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Frieda Shikman at 88

Remembering the early years with Dina

“My son Shioimehleh, he was just a boy, he first saw Dina in a restaurant in Poland and he made an anti-Semitic waiter serve her. He wouldn’t let Dina go until she promised to write his mother in America. Dina sent me a letter from the orphanage: ‘I want a mother, a father and a dakh [roof].’ At that moment, I knew I would be her mother. You see, I was a child in Poland during a war, too, living with my grandmother. We starved, and my sister and my brother died from eating poisonous mushrooms.

“Dina was the first to get to New York after the Second World War, so all the newspapers ran stories about her. It took me two and a half years of red tape, but I made good a promise.”

“Her first night in America, she had nightmares and woke up screaming. My husband brought Dina into the bed with me, and then—he was six feet tall—he got into Dina’s tiny cot. I said, ‘Sha sha mameleh, you’re in good hands.’

“Even when Dina was a child, if I was sad, she cheered me up. Still today, she hugs me, she could break my bones.

“When it was time for Dina’s wedding, I told the caterer, ‘This has to be the finest in all history.’ He gave me a look like I was difficult, so I explained him. ‘Look,’ I said, ‘I am not Dina’s mother, but God chose me and my husband to walk Dina down this aisle.’

“A person can do many many mitzvahs in this world. What I did with Dina was just one. We had nothing to offer her financially, no bedroom for her, nothing. I gave her my love—what I would give my own children. For many years I was a fundraiser for myasthenia gravis. For fundraising, I talk to myself in the mirror: You’re going to have to have nerve, and have chutz- become a sbnorrer. For mitzvahs, those three things are always in my mind.

“At age 88, I just became a fundraiser for disabled children in Israel. Why would I become a fundraiser for disabled children in Israel at age 88? Because—it’s bashert. There isn’t a day I don’t get money to send.”