The Hassans were a prominent Jewish family in Italy. Blessed with solid business acumen and a great deal of mazel, everything they touched seemed to turn to gold. It was no secret that they numbered amongst Italy’s wealthiest families.
Natan Hassan was a well-known philanthropist who supported many local and national Jewish institutions. With his married daughters all living nearby on his vast estate, they were a close-nit family who shared in the joys of each other’s daily lives.
When he died suddenly, the family was left reeling from the shock and grief. Natan had been at the prime of his life, robust and strong, and no one had detected the warning signs of an impending heart attack. His death left a gaping void in the hearts of his children, many of whom were still unmarried. Their padded bank accounts could not compensate for the loss of their beloved father.
Saba Hassan, Natan’s father, stepped into his son’s shoes, taking the reins of the grieving family into his capable and loving hands. With his wizened face, wise gaze, and twinkling smile, Saba was the quintessential grandfather. He was also a tremendous talmid chacham and possessed a keen understanding of emotions.
Yosef, the Hassans’ only son, was a teenager at the time of his father’s passing. Saba spent many hours listening, soothing, and counseling the grief-stricken teenager. As Yosef lay in bed each night, haunted by his father’s memory as he tried desperately to fall asleep, Saba would sit lovingly beside him, stroking his hand and humming encouragingly.
Soon, this became a nightly ritual. Saba would sit with Yosef and sing the timeless words of Dovid Hamelech, his soothing voice bringing comfort to Yosef’s aching heart. As he lay in bed, enveloped in his grandfather’s love and the stirring melody of Hinei Lo Yanum, Yosef’s eyes would close and sleep would creep over him.
At the time of Natan’s passing, he was valued at millions of dollars, owning much of the Italian countryside and majority share in major Italian companies. Too much public attention isn’t good for anyone, let alone for a Jew, and the Hassans’ financial status kept them far too much in the limelight.
Fearing for the safety of his grandchildren, Saba sold off much of his son’s assets and quietly reinvested the money in precious metals and stones. While the public was aware that the Hassan firm had withdrawn tremendously from the real estate market, it was assumed that their financial circumstances had worsened with the death of Natan Hassan. The family’s true wealth was now almost completely hidden. Other than Saba and his daughter-in-law, Natan’s widow, no one was aware of the safes containing the family fortune.
One day, Rav Shaul, a great Sephardic sage who was traveling through the country to raise money for his yeshiva, knocked on the Hassans’ door. In the past, he had received comfortable accommodations at their home when he passed through their city. Completely unaware of the tragedy that had befallen the family, he asked to speak to the head of the household.
Greeted warmly by Saba and welcomed inside, Rav Shaul was deeply saddened to hear of Natan’s sudden passing. In addition to food and shelter during his travels, the wealthy philanthropist had always donated generously to the yeshiva. He was pained for the family and pained for klal Yisroel to have lost such a special person.
The days that Rav Shaul stayed at the Hassan home were hectic ones for him. He spent much of the day knocking on wealthy men’s doors and soliciting donations. Later in the day, throngs of people would line up outside the Hassan’s home, hoping to the seek the counsel of the great sage and merit his blessing. Rav Shaul was kept busy from morning to night.
By the time the crowds dispersed and Rav Shaul was left alone, it was very late at night. Since the tzaddik hadn’t managed to devote much time to learning that day, he quelled his weariness and took out a sefer. He would sleep later, after he learned.
Yosef, now a young man of nineteen years old, returned home from a long day at yeshiva, exhausted. He was a principled young man who understood that a schedule is the secret to productive life, and his days all followed a routine pattern. A good night’s rest featured stubbornly on his schedule, fueling his body with the strength to learn three rigorous sedorim daily.
When he noticed Rav Shaul sitting and learning, however, he decided to make an exception to his schedule. It was not every day that one had the opportunity to speak in learning with a talmid chacham on that high a level. Shyly, he stood at the open doorway of the room the sage was studying in.
Sensing his presence, the chacham looked up. “How can I help you?” he asked kindly.
“I see that the chacham is learning,” Yosef stammered out hesitantly.
“Yes, I am in the midst of the sugya of psik raisha,” Rav Shaul responded with a smile. “Do you have what to say on this matter?”
“I don’t really have any original thoughts of my own,” Yosef replied shyly. “But I could say a vort I once heard from someone else.”
“Go ahead,” the chacham invited in an encouraging voice.
When Saba came by ten minutes later for his nightly talk with his grandson, he found Yosef’s bed empty. Peeking in to the chacham’s suite, he saw Rav Shaul and Yosef engaged in vigorous Talmudic debate. Smiling, he watched them for a few moments before heading off to bed.
Rav Shaul was greatly impressed by the boy’s vast knowledge and fine demeanor, and Yosef, too, enjoyed his discussion with the great sage. They continued to learn together nearly until daybreak.
“You are a growing boy, you must get some sleep,” the chacham suddenly admonished, when the sky turned from black to deep blue. “Perhaps we’ll be able to continue another time.”
Obligingly, Yosef went into bed. In an instant, he was asleep.
The next thing he heard was his grandfather’s voice. “Yosef, it’s late! Yosef, you must wake up for Shacharis. I realize that you went to sleep late, but you can’t miss davening.”
Yosef sat up groggily, a dreamy smile on his face. “Saba, it was amazing,” he said, blinking away sleep. “Never in my life did I merit to learn the way I did last night. The chacham’s sheer brilliance, and the breadth of his knowledge! What a talmid chacham! I don’t even have one tenth of his knowledge!”
“Come home after Shacharis,” Saba requested. “There’s something I’d like to discuss with you before you head out to learn.”
Yosef raised his eyebrows curiously, but his grandfather was not forthcoming. Pushing the topic out of his mind, he dressed and went to shul.
After davening, he found Saba waiting for him in his study.
“You know, Yosef, the chacham was quite impressed with you, actually,” Saba said proudly.
“In fact, he even asked me if he could have you as his son-in-law. What do you think of such a thing? He does not live nearby. It would mean leaving your mother and siblings and starting a life in a foreign city.”
Yosef was taken aback. “I…I… uh… what does my mother think?”
“Your mother will miss you very much, but she wants what’s best for you,” Saba said, throwing the ball right back into his court.
“But… but what do I know of such things?” Yosef asked. “If Saba says that the shidduch is good, then I will agree. It won’t be easy to leave the family, but I will certainly do so if that is what I must do.”
Saba regarded him thoughtfully. “Chazal say that a man should sell everything he owns and marry the daughter of a talmid chacham,” he said slowly. “The Gemara says that one who marries the daughter of a talmid chacham will always be protected.”
“Then a shidduch with the daughter of Rav Shaul is the best possible thing,” Yosef concluded for him. “I’m ready to go ahead.”
Saba smiled and pumped his hand. “Listen, my child. You know that you are most beloved to me. Your late father was my precious son, and you, my grandson, resemble him in so many ways. I’d like to reveal to you something, something that only your mother and I know.”
Yosef’s trusting gaze didn’t waver as he waited patiently for his grandfather to continue.
“Your father left over a tremendous inheritance,” Saba began. “After his passing, I invested the inheritance in precious metals and stones, which has since been in a secure location. As your father’s only son, you, Yosef, are the sole inheritor according to halachah, and the entire fortune belongs to you.
“If you’d like to continue leading a truly elevated life, it would be best if you left the gold and jewels alone for now,” Saba continued. “Live a life of simplicity and raise your children in simplicity. I’ll reveal to you the whereabouts of your inheritance, but I advise you to leave them where they are.
“Once my time in this world is up, you’ll need to come back to care for your mother and sisters. You’ll be able to use some of the money at that time.”
Indeed, Yosef followed his grandfather’s directive. He married the chacham’s daughter and moved to her hometown, leaving the inheritance behind. Living in the house of a great sage like Rav Shaul, he merited unique siyata dishmaya in his learning and made tremendous strides.
Soon, a son was born to him, a sweet little boy whom he named Chaim. Little Yehuda followed shortly after, and the two boys filled the home with joy and sunshine. The highlight of Yosef’s day was when he put his little sons to sleep, singing them the same Hinei Lo Yanum melody that his beloved grandfather had sang to him.
From the onset, it was clear that Chaim was a gifted child. It seemed that the knee-high toddler knew everything. From chumash to gemarah to foreign languages, everything he heard stayed with him. Yehuda, too, was a smart child, but not in a way that could compete with his elder brother’s exceptional brains.
The years passed and his family grew. Yosef accepted a rabbinical post in a nearby city, where he proved to be a capable leader, beloved by his kehillah. Now, an established husband, father, and rav, he had come a far way from the sensitive orphan he had once been.
When the news came from afar that Saba was niftar, Yosef was heartbroken. He left his family and traveled back to the city of his birth to be with his mother and sisters for a few days. By now, all of his sisters were married, and one of them had moved into the main Hassan residence with her family to be with her mother. The other sisters all lived right nearby, and everyone seemed to be managing quite well.
When the time came for him to leave, Yosef collected the inheritance that his grandfather had hidden for him, left enough for his mother to live comfortably until her passing, and returned home to his wife and children.
With his obligations toward his community growing every day, Yosef had less and less time to help his wife out with their growing brood. Now that he had access to his inheritance, he decided to use a portion of it to hire plenty of household help for his wife. With so many servants on staff, it also became necessary for the family to move to a larger home, which they could easily afford.
Chaim, now five years old, continued to astound his family with his brilliance. Julia, one of the non-Jewish maids, was especially fond of him. She loved asking him questions and seeing how his sharp little mind worked.
Julia was so fond of Chaim that she often wondered what it would be like to mother him herself. She was a woman in her thirties who had never married, and she constantly worried how her life would look in her old age. Who would care for her? Who would support her when she would no longer be able to work? Was she doomed to remain a lonely maid for the remainder of her life?
When the idea of kidnapping Chaim first entered her mind, she nixed it immediately. She would never stoop so low, to steal a child away from his natural family! As the idea rested on her, however, she found it more and more appealing. She wouldn’t steal a child; she would rescue the soul of a sinful Jewish boy and give him a good Christian upbring. Rather than a crime, it was her moral duty to save Chaim from the religion of his birth.
Her plans grew clearer every day as she plotted a time, a means, and all the other necessary details. Along with Chaim, she would also steal a nice sum of money, enough to support the two of them for a while and to start up a new business.
On the morning of her escape, she took Chaim by the hand and led him to a waiting wagon. Chaim trustingly followed her inside. And just like that, he was torn from his family.
After a few hours of traveling, they stopped off at an inn, and the little boy began to complain that he wanted to go back home.
“We have to be here for medical reasons,” Julia replied in her calmest voice.
“Okay,” Chaim said obediently.
The next day, his nagging persisted. Julia was forced to concoct a story of an epidemic that was raging in the Hassan’s hometown. “Your parents are very sick,” she told him with a straight face. “They will probably die. It is for your own safety that you are here. I don’t want you to catch the dreadful disease that is killing out your entire community.”
Chaim bought the story, just as he bought her assurances that all the food she served him was kosher. He worried tremendously about his parents’ welfare and prayed for their recovery. When Julia tucked him into bed, he sang Hinei Lo Yanum sweetly to himself, closing his eyes and picturing his father humming at his bedside.
The days and weeks passed. Chaim stopped asking about his family, and they slowly faded from his memory. Shabbos, kashrus, and Torah learning all became but faint wisps he could barely recall. For two years, he continued to sing Hinei Lo Yanum each time he went to sleep, but eventually, that, too, disappeared.
Julia enrolled him in a school for gifted children, and even there, his brilliance stood out. As he became engrossed in science and mathematics, the customs of his family were forgotten completely. He regarded Julia as his mother, and behaved toward her just like a son would.
When the Hassans noticed that Chaim was missing, they immediately sent out a search party to find him, but their efforts bore no results. Then, they realized that no one had seen Julia either. It wasn’t difficult to put the facts together and understand that the maid had kidnapped their son.
The anguish of Reb Yosef and his wife was indescribable.
Would they ever see their son again?
The years passed excruciatingly slowly in the Hassan household, overshadowed by the family’s deep anguish of Chaim’s disappearance. Reb Yosef’s health declined from heartache, and his wife became thin and pale, a shadow of her former self.
Yehuda, their second son, grew up, establishing a reputation as a great talmid chacham with an excellent grasp on the entire Shas. Within a few short years, he married into a distinguished family and soon assumed a rabbinical post of his own in a nearby town.
One evening, during a visit to his ailing parents, Reb Yosef called him aside. “You know that I am extremely wealthy,” he said, matter-of-factly. “I am not a well man, and one day soon, you will inherit the family fortune.”
“Abba, please don’t talk like this,” Reb Yehuda pleaded. “May it be Hashem’s will that you live a long, long life.”
Reb Yosef just smiled, a sad but reflective smile.
“Yehuda, my son, you know that you are not my only son,” he continued quietly, touching upon the taboo topic that hadn’t been discussed in the family in decades. “Your older brother Chaim is somewhere in the world, and one day, he will be reunited with us.”
Simultaneously, father and son began to weep, expressing their years of pain over Chaim’s disappearance. “Amen,” Reb Yehuda whispered.
“Chaim is the bechor,” Reb Yosef continued, not without difficulty. “According to Halacha, he is to receive a double portion of the inheritance that I leave over. Two-thirds of the money belongs to him, and I am asking you to keep the money safe for him until he returns. Do you promise me that you’ll do this?”
“Of course, Abba,” Reb Yehuda agreed. “I promise.”
In a big city, not too far away from the town where Reb Yehuda served a rav, was a prestigious university, the pride of Italy’s academia. It was there that Dr. Antonio Martini, once Chaim Hassan, was employed as a professor of mathematics. Once a child prodigy, Antonio continued to dazzle his teachers with his progress as he grew older, earning his doctorate, and then a subsequent position on the university faculty, with ease.
Dr. Martini led a busy, if unfulfilling, existence, and did not have much time to muse on the vague memories of a different kind of life that he might have once led in his early youth. In addition to his full teaching schedule and private research projects, he also could not neglect his familial obligations to Julia Martini, the woman who had raised him.
Julia, the Hassan’s former maid, was now elderly, and she depended on Antonio for financial support and company. Indebted to the mother figure in his life, Antonio provided for her generously and tried to visit her from time to time when his schedule allowed.
Dr. Martini couldn’t explain why, but it bothered him immensely when his colleagues and students belittled the Jews. Antisemitism was rampant on campus, and often, his lone opinion contradicted those of every other person in the university. Dr. Martini continued defending the Jews against the rumors and libels being spread against them.
“What’s with you, Antonio?” the physics professor nudged him during a vigorous debate in the faculty room. “If I didn’t know better, I would think you were Jewish yourself!”
“I’m not Jewish,” Dr. Martini protested hotly, though inside, something foggy niggled in his brain, making him wonder if perhaps he really was Jewish. “It’s just that you are speaking completely illogically. How can you accuse the Jews of causing the problems that the real estate market is having? Do you even know any Jews?”
As time went on, the arguments between Dr. Martini and his colleagues became more and more heated and started occurring more and more often, partly because the other professors enjoyed provoking him.
The more he displayed his loyalty as the defender of Jews, the more Antonio found himself being ostracized from his own community. It started with his neighbors and colleagues ignoring his presence but then quickly morphed into libelous accusations against him for wrongdoings he didn’t commit. The hatred of the Italians toward the Jews was such that it extended even to a man they considered one of their own, just for the crime of verbally defending an innocent nation.
Dr. Martini suffered a lot for his defense of the Jewish people. His home was taken away, his license was revoked, and he was fired from his position at the university. Disillusioned with the academic lifestyle, he packed up for a long journey, stopped off at Julia’s home to inform her of his plans, and set out to find a new, better life.
For five months, he traveled from city to city, spending a few weeks at each touring and sightseeing. Just the break from the headaches of home was invigorating and refreshing, and he really enjoyed his vacation. He hoped to find a quiet, restful location where he could take on a position in a small university and live a peaceful life.
One balmy spring day, he arrived at another town, eager to explore it and experience its unique flavor, much as he had been doing at the previous places he had visited. On the second day of his stay, he heard a commotion outside of his hotel. Going to investigate, he discovered a crowd rioting, demanding justice. The Jews, it seemed, had killed a Christian child for his blood, which they needed to bake their Passover cakes.
Dr. Martini stifled a sigh. Here we go again, he thought, rolling his eyes. Wherever he went, the hatred of the Jews followed him. Why? Why was this nation hated so much? It was a question that had been bothering him for a long time.
With nothing better to do, he decided to go find out the answer.
“Where does the Jewish rabbi live?” he asked someone on the street.
“Ask at the Jewish ghetto, which is located that way,” the man replied.
The ghetto was cramped, its sunlight blocked by tall, tightly packed buildings. “Where does the rabbi live?” Dr. Martini asked a bearded man in a long, black coat.
The man studied him suspiciously for a long moment before deciding to trust him. “I’ll take you there,” he said in response. “If this is your first time in the ghetto, you’re bound to get lost otherwise.”
The professor followed the man through a maze of alleyways and side streets. They stopped at a nondescript grey structure, identical to all the buildings on the street. “This is it,” the man announced. “Rabbi Hassan lives on the main floor.”
Dr. Martini thanked him for his help and entered the building. Knocking on the door, he waited for someone to come answer.
The rabbi himself answered the door, kind eyes peering out from above a dark beard. “How can I help you?” he asked.
“I assume you are the rabbi?” Antonio half-asked, half-stated. “I’m Dr. Martini, professor of mathematics. I had a philosophical question I wanted to discuss with you. I’ve been bothered for a while now by the fact that the Jews are such a hated people. Why is it so? Can you explain it to me?”
“Please come inside,” Reb Yehuda invited. “I’d be more than happy to discuss this with you. I was about to put my children to bed, but you are welcome to take a seat in my study and I will return shortly.”
Dr. Martini stepped inside. The house was spacious, immaculately clean, and brightly lit. The rabbi, it seemed, was not a poor man. Glancing around the bookcase lined study, he settled down to wait for his host to return.
He could hear the rabbi ushering his children into beds with soft sounds. Suddenly, the children began to sing. The rabbi’s deep voice melded with his young sons’ high-pitched ones, and something stirred inside Dr. Martini. The tears came, unchecked, and he could not figure out why. The tune resonated with him, but why?
Then the melody slowed, then stopped, and then the children began chanting something, which he surmised was a prayer. The words of shemah did not resonate with him at all. It was a sound from his childhood that was completely wiped from his memory.
Instinctively, without knowing why or how, Dr. Martini’s hand shot up and covered his eyes. Together with the children, he whispered, “Baruch shem kevod malchuso leloam vaed!”
When Reb Yehuda returned to his study, he found the professor with red eyes, wet cheeks, and an overcome expression on his face. “What’s the matter?” he asked in alarm.
“I don’t know,” Antonio said honestly. “I was listening to you put your children to sleep, and it was just so beautiful. It reminds me of… of I don’t even know what. It just sounded so familiar, so comforting.”
Reb Yehuda looked at him narrowly. “Perhaps you were once put to sleep this way?” he suggested gently.
Antonio shrugged. “Perhaps. I really can’t recall.”
“Hmm.” Reb Yehuda waited for his guest to continue.
“I just knew the Jewish words, somehow,” Antonio said quietly. “I recited them together with your sons.”
“Which words?” Reb Yehuda asked.
Antonio shook his head in frustration. “I don’t remember anymore! But when your sons were saying them, somehow, I knew them, too!”
The rabbi tried prodding his memory, but Antonio could not recall the words of shemah.
“And that beautiful melody you sang with your children,” the professor added. “It really touched me.”
“Why?” Reb Yehuda urged. “What moved you about that song?”
“It just did,” Antonio said. “I don’t know why, but it just felt right.”
“Let me sing you the melody,” his host offered. “It might jog your memory.” He began to sing, his voice rising and falling with the family tune of Hinei Lo Yanum, the song that his great-grandfather had sung to his father, the tune that his father had sung nightly to him, the melody that he, too, was passing on to his own sons.
Dr. Martini’s tears flew freely as the rabbi sang. The melody had touched something in his heart that he had never even known existed.
Reb Yehuda stopped the song abruptly. “Why are you crying?” He asked in concern.
But the professor could not say.
“Who are you?” the rabbi asked softly.
“Antonio. Antonio Martini, professor of mathematics at the University of Rome.”
“And who is your father?”
“I don’t have a father.”
Antonio wrinkled his forehead. “To be honest, I don’t really have a mother either. The woman whom I called Mother, Julia Martini, is not my birth mother. I’m not really sure where I come from.”
“How did you come to be raised by this Ms. Martini?” Reb Yehuda probed.
“I think… she might have been my family’s maid, or something like that,” Antonio said hesitantly.
“It’s hard to remember what happened. I think there may have been some sort of epidemic or something, and only she and I survived, but my memories are too vague to know for sure.”
“And you never asked her?” Reb Yehuda wondered. “Why didn’t you ask this maid for information about your family?”
“I couldn’t,” Dr. Martini replied. “It was much too painful, for both of us.”
“Something sounds strange about your story,” Reb Yehuda stated. “I think you should try to find out more about your past. There are too many pieces that you are missing. In the meantime, though, we can discuss the question you came here for.”
The professor took a deep breath, and shelved the uncomfortable feeling that accompanied his thoughts of the past. “Yes, I’d like that,” he said gratefully. “I’m interested in trying to understand why the Jews suffer so much. What have you done to cause all these blood libels against you?”
“Our forefather, Yaakov Avinu, had twelve sons,” Reb Yehuda began. “These were the shevatim, from whom the entire Jewish nation descends. For certain reasons which I don’t have time to explain at this moment, one of the shevatim, Yosef, was sold as a slave by his brothers. To explain Yosef’s absence to their father, the shevatim dipped his shirt into the blood of a goat and showed it to their father, explaining to him that a wild animal had eaten the boy alive.
“Yaakov Avinu suffered tremendous anguish from his son’s absence,” Reb Yehuda continued. “The pain remained strong and constant for twenty-two years, until he was eventually reunited with Yosef. Although their intentions had been good, the shevatim had caused their father terrible pain, and for that their descendants continue to be punished. The suffering we undergo due to these blood libels are our rightful due for the sin of our ancestors.”
“Really!” Dr. Martini’s eyes were wide. “You mean that for hundreds of years, Hashem continues to remember that a wrongdoing was committed?”
“The Jews are a holy nation,” Reb Yehuda explained. “There is no such thing as shoving something under the rug and then forgetting about it. If we have done something wrong, we will suffer until we have achieved atonement.”
Dr. Martini shook his head in wonderment.
“Does this answer satisfy you?” his host asked.
Antonio pursed his lips. “It explains the blood libels, but what about the other things? The unfair taxation? These deplorable ghetto conditions? Being treated as a subhuman race instead of equal with the rest of humanity?”
“I’ll explain it to you with a parable,” Reb Yehuda said. “Let’s say there’s a man who claims to be the strongest in a room full of people. The only way for him to prove his claim is if every other man in the room wrestles with him. If he is being beaten up from all sides and still manages to best everyone, that is proof that he is truly the strongest.
“When will the world know that Hashem elokeinu Hashem echad?” Reb Yehuda asked. “When will the world finally be forced to agree that Hashem is One, the only One with power? One at a time, the nations of the world rise up, attacking the small, yet resilient nation of klal Yisroel. And one by one, they fall, fading into history. Klal Yisroel will be beaten up by every other nation, but we will never be bested, proving that Hashem elokeinu Hashem echad.”
“Wow,” Antonio said, impressed by the answer.
“Listen, Dr. Martini,” Reb Yehuda said after a moment of silence. “It bothers me a lot that you don’t know who you are. I saw how moved you were by the shemah, by the song I sang my children. Let’s try again. Perhaps I can help you recall something.”
“Alright, Rabbi, I am willing to try,” the professor agreed.
“Do you remember anything about your youth?”
“Nothing,” Antonio said. “And don’t ask me to think harder; I’ve strained my memory enough. There’s nothing there.”
“Let me sing you the song again,” Reb Yehuda said.
But the stirrings in Dr. Martini’s soul had ceased. The song did nothing to him.
Try as he might, the secrets of his past alluded him.
Reb Yehuda shook his head. A sixth sense told him that the man in front of him was a lost Jewish soul, and he wanted to help him uncover the truth of his past. Standing up, he went to check if his little son was yet asleep.
The little boy was still awake in bed, and he followed his father eagerly to the study. “This is my son, Yosef, named after my beloved father, of blessed memory,” Reb Yehuda introduced.
“Yosef, can you please recite the shemah, and then hinei lo yanum, before our guest?”
Yosef’s sweet voice echoed throughout the room as he recited shemah.
This time, Antonio stood up, his head between his hands, terribly agitated as he tried desperately to recall, to grab hold of those forgotten wisps of memory, to remember!
“Hinei lo yanum l’lo yishan,” Yosef sang.
“Yes, yes!” Dr. Martini cried out, and in a voice laced with tears, began to sing along with Yosef.
“I know this song! This is what my father would sing to me every night when he put me to bed!”
“Then you must be a Jew,” Reb Yehuda concluded in wonderment.
The professor shrugged. “Possibly. All I know is that I was put to sleep with this song.”
“Do you remember anything else?” Reb Yehuda urged excitedly.
Antonio furrowed his brow. “No,” he said helplessly. “I want to remember, but I just don’t.”
“What about siblings?” Reb Yehuda tried. “Did you have any siblings? A little sister, perhaps? An older brother?”
“Now that you’re saying that, I think I might have had a younger brother,” Antonio said slowly.
“What was his name?”
The professor threw up his hands. “I have no idea!”
Inside, Reb Yehuda felt queasy. The man sitting before him had obviously been born in a Jewish home and had been raised by his former maid. In his parents’ home, he had been put to sleep with the Hassan family tune to Hinei lo yanum. Could Dr. Martini be his lost brother Chaim?
“Let me try to pick your brain,” Reb Yehuda said suddenly. “Was your brother’s name Moshe? Shmuel? Meir?”
Antonio shook his head. “No, no, no, that does not sound right at all.”
“Yitzchok? Netanel? Yehuda?”
Dr. Martini shrugged. “I don’t know. I can’t remember.”
“What about your own name?”
“No, your Jewish name from before. What were you called by father, who lovingly put you to sleep with the shemah and Hinei Lo Yanum?”
“I don’t know!”
“Was it Chaim?”
“I don’t know! To be honest, I give up.”
But Reb Yehuda continued stubbornly. “Let’s try this a different way. You said you were raised by your family’s former maid.”
“Yes, a woman named Julia Martini.”
“And why couldn’t you parents raise you?”
“According to her, there was an epidemic and my entire family perished. She and I were the soul survivors.”
“Have you ever verified her claims?” Yehuda demanded. “This must have taken place thirty years ago. Did you check if there indeed was an epidemic in Italy during that period? And where are you parents buried? Has this righteous woman not taken you even once to their graves?”
“These are all excellent questions,” Antonio agreed, somewhat uncomfortably.
“When I was just four years old, my older brother Chaim was kidnapped by a maid,” Reb Yehuda said softly. “Her name was Julia, but I do not know what her surname was. I’m starting to believe that you are my long-lost brother.”
Dr. Martini stood up, completely agitated. He had come to the Jewish rabbi with a question that had been bothering him, not to find out that they were brothers. “Don’t take this personally,” he told the rav, “But I’m not at all convinced that I am your brother. There is something a little freaky about this meeting. I’ll be going now. Thank you for your time.”
Reb Yehuda stood up. “Alright, Antonio, I won’t keep you hostage here. However, please speak to this Julia and look into the story more. Come back and let me know what she says.”
Chaim went back to his hotel, his emotions roiling within him. That night, he could not sleep. Was he really a Jew? And could it be that the wise rabbi was his own brother?
It was at daybreak that he finally drifted off into a restless slumber, only to be awakened a few short hours later by the shouting and jeers of the rioters in the street. Looking out his window, he could see the crowds of gentiles wielding clubs and bats, shouting about the Christian blood that the Jews were kneading into their matzos.
From the distance, he could see a crowd marching drunkenly down the street. As they neared his window, Antonio saw that they were surrounding a Jew. A moment later, he realized that it was the rabbi, Reb Yehuda Hassan. Leaving his room, he sprinted outside.
Reb Yehuda looked terrible. His nose was bloody, his face sported ugly blotches, and his hands were tightly bound.
“Rabbi!” Antonio cried. “What’s going on here?”
“I am being accused of murdering a Christian child,” Reb Yehuda responded through bloated lips. “I am being led to jail now. Of course, I am innocent. I would never kill a child, and certainly not to drink his blood. The Torah forbids the consumption of blood.”
Antonio watched helplessly as the rabbi continued to be dragged through the streets. There was nothing he could do to stop the injustice.
That’s it, he decided, enraged by the sight of the princely rabbi being dragged like an animal to the slaughter. I’m going back to Mother. This time, I will make sure she tells me everything.
His hometown was a two-day journey away, and Antonio set out immediately. When he arrived at Julia’s home, he found her sitting by the fire, wrapped in a shawl.
“Ah, Antonio, so nice of you to stop by!” Her smile was genuine. She was obviously pleased to see him.
“Mother, I need to know something, and it is important that you tell me only the truth,” Antonio said, cutting straight to the point.
“What do you want to know?” she asked, seeming to shrink into herself.”
“I want to know who I really am,” Antonio said.
“Where do I come from? Why did I end up with you?”
“There was an epidem—.”
“Don’t give me the epidemic nonsense!” Antonio shouted. His voice turned low and dangerous. “Tell me. Who am I?!”
“You were a Jewish child,” Julia replied in a frightened voice. “But please don’t threaten an old lady, especially one who has saved your life and your soul! Would you have preferred to remain in that sinful Jewish household? Of course not!”
“So I am a Jew,” Antonio said coldly. “And you saved me from my parents’ household, hmm? Don’t you think I would have been better off being raised by my own parents? For your own safety, you’d better answer me honestly: what is my real name?”
Julia recoiled in fear. “Chaim,” she stammered out. “Chaim Hassan.”
“Chaim Hassan,” Antonio repeated wonderingly. “Did I have any siblings? A little brother, perhaps?”
“You had a younger brother named Yehuda,” Julia said.
A sudden rage suffused Antonio/Chaim’s entire being. “How have you torn a child away from his parents?!” he demanded accusingly. “Where was your heart?! Don’t you think my parents longed for me? Don’t you think they felt my absence?!”
Julia recovered her wits. “Young man, watch how you speak to the woman who gave her entire being into your education,” she admonished sharply. “If this is how you react to the information I give you, no more information will be forthcoming.”
But Chaim had more than enough information. He left the house without saying goodbye and made his way back to the city where his newly discovered brother was the rav.
Reb Yehuda was still languishing in jail on false charges, and Chaim knew that he needed to do something to save his brother.
With a confident stride, he walked into the courthouse and asked to speak to the judge.
“I’m Dr. Antonio Martini, professor at the University of Rome,” he introduced himself, neglecting to mention that he had not held that position in more than a year.
“How can I assist you, professor?” the judge asked.
“There’s a man sitting in your jail awaiting sentencing,” the professor continued. “His name is Yehuda Hassan, rabbi of the city’s Jewish population.”
“Ah, yes, he is being tried for the murder of a Christian child,” the judge said. “What a despicable crime.”
“I am here from the University of Rome to vouch for the man,” Chaim continued with a confidence he did not feel. “This man is as honest and upstanding as they come, and his hands are clean of bloodshed. In fact, there are a great deal of influential people who are very unhappy with the circumstances. People are even beginning to question the efficiency of your own investigators.”
“From the University of Rome, you say,” the judge said slowly.
“You’ve started up with the wrong man, your honor,” Chaim continued self-assuredly. “Too many people are asking too many questions about this entire affair, and believe me, it does not bode well for you and your team.”
“And what do you suggest I do?” the judge asked.
“Let him out,” Chaim said firmly. “Drop the charges and let him out.”
The judge looked skeptical. “And how do I know you are who you say you are?”
“I’m well-known at the university,” Chaim said. “I’m sure that many of your lawyers and investigators have attended the great University of Rome. They can vouch for my authenticity.”
The matter dragged on for another few days, but then, after weeks of languishing in prison, Reb Yehuda was released. He joyfully returned to his family, resuming his position as leader of the community.
The next evening, there was a knock on the door. Opening it up, Reb Yehuda noticed a man who looked very familiar. “Dr. Martini!” he cried.
The man shook his head. “My name is Chaim,” he said quietly. “Chaim Hassan. Julia verified everything.”
The bothers fell on each other and could not leave go, weeping for the lost years.
“I don’t know the first thing about being Jewish,” Chaim said after a few minutes.
“You have much to learn, but the basics you do know,” Reb Yehuda contradicted. “You know that Hashem never sleeps and is watching over us every moment of our lives. He was with us all these years when we were apart, and now guided us back together.” He began to sing softly, and his brother joined in. “Hinei lo yanum V’lo yishan…”
Chaim joined his brother’s household and relearned everything about his heritage over the next few weeks. The only thing that marred their joy was the fact that their parents had not lived to see Chaim’s return, but as their father had instructed, Reb Yehuda transferred two-thirds of the inheritance to his brother.
With his brilliant mind, Chaim picked up lashon kodesh easily and was reading fluently in no time. The two brothers learned together every day, and after just two years, Chaim surpassed his brother by both his knowledge and depth of learning. He went on to establish a true Jewish home and merited to father yiddishe doros.
Have a Wonderful Shabbos!
This story is taken from tape # A344