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The Shabbat that Kept Rose

The Shabbat that Kept Rose


A young girl stood near her father on the quay of a Polish harbor, a steamer trunk at her feet. Out of her nine siblings, twelve-year-old Rose was the child chosen to be sent to the "golden land," America. Life in Poland was hard, hunger a constant visitor in her home. After much scraping and pinching, her family had saved enough for a single one-way ticket to the United States. And Rose, the youngest of the nine, was the lucky one chosen to go.

Her father hoisted the trunk on his shoulder and walked silently, his coattails flapping behind him. Rose could see the effort he was making to keep his emotions in check. The weight of living was apparent on the lines of his face, in the burning sadness of his wise eyes, and in the gray in his beard. His back, however, was ramrod straight, in seeming defiance of his tribulations.

"Don't forget who you are"

With an involuntary sigh, her father dropped the trunk on the deck and turned to his daughter. A gray head bent over an upturned innocent face, as the father gazed deep into his daughter's unclouded eyes. He felt an urge to scream, to protest the cruelty of fate. How he longed to snatch Rose back home, to hold her as he had held her when she was a mere infant. Instead, he laid a trembling hand on her cheek.

"Rose, mein kind (my child), remember: G‑d is watching over you every step of the way. Remember His laws and keep them well. Never forget that more than the Jews have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews. It will be hard in the new land. Don't forget who you are. Keep the Sabbath — no matter what sacrifice you must make."

"Tatte! Tatte!" (Father! Father!)

Rose buried her face in the scratchiness of her father's coat, her slender arms wrapped tightly around him as if to anchor herself to all that was familiar in Poland. Tatte gave another heaving sigh. His straight shoulders bent over his daughter as his tears mingled with hers. A blast from the ship tore the two apart. Tatte bent down and hugged Rose again, squeezing the breath out of her in a hug meant to last a lifetime. Then he turned and walked down the gangplank, a stooped man, finally defeated by life's hardships. As the ship steamed away from the shtetl life of Poland, a fresh sea wind blew on the passengers preparing to start life anew.

For Rose, the journey was crammed with questions and uncertainty. Would her relatives really extend a welcome to her, or was she to be all alone in the new land? How frightening was the thought of a new life without her loved ones. As the ship made its entrance into New York harbor, the passengers stood plastered against the railing, shouting and clapping as they saw the "new land." Rose stood aside, shy and unsure. Would the new land fulfill its promise of hope, freedom, and riches? Would her relatives meet her there — or was she now homeless?

Rose did not have long to worry. Her relatives were waiting for her, solicitous of their "greenhorn" cousin. She was soon safely ensconced in their home. With her mature appearance and demeanor, it was not long before Rose found a job as a sewing machine operator.

Life in America was new and strange. Polish mannerisms were quickly shed — along with religion. Modesty, keeping kosher, and Torah were abandoned, together with the outmoded clothing and accent. Rose's relatives insisted religion was "old-fashioned": an unnecessary accessory in America. Rose, however, never forgot her father's parting words. She put on the new clothes her relatives gave her, cut her hair to suit the fashion, but never gave up on the Sabbath.

Every week without fail, Rose devised a new excuse for her boss to explain why she did not come to work on Saturday. One week she had a toothache, another week her stomach bothered her. After three weeks, the foreman grew wise. He called her over. "Rose," he said in a tone that indicated he only had her welfare in mind. "I like your work, and I like you. But this Sabbath business has got to stop. Either you come in this Saturday, or you can look for a new job."

Upon hearing of this development, Rose's relatives were adamant. Work on Sabbath, she must. They applied pressure; they cajoled, pleaded, and enticed. Rose felt like a leaf caught between heavy gusts of wind, pushed and pulled with no weight or life of its own. She was so young and vulnerable. She wanted to please her relatives. But her father's words kept echoing in her head. What should she do?

The week passed in a daze for Rose. Her emotions were in turmoil. On the one hand, Tatte is not here to help me be strong. I do want to please my new friends. I want friends. I want to fit into this new land, she reasoned. And then just as quickly came another thought: On the other hand, how can I forget Sabbath? How can I give up the beauty Tatte taught me?

"Rose, sweetheart, listen to us. It's for your own good." On and on went her relatives, until Rose's determination wavered.

On Friday, Rose walked to work, lunch bag in hand and head stooped in thought. She sat at her machine throughout the day, listening to the humming of the other machines as she absentmindedly went about her job of mass-producing. Would it be so awful to do this tomorrow as well? Decision time was nearing.

Whirr, bzzz whirr, bzzz. The machine kept tune to Rose's troubled thoughts. What should she do — or was the question, what could she do? As the sun slipped over the parapets of the Lower East Side, Rose knew there was really no question. She was Jewish, and she would keep the Sabbath.

Would it be so awful to do this tomorrow as well?

Sabbath in America was not like the warm day Rose had known at home. This week was the worst yet. She lacked the courage to face her relatives and tell them of her resolve. Instead, she left the house in the morning, pretending to be headed for work. Back and forth through the streets of Manhattan she paced. Together with the city pigeons, she rested in Tompkin's Square Park. "Tatte, this song is for you," she whispered. The pigeons ruffled their feathers. "Yonah matz-ah bo manoach" ("on it [the Sabbath] the dove found rest..."). There she sat among the pigeons, singing the traditional Sabbath songs, with tears in her eyes and sobs between the verses. When three stars finally peeked out from the black sky announcing the end of Sabbath, the moon shone down on a weary girl and bathed her face in its glow. Rose had triumphed, but her victory would cost her dearly. She had no job and had alienated her family.

"Baruch HaMavdil. . ." (the blessing said upon the departure of the Sabbath). It was time to face the hardness of the world. Rose trudged homeward dreading the nasty scene to come when her relatives learned that she hadn't been to work.

As she neared home, a shout broke into her reverie. "Rose! What . . . what . . . I mean, how are you here? Where were you?"

Rose looked up at her cousin Joe, her expression woebegone.

"Joe, what will become of me? I kept Sabbath and lost my job. Now everyone will be angry and disappointed with me, and oh, Joe, what will I do?" The words tumbled out together with her tears.

Joe looked at her strangely. "Rose, didn't you hear?" he asked gently.

"Hear what?"

"There was an awful fire in the factory. Only forty people survived. There was no way out of the building. People even jumped to their deaths." Joe's voice was hushed, and he was crying openly. "Rosie, don't you see? Because you kept Sabbath, you are alive. Because of your Sabbath, you survived."

Out of 190 workers, Rose Goldstein was among the minority of those who survived. The infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire on Saturday, March 25, 1911, claimed the lives of 146 immigrant workers present. Because it had been Sabbath, Rose Goldstein was not there. As her father had said, more than the Jews keep the Sabbath, the Sabbath keeps the Jews.

From Small Miracles for the Jewish Heart by Yitta Halberstam and Judith Levental
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Rosie's niece Riverdale, NY December 26, 2012

It's true! My husband just shared this story with me via fb. In 2003, my cousins sat in our sanctuary as we named our daughter for their mom, Rose. There is some "poetic license" taken in the story that our cousins shared with us at the Simhat Bat. We were told Tante Rosie sat under the stairs of a nearby house while she awaited the end of what was to have been her first day of work. What's definitely embellished is that my great-grandfather, "Joe," was a very small child whose reaction could have not been more sophisticated than the "*gasp* but you DIED" that we were told he said when his Tante Rosie came home. Thanks for sharing. :) Reply

Ria Coral Springs, FL February 5, 2011

Shabbat Keeping I, too, am Adventist (Jewish Adventist home) and believe keeping Shabbat kept Rose that day.

It doesn't mean that G-d decrees who lives and who dies according to acts, but shows that faith brings us closer to our Maker, allowing us to heed His call. Many hear that voice inside when danger arises and shut it down, doing things that ultimately lead to spiritual demise and, on occassion, physical demise.

Seeking to preserve your life at the risk of destroying your spirit is not what He had in mind when He said to preserve Life at all costs.

What is Life without Spirit?

What is Life without that connection to our Father?

Rose could have easily decided to go in that day in defiance of her upbringing and heart, but the most important loss would not necessarily have been her life.

To deny that is to deny that He is He Who hears prayer and He Who answers prayer. Reply

Judy Resnick Far Rockaway, NY August 25, 2008

Shabbos Keeps, Saves I read a similar true story about a Jew named Sam who was saved by keeping Shabbos. Sam was a top bicyclist, winning races in America. Upset by anti-Semitism, he went to Israel and became an observant Jew. Sam wanted to join the Israeli Olympic team and win a gold medal for Israel in the bicycle race event. However, he could not qualify for the Israeli Olympic team because the tryouts were held on Saturday, and he was now completely Shabbat observant. Dejected, Sam watched as the Israeli Olympic team went off without him to the Olympic Games ... in Munich. That was 1972, and the Black September terrorists made sure that 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team never made it back. So just as Shabbos kept Rose, Shabbat kept Sam. (I believe this is one of Rabbi Krohn's famous Maggid stories, and it supposedly is true). Again, this is not to say that the other Jews died because they didn't keep Shabbat, no one knows why G-d decrees. But keeping Shabbat did save Sam's life. Reply

Goldy Rosenberg August 20, 2008

author weighs in... Yes, for those who ask -- it is a true story. Rose's grandson lives in Monsey, NY. Now, for the worry, does Shabbos mean you will be saved from death when death is decreed? Then how to explain those who die despite keeping Shabbos, etc. There are three messages I would hope folks take from the story -- one -- sacrificing for G-d always gets you more than you sacrificed. two -- we are taught that each good deed we do creates a "defending angel". no, we won't always be saved by our actions, just as every CPR maneuver won't save every life -- but the defense/saving mechanisms are put into place by our actions. Lastly, and most importantly, is the lesson of Hashgacha Pratis -- the world is not random. G-d supervises, looks at and weighs in on every step of our personal lives. Thanks for reading and keeping Rose's sacrifice relevant by discussing. Reply

Nacha Sara Leaf Oak Park, MI via August 18, 2008

The Shabbat that Kept Rose Those who contend that this story is "superstitious" are interpreting it in too concrete and literal a manner. The message that the Shabbos will "keep" those who observe it should be understood on a different level; not on the level of actual physical survival (although Rose in the story did physically survive), but more on a level of spiritual continuity, eternity of the Jewish generations keeping our unique bond with our Creator. The Shabbos is a mitzvah that helps us transcend our mundane existence in this material world. One can sense its profound effect by observing the delight and excitement it engenders in even the youngest of children, who see it as a special day set apart. This observance in the family will set the course for subsequent generations. Reply

Jessica Sydney, NSW October 6, 2007

is this a true story Reply

Anonymous Camarillo, CA via March 30, 2007

9/11 In New York City, September 11, 2001 was scheuled to be a primary election and the first day of school. Some persons who were late to work because they were either voting or taking there children to school had not made it upstairs when the airplanes hit and lived. Those who sent their kids alone and did not vote arrived at work on time and died. Not sure that I like where this is going. Reply

Esther brooklyn, ny July 26, 2006

more info on fire beautiful story...and here is a link to a website dedicated to that fire
if any readers are interested Reply

L J M July 25, 2006

Shabbat Lee Tracey, that is not what this story is saying. That the workers were Jewish only, sets the scene of the time. If it had been a non-Jewish owned facory that Rose didn´t go to on Shabbat, the story should have had the same effect.
A beautifully written tale. Reply

Anonymous July 15, 2006

Play I too, watched the musical performed by the high school of morristown, demonstrating this story quite beautifully thorugh song, drama and dance. it is a beautiful story Reply

Yisrael Moshe Ort Denver, CO March 19, 2006

Shabbat indeed kept Rose [response to Lee Tracy] Is the belief in such clearly miraculous events superstition? Is superstition a literary bypass to more easily dismiss acts of G-d?

Why is the saving of one person by a miracle an implication of the punishment of others? Does the fact that not every Jew was saved somehow reduce the miraculous nature of the event?

If one looks closely at the story, one will notice that it wasn't just the observance of Shabbos that saved Rose. It was b/c Rose did something absolutely against desire or intellect. She was extremely poor and dependendt on her new family. Every bit of desire and intellect said she should go ahead and work.

But she didn't.

Because she acted towards G-d in a way that transcended all nature and logic, she automatically ("naturally") elicited that G-d should act similarly with her. Whatever the natural order of events would have been, no longer applied.

Its not superstitious. Its "naturally" supernatural. Reply

yaffa January 9, 2006

I felt that this story really brought the meaning of shabbas. I really enjoyed it. Reply

Anonymous bklyn, ny March 4, 2005

divine providence I have heard this story before. I also read Lee Tracy's comment.
I understand what you are saying, and I could see how you could come to that thought. I just believe though, that this story is showing us the Hashgacha Protis...Divine Providence....that happens in G-d's world, with His Plan. In this case, G-d's plan for this specific person was to be saved on that day. We all have to learn that some messages are for all of us, and some are for each unique person's experience. Reply

Anonymous Age 11, Syracuse, N.Y. March 1, 2005

A response to the story Rose Goldstein was indeed a heroine. She had a lot of betochon in Hashem. My older sister Leah Rapoport who goes to the Lubavitch school in Moristown, NJ. She did the play last year. Leah taught me a lot (she was raizel/rose, and she did a very good job). My brother and sister knew the story and when they told it to me I was really amazed. I go to the Syracuse Hebrew Day School. And I am the frumest child there. We learn Jewish social studies, and when we learnt about the Eastern europe chassidim we watched the play that Leah did because we learnt how hard it was in America. And we should always stay true to the Torah no matter what! Reply

SZF MONTREAL, QC February 27, 2005

INTRESTING It's a beautiful story & I think you should publicize it a lot more! Reply

Michael Makovi February 27, 2005

Lee Tracy,

I know what you mean. Thinking that following Shabbat will save you from all harm is definately superstitious. (Your bullets can't hurt me! It's Saturday, and I've been keeping Shabbat!)

But how about this? - Another lesson you can get from this story that I don't think violates any Jewish teachings:

While following Shabbat may cause you detriment, whatever rewards (from G-d) you get will outweight the costs (that come from life/society/work/whatever). Reply

Anonymous johannesburg, south africa February 27, 2005

This is a truely amazing story. It has inspired me to continue to love the shabbat as much as I always have! Thank you for continuesly inpiring us through your site Reply

Lee Tracy Los Angeles, CA December 21, 2004

Problematic Great story. HOWEVER! I worry that there is an element of superstition in the story. She kept Shabbat, and she was saved. While Chabad is not saying that those who went to work on Shabbat died because they transgressed, this sort of story leaves that conclusion there for people to pick up. What of the scores of Jews who died? They worked on Shabbat and so they burned? You understand my trepidation. If we make examples of those who survive and tie that to a mitzvah, the opposite becomes assumed.

There are lots of ways that Shabbat has kept the Jews. Saving them from dying in terrible fires is not one of them. To believe otherwise is to both buy into superstition (and violate a mitzvah) and to minimize the idea of "bitachon" that Chabad emphasizes elsewhere, especially in Jay Litvin's beautiful essay. Occurrences we deem evil or good, lucky or unlucky, only have that value when we have room to improve in our sense of connection to G-d. Reply

Glen Livingston Portland, Oregon June 22, 2004

The Shabbat that Kept Rose I am not Jewish but am a Seventh-day Adventist who keeps the sabbath and I thoroughly enjoyed the story and I know that every word written in it is true. Our G_d is an awesome G_d who keeps us safe in His bosom. Thank you for this web site. Reply

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