In 1943, in the town of Gutschein, Germany, the Luria family welcomed their firstborn son into the world with tremendous joy.

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 despair.

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 him.

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 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.