple who were desperately trying to escape the Nazi butchers. Seeing their distress, she hid them in her attic for a full year until the war was over.
"After the war, the Jewish couple could find no way to express their gratitude to my mother. The Jewish woman decided to give her benefactor her most precious possession: a rolled up piece of parchment, which she said had been passed down in her family for many generations.
"My mother treasured this scroll, and before she died, she gave it to me."
He asked us to come again the next day when he would show us his treasured heirloom. We returned the next day and discovered that the precious gift was a Hebrew amulet, written by a Kabbalist many years ago. The Kabbalist had written that the amulet would serve to protect a Jewish woman and her family in the future.
Well, it sure did serve its purpose admirably!
As we continued from city to city, we were constantly reminded of the horrors of the Holocaust. Towns which had once been flourishing centers of Judaism now contained few Jews.
Many of these towns, some with just fifty Jews, make great efforts to gather together for Shabbat services on Friday night.
From door to door we went, visiting the young and old. It was painful to see the tears falling from the eyes of the Holocaust survivors, as they spoke about the glorious past, when the streets and synagogues were filled with their family and friends. However, often they became tears of happiness as we discussed their love of Israel and their strong devotion to Judaism.