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Surviving fire: tallis makes it to the bris

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It’s not unusual for a newborn to wear his dad’s tallis at his bris, but it is unique when it was one of the only things that survived a house fire in 1991.

Such was the situation for the editor of The Pretoria Jewish Chronicle, Diane Wolfson’s, grandson, Max, who had his bris on 3 March.

The tallis was spared when Wolfson’s house was gutted by a house fire in 1991. The only things that survived the fire were two siddurim, the mezuzah on the door, a baby tallit and yarmulke, five photographs, and Wolfson’s Paul Harris Award Medal (awarded by Rotary International).

“We woke up that morning to the house on fire, and everything was burnt,” recalled Wolfson. “The casing of the mezuzah on the doorpost at the front door had melted, but the mezuzah itself didn’t burn. One of the two surviving siddurim was from my Batmitzvah, and one from my husband’s Barmitzvah. The outsides were blackened but the siddurim were fine.

“The tallit bag from my son Dov’s bris was burnt, but not the tallit inside. And there was nothing left in our bedroom, other than the pocket of my husband’s jacket. And inside the pocket was a yarmulke,” Wolfson says.

The only non-Jewish item not destroyed was Wolfson’s Paul Harris Award Medal for her work in Rotary International.

“There were a lot of messages there,” said Wolfson. “We had just bought an entire brand new dinner service for our wedding anniversary, which we hadn’t even paid for yet. And the whole thing was gone.

“As for the Rotary medal, the message was clear as anything. It said, ‘Your work isn’t finished. You’ve still got charity and outreach work to do.’ But there was a big hand from Hashem on everything. There were maybe five photographs that didn’t burn. They were burnt around the outside, but they were all taken at my son’s pidyon haben.

“I never used to sleep at night because we had a thatched roof home. I used to freak out every time we had a lightning storm. I was scared that the thatch would catch alight and we’d all burn inside. It was driving me crazy because I couldn’t sleep during a storm. And when our house burnt down, it was like a fresh start,” Wolfson said.

“To have my grandson wear this tallit speaks to us having a future as a Jewish people – you know, le dor vador from one generation to the next. It means we’ll have future generations, and we must be proud and grateful to Hashem for watching over us.

“My son sings le dor vador in the shul choir, and people in the community love hearing it,” Wolfson said. “Now, Max wearing my Dov’s baby tallit is exactly that – le dor vador.”

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