Their story of emigration from Russia, sometime in the mid-20th century, is woven with equal parts pathos and tales of divine intervention. There was one anecdote of a 90-year-old great-grandmother, wrapped in a blanket or rug to be smuggled out of the country. The customs guard thought the rolled up fabric looked suspicious, and pierced it a few times with his saber while the family stood in mute horror convinced that blood would start seeping through at any minute.
By some strange miracle, the saber had just missed the woman and she lived to tell the tale in her new Brooklyn home.
Whereas my mom’s family became largely secular, my mother’s cousins, devout followers of Menachem Mendel Schneerson, a Ukraine-born rabbi who became leader of one of modern Judaism’s most vibrant strains, the movement known as Chabad-Lubavitch, stuck to their faith and followed him to America. Along with their religious