I have known for a long time that Baltimore is special. The achdus (unity), the tolerance of Jews who come from different backgrounds or make different choices, the incredible avoidance of loshon hora (gossip) have all impressed me ever since I moved here 14 years ago.
But what I did not realize was how much deep and profound kindness, true love for fellow Jews is found within our community. In large part I suppose this is because my family did not need to rely on the kindnesses of others – so while we knew Bikur Cholim and Chai Lifeline (among others) and good people existed, we did not really understand how these institutions and individuals can make all the difference for someone who needs help, who may be in a dark place and in need of ahava (love).
My personal saga started some weeks ago when my mother passed. I knew I would be spending a few days sitting shiva here in Baltimore, but I had no idea what it really meant to be a mourner sitting shiva beyond the formal technicalities. Baltimore showed me what it means to comfort the mourners: it started with Misaskim taking care of so many details and all the people who sent meals and helped with minyanim (prayer quorums). Most of all, people came and sat with me, and listened to me, and humored me. Misery shared is halved, and because, thank G-d, my mother lived a long and full life, I was able to talk about all that she accomplished and created in her lifetime. It was not a tragic shiva, but it was actually made sweet by all the people who came, sometimes multiple times, to sit and talk and listen and share. And it worked to comfort me, far beyond my expectations. People here care. And it really, truly matters. I had lost my mother, but you made sure I never felt alone.
Our lives have been a little … busy of late. While my mother was near the end of her life, one of our sons, a 16-year-old, was diagnosed with a non-cancerous tumor in his jaw. Thankfully, we live in an age where there are good solutions to these problems. The solutions are long and quite traumatic – but there are solutions. He went in for major surgery; in all, over 24 hours of surgery under general anesthetic to remove the jaw, replace it with a piece of his hip, use microsurgery to sew the blood vessels together… and then deal with all the complications.
This community was right with us every step of the way. Bikur Cholim sent meals, sometimes delivered by friends, sometimes by complete strangers. Chai Lifeline helped entertain the three younger children who were at home while their parents were switching off to ensure that one of us was always in the hospital. A friend of my son came to the hospital to read megillah for my wife so she did not have to leave the PICU. Others sat with her and me during the long surgeries, the waiting, and davening, and worrying.
People offered to help in any way they could, and it changed our entire understanding of how beautifully people in a community can love each other and support each other. Help with a minyan during shloshim with my wife in the hospital with the son in PICU? Sure! Help babysitting children so that I could even go to minyan during the shloshim? Absolutely! Meals for the family … wow. I am moved to tears as I write this, with appreciation and gratitude to each and every person who was involved, who gave.
Along the way, my son, in an entirely-unexpected side-effect, lost vision in one eye, becoming legally blind in that eye. This was discovered while he was still in the PICU, still dopey from the drugs, still valiantly trying to put a good face on the situation. The neural ophthalmologist on the case told us that because of likely damage to the optic nerve, there was a 90% chance that his vision would never improve beyond 20/500 with two huge blind spots in that eye as well.
Maybe she was right. I don’t much care. Because something miraculous happened: his eyesight started improving… the blind spots started shrinking, and the vision started improving. We credit this entirely to the prayers of the community, to a dedicated psalms group that davened for him during all of his surgeries, to all the blessings in shul, to the learning dedicated to a complete recovery.
We did not do anything medically (there was nothing to be done). But people prayed, deeply, and from their souls. Jews in our community and in the broader world (some we know, and many we do not) took time out of their own very busy lives to pray that my son should recover his sight.
So far, it has worked. We went from a 16-year-old who was told that he would be blind in one eye for the rest of his life, to a boy who is improving day by day, who is now told by another neural ophthalmologist that there is reason to be optimistic that he can recover his sight entirely. We went from a life-threatening surgery that lasted many hours with many more complications than we (or the doctors) ever expected… to a boy who is starting to go back to school, to recover his strength, and who, in the next year or so, is expected to be fully recovered.
We only made it through because of you. Because of your thoughts. Because of endless acts of kindness and consideration. Because of your prayers. Because of the institutions we have created and nurtured in this community that try to think of everything, of every way they can possibly help someone in time of need.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.Published in