The most truly amazing thing happened this afternoon — as captured in this somewhat blurry picture of me and my daughter, together with our across-the-street neighbor, Betty.

Betty is a Holocaust survivor. I met her one other time before today, shortly after we moved into our house last August: We were walking to shul at the same time on Rosh Hashana – she was remarkably fast!

All day today (Yom HaShoa), I found myself thinking about her, even though I’d only met her once. So, I decided that my daughter and I would bake her a banana bread.

We brought it over to her a few hours ago. At first when she came to the door, she seemed confused and didn’t recognize me — but then I reminded her that we had met on Rosh Hashana, and her eyes lit up.

I asked her to tell me where she’s from. “From Romania,” she said, “I’m Marmarosher.”

“Really?” I said, quite surprised that I hadn’t asked her about this when we met before. You see, my grandmother and great-grandparents were Marmarosher. They moved to Cleveland from Romania in the 1920s.

“My family was, too,” I told her. “Maybe you knew them — Benny and Esther Katz.”

She looked at me astonished. Her eyes welled up with tears.

“We’re mishpocha,” she said, slowly.

Her husband, Mike z”l, was cousins with Esther, my great grandmother, for whom I am named. They all grew up in the same small village of Sapinka, Romania.

Betty is sharp as a tack. She remembered incredible details from 60 and 70 years ago. She recalled meals my bubbie had prepared for their shul — I’d always been told she was an amazing balabusta.

Betty even told me, “You wouldn’t believe the meal your bubbie made for me and Mike when we moved to Cleveland. Oh, the food!” She remembered my grandmother well, and even recalled meeting my father a few times – “He was just a short little boy then!”

I couldn’t stop hugging her. She is a survivor, who moved to Cleveland at the age of 22, and into the house she now lives in after she was widowed 36 years ago. Eight months ago, my family moved to Cleveland and bought the house across the street.

May this mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother live until 120!

I am so truly humbled by what happened today. I’m not one to often say that I see the hand of G-d in things, but I definitely feel as though I was supposed to (re)meet this treasure of a woman. I can’t wait to get to know her better. What a blessing!


  1. OMG, I’m kind of giddy! This is PHENOMENAL. (And I think you ARE third cousins with her grandchildren!)

  2. Judy Ginsberg says

    What a beautiful story. There is a reason you moved in across the street from her. Hashem knows what to do.

    • Mara Strom says

      <3 I have had mixed feelings about this house ever since we moved in, missing our old house, etc. I said to my husband tonight that I am 1000% certain that this is the PERFECT house for us now!

  3. Michael Nadler says

    Wow! That’s my Great Aunt (My Father’s Mother’s Sister). We call her Tante Brana (Aunt Betty). Julie (Above) is my 2nd cousin! I’m ferklempt :). On a day of such sadness, when we remember so much loss it is wonderful to hear about the extended family that is out there, thriving, growing and surviving.

  4. My eyes were welling up as I read this. What a beautiful picture, too. Such an amazing story and all because you wanted to do something kind for another person, with no expectations of getting something in return. You gave her something special in that banana bread and I’m so glad you took the time to do that.

    Love & Hugs!

  5. Not discounting how special it must have been for you, Mara, but what a brocha for your daughter to know this lady. And what chinuch for her to see how her mother cares.

    P.S. Even if you weren’t biologically related, I like to think you would still have been mishpocha 🙂

  6. I believe there is no such thing as coincidence. What is meant to be is meant to be. I had chills reading your story. May you enjoy many happy times together. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Shulammis says

    I was really touched to read this, Mara. Thank you for sharing this amazing Hashgocha Protis story with your readers!

  8. Chani Coronel says

    I loved the story! My grandfather (and possibly my grandmother) were from the same town.

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