If you believe in fate and God and that occasionally the universe conspires to remind us that we are all connected, here is a story that Herb and Fritzi Owens – Lila’s grandparents and Ella’s great grandparents – would like to share with you.
In 2007, Herb and Fritzi learned that their temple would be hiring a sofer – a scribe – to create a new Torah, and that devoted congregants would have the opportunity to assist in the inscription of a letter into the holy scroll. As active congregants and volunteers at the temple, such an honor appealed very much to Herb and Fritzi, and soon they were notified that they would be among those allowed to help with a letter. They were asked to select a day on the following year’s calendar to assist the sofer. Among the dates available was November 9, 2008. As survivors of the Holocaust, Herb and Fritzi knew the significance of November 9. On November 9, 1938, Nazis unleashed their fury on Jews, Jewish business and synagogues throughout Germany and Austria . It was a pogrom of uncontrolled violence that carried on through the night and into the next day and is remembered by the world as Krystallnacht. Herb and Fritzi thought that aiding in the creation of something new and holy on the seventieth anniversary of such unspeakable destruction might give them a little closure.
So almost a year later, on a Sunday afternoon in November, joined by Bob, Evie, Gustie and Henry, Herb and Fritzi went to Temple Israel on 75th Street and Lexington to make their mark. When they arrived, they were told the letter they would write into the Torah would be the Lamed. Before that moment, they had no idea which letter they would be assigned to inscribe. It could have been any. But it was a Lamed, the 12th of 22 letters, the heart of the alphabet. The Lamed that Herb and Fritzi inscribed was found in Numbers 36:12 and it began the word lenashim, which means, “to the women.”
In the early evening, after arriving home after this momentous event, Herb and Fritzi received a call from Katie and Joe. They were in a taxi cab and were heading downtown on West End Avenue toward the hospital. Their baby – who had been expected a few days prior and who was of as yet unknown gender – was on its way.
That night, as Herb and Fritzi slept, and as Katie labored and moaned and yelled at her husband – Mark and Mindy got into their car, and they headed south on the Pacific Coast Highway toward the hospital. Their baby –who wasn’t expected for a few more days and who was of as yet unknown gender – was on its way.
On Monday, November 10, at 4:33 am in New York, Joe and Katie’s baby girl was born. They named her Eleanor, or Ella.
That same day, at 9:46 am in Los Angeles, Mark and Mindy’s baby girl was born. They named her Lila.
Not many people can celebrate the birth of both a granddaughter and a great granddaughter on the same day. But for Herb and Fritzi, the occasion held especially special significance: the day before they had drawn into the Torah the letter Lamed, which corresponds to the English letter “L.” Then within hours they welcomed two new children into their family – Lila and Ella. Lamed women.
It only dawned upon Herb and Fritzi days later that their own mothers, respectively named Leontyna and Lily, were Lamed women too.
You can measure the success of your life in many ways. Here’s one: Herb and Fritzi came to this country in 1939, Austrian refugees who barely escaped Hitler’s wrath, survivors who moved to an unfamiliar country fleeing horror but intent on living in hope. They did it by building a family and instilling in it a respect for the traditions and values that so many in Europe had sacrificed so much for. And then almost 69 years later – and 70 years to the day after Krystallnact – Herb and Fritzi were responsible for helping to replenish the world with happy, healthy, sweet and pink, Jewish baby girls.
Talk about an American dream.