In 1943, in the town of Gutschein,
Germany, the Luria family welcomed their firstborn son into the world with
But the joy was short lived. Just
a few hours later, the Nazis rounded up the town’s Jewish population, the
Lurias among them, and herded them into cattle cars bound for the concentration
camps in the East.
Miriam Luria held her little
bundle tightly in the dank, cramped car, desperate to save him from discovery
and certain death. She had a few pills with her, and she placed them in the
baby’s mouth, hoping that the overdose would cause him to sleep silently.
Days later, the train came to a
jarring halt. They had arrived in Auschwitz.
Starved and dazed, the Jews of
Gutschein joined the line for selektzia, the selection determining who
was suitable for slave labor and who was destined for the gas chambers.
Miriam was young and able bodied,
and she drew a breath of relief as she passed the selection. On her back,
hidden deep inside a sling, her baby boy slept on, blissfully unaware of the
cruel world into which he had been born.
Miriam knew that if her baby
remained in the camp he would certainly be discovered. Soon she saw her chance.
Passing close to the electric fence surrounding the camp, she noticed a
kind-looking peasant on the other side. With a prayer on her lips, she threw
him her backpack.
The kind man felt sorry for the
child and promised to do what he could. He kept his word, and shortly
thereafter brought the tiny Luria to an orphanage for gentiles.
Miraculously, both Miriam and her
husband survived and were liberated from the camps at the end of the war. They
immediately began to comb Europe, trudging from one orphanage to another in
search of their precious son. Each negative reply pushed them deeper into
But they did not give up. After
years of false leads, they followed a tip to Paris, where they found their
little bundle, now a five-year-old boy.
The family emigrated to Australia
soon after being reunited. As Miriam put it, they wanted “to be as far away
from Europe as possible.” At the same time, they did their best to erase any
trace of the Jewish identity that had been the cause of so much suffering. They
named their son Alex and never told him that he was a Jew.
Alex was never taken to a
synagogue. He only learned that he was Jewish from his classmates, who mocked
Once, Miriam brought her son to a
rabbi, hoping that he would be able explain the mystery of Judaism. But “he
didn’t really explain anything,” Alex said, “He just gave me all the right
reasons why they hate me…”
This summer, a friend and I
travelled through central Australia in a motor home loaded with Jewish supplies
and enough kosher food to last for several weeks. We were on a mission for
Chabad of Rural and Regional Australia (RARA), searching for Jews who could use
some Jewish inspiration.
Thumbing through the white pages
in Ballarat, Victoria, we noticed the name “Luria.” How did the name of one of
the noblest rabbinic families in Jewish history end up in the Ballarat
phonebook? We took note of the address and decided to try our luck.
A man who appeared to be about 70
answered our knock, and we explained that we were rabbis travelling through the
outback visiting Jewish people.
Alex proudly affixing a mezuzah to his door.
Alex’s face lit up. “The
Christians were coming after me for a long time to try to convert me, and I
would never listen. But I always wished that the Jewish community, my people,
would reach out to me in the same way,” he said.
During our visit, Alex put on tefillin
for the first time in his life and placed a mezuzah on his doorpost. As
we were about to leave, Alex stopped us: “My father always told me that I was a
descendant of a rabbi named Isaac Luria,” he said. “Ever heard of him?”
Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534-1572),
known as the “Arizal,” was one of the greatest Kabbalists of all time. His
writings form the basis of almost all later mystical works.
Needless to say, we saved Alex’s
phone number and promised to keep in touch.
As we drove away, we couldn’t
help thinking that the Arizal must have had immense satisfaction from seeing
his descendant reconnect to his heritage. It had been a very long journey, but
Alex Luria was finally on his way home.