“This is the house,” Rafaela told me, as she balanced three or four containers of food still warm from the stove. We entered and, after putting the food in the kitchen, we joined other visitors who had come to visit Ludmilla during her week of mourning. I did not know Ludmilla well, and had never met her father, who had just passed away.

“The last few years were difficult,” Ludmilla was saying. “My father was not himself.” She looked tired, as if she had carried a heavy load a long way, and only now could stop to rest. I understood from Rafaela that Ludmilla had dedicated herself to taking care of her father during his long illness. Even after he was moved to a nursing home, she continued to visit him regularly and to be involved in his care.

Living in Communist Russia, one had to be inventive and resourceful“My father was a very talented man. It’s a shame that my youngest son will remember his grandfather in his decline rather than in his good years,” she sighed, referring to her thirteen-year-old, who had gone into the next room with Rafaela’s son.

“He was a sensitive soul, an artist who took pride in the details of craftsmanship. Come take a look at what he made us for a wedding present.”

We followed Ludmilla to the next room. She stopped in front of an exquisite piece of work hanging on the wall. Made exclusively of thin strips of polished wood of different shades, painstakingly cut and then pieced together like a parquet floor, it portrayed a groom and bride in a horse-drawn wagon, with a klezmer fiddler behind them.

“How beautiful!” I commented, duly impressed. “Obviously, a lot of work must have gone into making such a piece.”

Ludmilla nodded. “Hundreds of hours. My father worked out the process himself. Living in Communist Russia, one had to be inventive and resourceful.” She proceeded to show us two more works of inlaid wood, equally breathtaking.

We returned to the room with the shiva chair, and Ludmilla sat down. “My father did not keep the religious laws; growing up under Stalin it was almost impossible. Do you know what he told me, though? When my husband and I started keeping kosher, he told me something that solved a riddle from my childhood. As a young girl, I had always wondered why Babushka never seemed to have much variety of food in her house. We would come to visit, and she had almost nothing to offer her grandchildren to eat.” Ludmilla smiled at the memory of her childhood impressions.

She kept her vow, and all of her sons came home safely“When my father saw our kosher kitchen, he said that it reminded him of his mother’s. Due to the difficulty obtaining kosher food after the revolution, she had more or less given up on this mitzvah. Her three boys, growing up under Stalin’s regime, were the focus of her life. Then World War II broke out. When the Germans attacked Russia, all able-bodied men were drafted into the army, from which few returned. As all three sons were conscripted, my grandmother made a vow. She entreated G‑d that her three boys should return whole and unharmed from the war, and she would take care, for the rest of her life, to eat only food that was unquestionably kosher. Her diet was henceforth very limited, due to the nature of the Communist economy, but she kept her vow, and all of her sons came home safely.”

From another room came the muted sound of Ludmilla’s and Rafaela’s sons laughing together. My mind returned to the artwork on the wall. I thought of the four generations of this family and their journey.

How intricate are the workings of the souls of our people: together part of one greater picture, yet each individual a unique parquetry of various shades and layers carefully and lovingly crafted by the hands of the divine Craftsman.