Last week, I used Facebook to reconnect with Yocheved (Yana) and Miriam, my campers in Gan Israel Kharkov 1994. We Skyped and I spent some time catching up with them and listening to the challenges they face in their world today.

Yocheved is raising a Jewish family in a Hannover, Germany. She recalled the yearning she had as a young girl to perform mitzvos and keep Shabbat, when her parents didn’t support her. She was so sad to leave the Torah environment of camp. Today, some her challenges to an observant lifestyle are the lack of a strong Jewish community, kosher stores and time constraints. She understands that it is her role to create a warm jewish atmosphere in the home. She sings Hebrew songs to her daughter, Sarah and brings her to Chabad activities. She is growing and adding more mitzvot each day. She says, “In some ways it’s harder to be observant today than it was in Kharkov, Ukraine, where she didn’t take her religious freedom for granted.”

Miriam, a mother of three is living in Munich, Germany. As a teenager, she attended the Jewish school in Kharkov and began to observe Mitzvot. Her parents couldn’t relate to her need to observe all the “rituals”. ie. they were all for believing in G-d but without the “limitations” of physical rituals that are mitzvos. They had a hard time accepting all these changes but she was young enough to embrace Judaism with a full heart and convinced them to send her to learn in a Chabad Seminary. She taught her parents and today they celebrate Shabbat dinner at her home.

Today, her children are struggling with being different and want to be like their friends. She says, “It’s ironic really that I had to struggle with my parents to be observant. And now the struggle is the opposite one…” She prays that her children will be proud Jews and seeks ways to make Mitzvos meaningful and enjoyable. She signs them up at Chabad for Jewish youth clubs, Bat Mitzvah Club and summer camp. Yet, she still finds it very challenging to imbue the same feelings she has for Judaism to her children in the world we live in today.

The Alter Rebbe said, “We have to live with the times.” He meant that we should live with the lessons in the weekly portion. We recently began reading the book of Shmos, which speaks about the mother and daughter midwife team: Yocheved and Miriam who defied the decrees of Pharoh in Egypt. I thought to myself, “Miriam and Yocheved, originally from Kharkov, must be connected to the Miriam and Yocheved in Egypt.”

Let’s take a look at a Rashi commentary that tells us so much about the personality of Yocheved and Miriam in the Torah:

On the verse: “A man from Levi married a daughter of Levi”.

Rashi explains: Amram separated from Yocheved because of Pharaoh’s decree. And then he remarried her, following his daughter Miriam’s advice because she said to him; “Your decree is harsher than Pharoh. Whereas Pharoh issued a decree only against the males, you issued a decree against the females as well for none will be born.
He married Yocheved a second time. She was transformed to become like a young woman physically at 130 years old.

How do we know the age of Yocheved? Yocheved was born when they came to Egypt between the Walls and they stayed there 210 years. When they left, Moses was 80 years old. If so, when she conceived him, she was 130 years old, yet she is called a daughter of Levi. [From Sotah 12a, Exod. Rabbah 1:19]

Why did Yocheved merit to become the mother of Moshe, who lead the Jews out of Egypt?

The Torah is precise and every detail teaches us a lesson in our daily lives. The fact that Rashi mentions that Yocheved was born between the walls must be the reason that she gave birth to Moshe at 130 years old. Since she was conceived in Israel, she was able to look beyond the walls of Egypt at her rich spiritual past. Yet, she had the ability to deal with the reality of her people’s suffering at the hands of Pharoh because she was born in Egypt. She also taught her daughter Miriam to rise above the challenges of Egypt and defy Pharoh’s evil decrees to drown the baby boys and assimilate the girls. This made her fit to be the mother of Moshe, the redeemer of our people from Egypt.

To my dear Yocheved and Miriam from Kharkov:

Today, we all face the challenge of raising our children in 2015 – a world that is likened to Egypt. The influences of Pharoh are strong and the threats of assimilation and terrorism are great. Like Yocheved, we are women between the walls – striving to stay connected to Israel, to our rich heritage, while living in a modern world with many distractions and temptations. Yocheved gives us the strength to stay above it all, while living in exile. As the Rebbe says: “Be within, stay above”.

Yocheved and Miriam, I know that the legacy of Miriam and Yocheved lives on through you. Just like Yocheved, you defied the decrees of Stalin, who tried to eradicate Judaism under Communism. Just like Miriam, you taught your parents to believe in G-D and discover Torah and Mitzvot. Today, you are proud Jewish mothers, raising children who will become the Moshes and Miriams – the leaders of tomorrow. Your children will be the ones to point their fingers and proclaim, “Ze Keili” – This is my G-D (as the children did at the parting of the sea). Your children will proudly say “Je Suis Juif” and lead us to redemption!

It says, “In the merit of women, we were redeemed from Egypt and in the merit of women, we will be redeemed in the future.” I know that we can count on you dear campers, Yocheved and Miriam… oops… I meant EXTRAORDINARY MOTHERS OF OUR PEOPLE!!!

With all my Love,

Your Counselor ‘94
Nechama Laber