The thunder of war was heard in the North of France. It was the Second World War and within seven weeks German forces had conquered the entire country. The citizens looked at their new rulers in fear. German soldiers marched with their heads raised high and their boots stomping on the ground.
In a house in Paris, three young boys cling to their mother as sounds of explosions are heard in the distance. The mother raises her eyes to heaven with a silent prayer. She is a fresh widow, for her husband, the children’s father, has recently died. “Merciful Father, guard over these innocent children…”
One morning, the boys are playing in the courtyard when one of them runs in and calls, “Mommy! Know what I heard from Yaakov?” Yaakov is their neighbors’ son.
“What did you hear, sweetie?” asks Mommy.
“Yaakov says he has a grandma and grandpa in Poland who were hiding out in their house. Someone told the Germans about them and soldiers came and took them away! Nobody knows where they are!”
The widow’s face turns pale. “They’ll come home soon, with God’s help,” she whispers.
After dinner the children say the Shema and get into bed. They quickly fall asleep but their mother is upset. She doesn’t close her eyes the entire night. All she can do is worry about how she’ll be able to save her sons when the time comes.
One day, the family hears an announcement: By government rule, all Jews must gather in the town square immediately. Fear and confusion grows. What’s going on? What are their enemies planning? In a panic, they pack Tallis and Tefillin, clothes and jewelry. Maybe they’ll need to sell their jewelry to buy food.
The widow quickly gathers her children and leaves the house. She walks to the far end of her street and continues in the direction of the monastery.
“The Germans won’t come here looking for Jews,” she thinks.
She looks at her children and says, “You’ll stay here until I come back to get you. Just remember one thing… you are holy Jews.”
The mother pulls three gold chains from her pocket. Each one is marked with the letter J. With tears in her eyes, she puts a chain around each of her boys and kisses him. Then she quickly disappears.
The Jews are being herded into the city center. Mothers and fathers are standing there, clutching the hands of their frightened children. The widow joins them with a silent prayer to heaven that the Germans will not ask about her children.
The soldiers order everyone to march forward.
We all know where they were taken. Most did not live, but among those who survived was the widow.
After the German defeat many survivors returned to where they had once lived. The widow returned to Paris and went right to the monastery to take her children back, but they were no longer there. She discovered they had been moved during the war but to where, no one knew. She searched for many months but could not find them. All the mother could do was to hope and pray that they were alive and healthy.
Years passed by and the widow remarried. Her new husband owned a jewelry store. One day he came home and told his wife that someone had sold him a very nice piece. He took it from his pocket to show her. She took one look… and fell to the ground in a faint.
What was it? Have you guessed? It was a gold necklace inscribed with the letter J. When she came around she asked her husband who had sold him the chain.
“A young man came in and offered to sell the necklace,” he told her. “He told me that the money he gets would feed him and his two brothers for a month. He said his two brothers have the same exact necklaces and when their money finishes they will bring me another one to buy.”
“Where is this young man now?” she asked, but her husband couldn’t answer.
“Why do you want to know?” he pressed her.
So the woman told her husband about the three necklaces. He was very moved by her story and decided to search for the young man who had come to his shop that day.
The jeweler posted notices all around the city. He also hired someone to go around and announcing that they were looking.
But no one came forward.
And the widow just kept praying to be with her children, again.
One evening, a month later, there was a knock on the door. The mother opened the door and saw a young man standing there. “Why are you looking for me?” he asked.
The widow cried out, “Aryeh!” but could not say another word. She stared at him in shock and thought, “He looks so much like his father.”
The young man was surprised that this strange woman knew his name. And yet it seemed as if he had seen her somewhere before.
“Please come in,” said the husband.
The young man entered shyly and sat down on a chair.
“How do you know me?” he asked the woman.
“You have two brothers,” she said. “The youngest has a birthmark under his left ear.” “That’s right!” he says in surprise.
”Come with me,” the woman called. “I’ll show you where you used to live!”
She quickly ran out of the house with her husband and Aryeh after her. The three made their way through the streets of Paris. Finally, she stopped at the end of a road and pointed to the monastery. “This is the place,” she wept.
Aryeh gazed at the old building with tears in his eyes. “Let me get my brothers,” he said. “They live nearby.”
Within minutes, three handsome young men stood before her and she could no longer control herself.
“My children!” she cried out and from their mouths came the cry “MOMMY”!
Countless tears were shed as her sons told the story of their life from the time she left them. As she had begged them, they always remembered they were Jews and even in the monastery they would say the Shema every night.
From that day on, the family was together, thanking God that they had found each other again.
This is a story that really happened and these boys are alive today with families of their own.
In every generation our enemies rise up against us but keeping our holy Torah protects us.
We tell this story on Hanukkah because the mighty Greeks waged a war against us. But our light, the light of Torah, pushed away their darkness. This is the light of Israel that will never be extinguished.