Tradition crosses continents: hitched to backs, etched in minds, clinging to lips. Those customs offered to immigrants’ children stand firmly as testament to endurance through difficult journeys, picking up memories along the way. My grandfather carried his religion with him from Riga, Latvia in 1934, and faithfully clung to it in Tel Aviv, Israel and later in Johannesburg, South Africa. He proudly donned Tefillin, or phylacteries, in every city he passed through. The Tefillin are a set of black boxes containing parchments with Torah verses written on them; worn by men during prayer, one is wrapped with straps around the upper arm, the other strapped to the forehead. Some groups, like Chabad, use two sets of two boxes each – one set called ‘Rashi’ and the other ‘Rabbeinu Tam.’ My grandparents lived in an area with extremely high crimes rates; after my grandfather passed away, intruders broke into their home and tied my grandmother up with his Tefillin straps. Though shaken up from the event, she ensured that the Tefillin remained in our family’s story, passing them on to my younger brother for his Bar Mitzva. When they arrived in America, my father discovered that the parchment was missing from the set of Rabbeinu Tam. We learned that the burglars were on the hunt for jewels, tossing seemingly meaningless paper aside. They hadn’t realized the true worth of those parchments to us, the traditions they kept alive and the family connections they maintained over entire continents.

Year: 2007

– YG

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