• Solomon and Esther Ueberall from Brooklyn USA early 1900's | Photo: FB

The Blessings of Giving

Tal Hartuv - 12 July 2022

Since the war in Ukraine broke out, there has been the occasional article in the Israeli press, about Christian aid, and how Christians for Israel (specifically) are in the middle of the battle field helping Ukrainian Jews to come home to Israel. Usually wary of “missionary activity” by Christian organisations, the Israeli media this time have reacted with astonishment, interest and gratitude.

Although Israel has received a lot of help from Christians over the years (and sometimes if truth be told, with evangelical strings attached) like Christians for Israel who are helping with no strings attached, there has also been altruistic aid given by Jews to Christians.

“The story of Solomon and Esther Ueberall is about altruistic aid given by Jews to Christians”

One such story is of Solomon and Esther Ueberall, a newly married Jewish couple who owned a small store in Brooklyn at the beginning of the twentieth century. Both immigrants, whose families came to America seeking sanctuary from religious persecution, they made up their mind to help the stranger, as they too had been helped.

One day, a certain Father Caruana, a young Catholic priest, walked into their humble store to buy some shoelaces. When they asked him why he looked so sad, the priest explained that the mortgage on his church was due but he was unable to raise the $500 to pay it off. In today’s currency, that meagre $500 was actually the equivalent of a whopping $14,000. As the priest left, Solomon called out – to the astonishment of his young wife – “Don’t worry, I’ll get the money for you.”

The young couple had no money. But Solomon suggested that they could sell their beautiful wedding gifts at the pawn shop and donate that money so people could continue to worship in their church. But even their wedding gifts were only worth $250, so Solomon, determined to keep his promise, made it his mission to borrow the rest of the money from his uncles, brothers-in-law and cousins. Finally, he managed to obtain the full sum necessary to pay off the church’s mortgage.

Not long after the debt was paid, the young priest was transferred to another church far away. By default, Solomon and Esther lost contact with him. But his Catholic congregation now grew and Heaven blessed the Jewish couple’s giving. Their little store expanded to become the renowned and lucrative Ueberall Department Store.

Years later, when Solomon had died and Hitler had come to power, Esther received letters from her late husband’s relatives and in Austria pleading for help to get into America. Esther did all she could to pay the guarantees needed for their visas but letters continued to arrive now from friends of the family even after the immigration quotas were filled.

When Esther was on the point of despair, a man from the USA Labor Department told her that refugees could still find sanctuary in Cuba on the condition that an individual would vouch for them financially and assure the Cuban government that they would not become a burden to the country. Although she did not know anyone in Cuba, Esther did know it was a Catholic country. Esther approached the new priest of the church they had given the $500. He knew of their generosity and immediately sent the necessary cables to Cuba, informing the authorities of the situation and the Jewish couple’s act of giving.

“Archbishop Caruana helped more than two dozen of the European Solomon family to get into Cuba and escape the Holocaust”

Father Caruana – Cuban archbishop | Photo: FB

Many lives were at stake. Esther immediately flew to Havana. As she walked off the plane, she saw a priest. It was Father Caruana who was now an archbishop in Cuba! He promised her he would do everything to help. And help he did. The archbishop helped more than two dozen of the Solomon family to get into Cuba and even provided them with housing and kosher meat.

When the priest became ill at the end of the war, Esther visited him before he passed away. The Italian Christian immigrants in Brooklyn always remembered the generosity of their Jewish friends. And just as the Solomon’s will always remember the kindness of their Christian friends, Israel and Jewish Ukrainian will remember the kindness of Christians for Israel who by risking their own lives, are helping our people come home.

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