Tuesday, July 23, 2019 -
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Small world

A couple of weeks back when I was visiting in Denver I found myself at the Cherry Creek Mall. To my surprise I noticed a young chasidic couple browsing through some things nearby.

The husband with his curly peyos, his wife — with her double hair covering of a sheitel plus a scarf — and their two young children looked like they walked out of Mea Shearim, Jerusalem, or Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

I walked up to them to say hello and to see whether there was anything they needed to know about Jewish Denver. Clearly, these were not locals. I approached them by smiling with a line something to the effect, “It’s not every day you see chasidische Yidden at Cherry Creek Mall.”

We exchanged warm hellos. They did, in fact, inquire about a kosher dairy eatery and the shul.

We parted ways with a smile — we hadn’t even formally introduced ourselves. I soon forgot about this relatively insignificant encounter.

Then last week I was on a flight from Denver to New York. There were major delays. By the time I got off the flight and was waiting at the luggage carousel, I was half asleep. But I noticed, standing on my right, the young couple and the two children Ihad met in Denver. We spied one another at the exact moment and exchanged warm hello’s, laughing about what a small world it is.

I asked them how they had enjoyed Denver and the husband said he loved the calm pace of life, in contrast to New York. I said, “perhaps you’ll come again,” and he responded with something like, “Well, if we are not in Eretz Yisrael then we would definitely think of coming again,” whereupon I responded, not catching his drift, “Oh, are you moving to Eretz Yisrael?” He clarified, “If the mashiach (the Messiah) arrives, then we’ll be in Eretz Yisrael.”
I was both amused and inspired. Then I asked him what chasidus he follows, Breslov perhaps?

“Satmar” came the fast reply.

“Oh, there is just one Satmar person I know. I met her just under a year ago. It was the day after Yom Kippur, when my roommate Rachel, together with Stephanie — a talented violinist — and I went to Mt. Sinai Hospital to visit someone we had heard was there on Yom Kippur.

When you plan on visiting a sick person who you are not personally acquainted with, you never know how it will be. You never know how it will turn out.

Will it be a 10-15 minute verbal exchange of pleasantries? Will you wordlessly sit there grieving with the sick person and the family? Will you share tears? Share stories? Hold hands? Listen?

We had heard that the woman we were about to meet was very special. Apparently, she had spoken at the Congregation Ohab Zedek bikur cholim luncheon the previous year.

When we walked into this woman’s room, I instantly felt something was different. Her beautiful and youthful face literally lit up as she saw us. She was simply beaming. Lying in the hospital bed she radiated an ethereal and noble quality. Her extremely high spirits conveyed a true joie de vivre.

It turns out this woman is the principal of the girls school in Kiryas Yoel — the Satmar chasidic village in upstate New York. She fought all the way to the Supreme Court to maintain the right to government aid to her students for their secular studies. This woman was so joyous and full of love, appreciation and faith.

One of the more memorable things she said was that she does not keep the book of Lamentations in her house. Her faith is so strong that the Jewish people will be redeemed and that the Messiah will come that she does not plan for Tisha b’Av.

Now it was the day after Yom Kippur, when we are all purged of sin. Holy and pure as newborn babies — we are all poised for a new beginning.
Stephanie held her violin and tucked it between her chin and shoulder and the melancholy soul of the violin burst forth.

Together in this little hospital room we all sang together for hours. Stephanie played the timeless old Yiddish songs of an era in Europe gone by. The atmosphere in the room was charged. There was something exalted about being in this simple, sterile room.

All of us spiritually cleansed, still radiating the pure spirit of Yom Kippur, singing, we pleaded with

G-d to restore Rivky’s health. We strengthened one another with words and song.

In these moments everything seemed to have melted away, or at least was suspended — the dilemmas of living and dying, the battle to prevail in the face of illness, the fears, the unimaginable suffering, the terrifying circumstances.

For these moments we were together as companions in faith and friendship. We laughed. We cried. We bonded. Rivky was discharged that week. Then I heard that, unfortunately, she was readmitted.

As this reverie was fading and I came back to reality in the airport after telling this chasidic couple about Rivky, I said: “You know, I actually don’t even know this woman’s name. I met her in the hospital in the fall and I daven for her every day, so I just know her name as it is prayed: Rivka bat Esther.”

That is when I noticed the tears glistening in this young chasid’s eyes.

“Rivka bat Esther is my aunt,” he said to me.

Tehilla R. Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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