The Human Side of the Story

For the week ending 21 February 2009 / 27 Shevat 5769

The Tireless Sexton

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

The old man serving as the volunteer sexton of a synagogue was very much appreciated by the worshippers, but they felt it was too much for a man of his age and tired to convince him to turn over his duties to a younger man. His stubborn refusal to retire had a most interesting background.

Before the Holocaust he had served as a sexton in the synagogue of his small European town. When the Nazis came he was sent to a death camp. Once he was caught by the Gestapo while performing a mitzvah and sentenced to death by hanging.

He was taken to the gallows in the camp courtyard where all the Jewish prisoners were gathered to witness his execution. The hangman placed him on the hanging platform and began tying the noose to place around his neck. Even at that moment he did not give up hope and made a vow that if he somehow survived he would devote the rest of his life to serving as a volunteer sexton.

Just as the noose was set to be put around his neck the rope came apart. The Nazis had never seen anything like this before and interpreted it as a sign that he should be freed from the gallows. Not long afterwards American soldiers liberated the camp.

The first thing he did was to find the nearest synagogue and offer his services as its sexton. His offer was gladly accepted and nothing could prevent him from continuing to fulfill his vow for as long as he lived.

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