Over two and a half years ago, when I had first met with Rabbi Samuel Cywiak to begin work on his Holocaust memoir, Flight From Fear, I was amazed at how active and lively he was for a 88-year-old man. Here he was, and still is, working as the Principal Rabbi for Son of Israel Synagogue in St. Augustine, FL. In addition, he also performs circumcisions, conversions, weddings, etc. just to make ends meet.
Admittedly, he’d waited longer than he should’ve to work on his memoir, so trying to remember the events from over sixty years ago became draining for him at times. We had sessions where he couldn’t remember the details he wanted to and would feel bad about it. But later, he’d wake up in the middle of the night from a dream or nightmare, and those images and memories would return with a vengeance, fresh in his mind as if they’d happened yesterday.
Rabbi Cywiak was unaware of just how much is involved in the researching, writing, and editing of a book; the process wore him down over the two years it took to produce the final manuscript of Flight From Fear. And the six months it took produce the final product became torture for him; for both of us.
I became concerned over these years as I watched his vibrancy deteriorate. I worried about his health. Here he was nearing the ripe ol’ age of 91, and I feared he wouldn’t be around to see his tragic, yet inspiring and meaningful memoir in the completed, printed form. What good would it do if he wouldn’t be around to rejoice in his achievement and be the one to personally sign books for all the people he touched and inspired over the years?
When the books were finally delivered nearly two weeks ago, I had witnessed an instant transformation in the Rabbi. It was like he took a little trip to the Fountain of Youth in downtown St. Augustine and drank bucketsful of the mythical age-restoring water. I noticed a bounce to his step, a sparkle in his eyes, and a grin a mile wide. His deep voice had strengthened and his memory and hearing had improved. The Rabbi Cywiak I had met on that humid summer day in 2008 had returned, and with the energy of a twenty-year-old athlete.
Welcome back, Rabbi Cywiak!!!