By Suzie Steinberg
“Hashem is here, Hashem is there, Hashem is truly everywhere.”
These are the words of a song that I used to sing as a child. I know that Hashem is always with us and we can connect to Him at any time. But if you are like me, you get caught up in the nitty-gritty of life, juggling a myriad of responsibilities with little to no time to think past the next load of laundry. Occasionally, Hashem reaches out to us in a profound way. The bar mitzvah of my son, Aharon, was one such experience for me, here in Eretz Yisrael.
It was on the first day of Sukkos, one week prior to Aharon’s bar mitzvah. My husband and I were resting in our room late in the afternoon, when Aharon ran in and told us to come quickly to our neighbor’s home. Our younger son, Yosef, had hurt his leg while jumping on mattresses in his friend’s sukkah.
When we arrived at our neighbor’s home, Yosef was on the floor, leaning against my friend, unable to move without suffering excruciating pain. As there was no way to get Yosef into a car, we called an ambulance to take us to the emergency room. When we arrived at the hospital, it didn’t take long for medical personnel to realize that Yosef had fractured his femur, the most difficult bone in the body to break. An x-ray confirmed the diagnosis, and surgery was scheduled for the next morning.
When Yosef voiced his fears, we tried to be as honest and reassuring as possible. We were concerned about the actual surgery. Would there be long-term damage? Would it affect his growth? Yosef’s concern was whether or not he should say “HaMapil” if the nurses would be talking to him during the night. Once we were settled in our hospital room, we began saying T’hilim. At least there was something productive we could do.
In the morning, an orderly came to get us. Tension mounted as we headed toward the operating room. I stayed with Yosef until the anesthesia took effect, then kissed him on his forehead and tearfully made my way back to the waiting room, where my husband and I recited T’hilim for the duration of the operation.
The surgeon appeared much sooner than we had expected. Baruch Hashem, the surgery was successful. What a relief! We spent a quiet Shabbos in the hospital and were discharged the next day.
Chol HaMoed was very low-key, due to Yosef’s limitations. Our neighbors proved themselves to be big baalei chesed, offering any sort of help they could possibly think of so that we could concentrate on caring for Yosef. Sometime during that week, Yosef began to run a fever. Our pediatrician and surgeon were not overly concerned. Even so, we kept Yosef home from shul on Simchas Torah. After shul, our neighbors came by to spin Yosef around in his wheelchair, singing, “Toras Hashem T’mimah.” Yosef managed to have a taste of hakafos afterall.
Once Yom Tov was over, Yosef’s fever seemed to be dropping, so we dove right into our preparations. The bar mitzvah was to be the next day. In the morning, Yosef finally woke up fever-free! Baruch Hashem! Now we could focus on our preparations worry-free. I continued my cooking while my husband ran out to do some last-minute shopping. But later on that morning, I checked Yosef’s temperature again, just to be on the safe side (being a Jewish mother did not allow me to fully abandon my worrying). This time, the results were unexpected and worrisome. His fever was back up. Our pediatrician felt that Yosef should be seen in the hospital, where further tests could be performed if necessary. We quickly ran to the car and headed back to the emergency room. As we viewed this trip as merely a precaution, we figured we’d be in and out rather quickly. Unfortunately, we were wrong.
Shortly after we arrived at the emergency room, Yosef was examined by a nurse and blood work was done. We were then told to wait to be seen by an orthopedist who was in surgery. The possibility that we wouldn’t be leaving any time soon slowly began to dawn upon us. When Aharon called to ask when we expected to be home, we assured him that while we might not have much time to spare, we’d certainly be home in time for Shabbos.
In our absence, our neighbors and relatives rose to the task and took over our household. Thirty to 40 people were expected in our home for each of the Shabbos meals, and Shabbos was coming, whether we were ready for it or not. If not for the help of our friends and family, we could never have made it.
Yosef’s blood results came back normal, but when the ER pediatrician examined Yosef, he did not like what he saw. Yosef’s foot was swollen, he exhibited sensitivity in the area of his abdomen, and one of his blood markers was a bit elevated. The doctor strongly recommended that we stay. Otherwise, we could potentially be putting Yosef in a very dangerous situation. Our pediatrician spoke with the ER doctor and informed us that the medically responsible thing to do would be to keep Yosef in the hospital.
This was quite a blow. Compromising on Yosef’s health was clearly not an option.
Leaving him in the hospital, even with others who offered to take over for us, flew in the face of all maternal instinct. Missing Aharon’s bar mitzvah was unthinkable. Never in my life did I feel such a primal urge to cut myself in half so that I could be in two critical places simultaneously.
With a little over an hour to Shabbos, decisions had to be made. My husband selflessly suggested that I go home while he’d stay with Yosef for Shabbos, but I felt it made more sense for my husband to go home and stand near Aharon as he read from the Torah. I knew he would do his utmost to make Shabbos as meaningful and enjoyable as possible, given the situation at hand.
Our rabbi conferred with our pediatrician and informed us that since Yosef was a choleh, if he would be discharged from the hospital, it would be permissible for us to be driven home by an Arab driver if his being at home would help aid in his recovery. (As with all piskei halachah, each individual must consult with his own rav about his particular situation.) Meanwhile, I sent my husband home with my notebook, which contained all pertinent bar mitzvah information. Then I called Aharon and tearfully explained that I would not make it back in time for his bar mitzvah after all. I apologized profusely, and then, for the second week in a row, I proceeded to give him and my other children their Friday night brachos over the phone.
Just a few minutes before Shabbos, a friend called to give me the phone number of a trustworthy Arab driver, which I scribbled down on a scrap of paper and then ran to bentch licht. Only then could I take a deep breath as I wheeled Yosef back to the emergency room, where we found my newly-married niece and her husband waiting. They had decided to forego the bar mitzvah festivities to keep us company in the hospital. Within minutes, we were summoned to go for an ultrasound of Yosef’s abdomen, which thankfully indicated no abnormalities. I returned to the ER proudly waving the results, certain that freedom was right around the corner.
When the orthopedist finally examined Yosef, he informed me that he would have to be admitted. While he didn’t have full-blown symptoms, there was concern that he had developed an infection in his leg and would need IV antibiotics. I asked the doctor if he could possibly send us home with the medication, since many of our guests were doctors. The doctor was not impressed. It was either stay in the hospital, or leave without medication.
All hopes of attending Aharon’s bar mitzvah were dashed. It’s not that hard to keep things in perspective in the hospital, though, and “Let this be the worst thing we ever have to face” became my mantra. Soon we were moved to the pediatric surgical ward and placed back in the same room where we had spent Shabbos the previous week.
The nurses on duty told me that there are instances when patients are sent home with IV medication. When Oshrat, my favorite nurse, arrived at 7 a.m., I accosted her with my plea. She said that she would have an answer later in the morning.
My heart sank. “Later in the morning? But my son is already in shul!”
Oshrat replied that she would see what she could do in half an hour, and I returned to our room totally dejected. It was just not going to work. I sat down to daven, but before I could even open the siddur, Oshrat barged into the room and glowingly told me that she had gotten authorization for us to leave immediately, as long as we agreed to return right after Shabbos. My niece ran to retrieve the all-important paper with the phone number of the driver, and when the Arab nurse called him, he happened to be in the parking lot of the hospital, picking up his wife, who worked the night shift. They were both waiting for us at the entrance to the hospital before we even got downstairs.
When we arrived at shul, Yosef was wheeled into the men’s section and placed right next to my husband at the shulchan, just as Aharon began reading the fourth aliyah. When Yosef, looking frighteningly pale, sheepishly waved to my husband, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. I had no way of knowing this, but I was told that when we arrived at shul, Aharon’s voice suddenly became stronger and more confident. The cloud that had been hovering over the bar mitzvah had suddenly lifted and the atmosphere was transformed into one of true happiness.
The rest of the day had a quality that is hard to describe in words. It was truly a bar mitzvah to remember.
There are many lessons that can be learned from this story. The most obvious is
“Rabbos machashavos b’lev ish va’atzas Hashem hi sakum.” We can plan, organize, and imagine all that we want, down to the last detail, but Hashem runs the show. Another lesson to learn from this experience is the extraordinary power of chesed. A person has no way of knowing how much an even small act of chesed can impact another. We should never underestimate our power to positively or negatively affect others through our behavior.
Finally, there is one more lesson begging to be learned from this story: It is our responsibility to always keep our priorities intact. It is easy to get bogged down by gashmiyus. After all, you cannot have a s’udas mitzvah without food. Yet, we must always keep in mind what is most important. Is it the “bar” or is it the mitzvah?
My son can now be counted among the ranks of Jewish men. We are so proud of him –
he did a spectacular job with his siyum and k’riah, and managed to do it all under the most unusual circumstances with a maturity that belied his age.
As we go through life, there will be many times when we are overwhelmed. Hashem is always with us, trying to communicate with us. Let us hope that we are always listening.
Suzie (nee Schapiro) Steinberg grew up in Kew Gardens Hills. She works as a social worker and lives with her husband and children in Ramat Beit Shemesh.