By Susan Friedman
Sometimes words and actions have a destiny that far surpasses our imagination. We never know how far into the future our deeds will carry on or survive. How else can I describe the course of events that brought a treasure to me in theHamptonsthat seemed to warrant new life?
It all began a few summers ago when I boarded the Hampton Jitney back to the city. I never expected this trip to be more than a chance to catch-up on all my favoriteHamptonmagazines or lose myself in a summer best-seller.
To my great surprise, I found myself engaged in a spirited conversation with the woman seated in front of me. She introduced herself as Beth. She shared many of her favorite places in theHamptonsand was a resource of talented people that helped me with my newly planted, organic garden. It was truly ‘six degrees of separation,’ as we shared many friends in common. It never occurred to me how long we had been chatting until I saw our bus turn upThird Avenue. As it stopped, Beth and I quickly exchanged cell numbers, hugged, and promised to meet again soon.
A year went by before we made good on that promise. One beautiful, July evening at an outdoor café onMain Street, we picked up right where we had left off. We could have talked until closing time, but I wanted be home when my family arrived from the city. As I stood up to leave, Beth asked me two strange and unrelated questions. She said nonchalantly, “Have you ever sold anything on E-bay?” She immediately followed with, “Do you know anyone who is Hungarian?”
My mind could not meld these two ideas together, so I picked up my purse and answered, “No.” It was a knee-jerk response. Despite my haste, the questions got the better of me. I looked puzzled and asked her, “Are you trying to sell something? Why Hungarian?”
Beth’s answer froze me. She replied, “I was thinking of selling an old scroll that was written in the early 1800’s. I acquired it thirty years ago when I was inHungary. The scroll was buried in the ground during World War II and dug up sometime after the war. It’s a surviving remnant of the Holocaust.”
“What kind of scroll?” I questioned, trying to grasp her words.
Beth further explained, “It is called the “Scroll of Esther.” It contains the story of Purim from the Book of Esther in the Bible.
Hearing her say the word, “Esther,” sent a shock through me. I had not shared with Beth that I grew up in theMidwestand was raised in a Christian family. She had no way of knowing that I had been studying with a Holocaust survivor in NYC whose name is Esther, for the past 20 years.
Suddenly it dawned on me, Esther was Hungarian! She is a descendant of the great rabbinic dynasty ofHungary, whose lineage traces back to the line of King David. Esther is not only a brilliant Torah/Bible instructor and luminary, but also a survivor ofBergen-Belsen, the same concentration camp where Anne Frank perished.
Now Beth had my undivided attention. I quickly sat back down and asked her to tell me every detail of how she acquired this scroll. Beth explained that she and a friend had gone to Hungaryin 1980, when it was still under Soviet domination. While behind the ‘Iron Curtain,’ they sought a place to go for Passover. They were sent to The Jewish Theological Seminary, in Budapest, where the only rabbinic seminary in the Communist bloc existed. There they met an extraordinary man, Rabbi Alexander Scheiber, who was not only the spiritual head, but also one of the most gifted scholars of Jewish Science of the 20th century.
At the seminary, Beth and her friend experienced Passover with only wooden spoons and meager food, as luxuries were virtually non-existent in post-warEastern Europe. While preparing to leaveHungary, Rabbi Scheiber exchanged a few relics and the ‘buried’ scroll with them, in hopes of getting them safely out of the country. Crossing over intoAustria, Beth nervously hid the scroll in her long skirt as the Soviet border police searched their car. Once back inAmerica, Beth stored the