Dreaming of Moshiach

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Mission

A True Story by Sarah Chava

I can still remember seeing her for the very first time, an almost angelic looking beautiful reddish blond, blue-eyed baby girl that my parents named Chana Bracha. Born just a few days before Rosh Hashana in 1963, the entire evening and on into the night, calls kept coming in with Mazal Tov wishes to our family.

My younger brother, then 12 years old and I who was almost 14 at the time, were happy and quite delighted to have a new sibling to add to our small family. My mother had a fairly easy delivery and came home in time for Yom Tov. Since my father was the Chazzan of a large shul, many of the shul members made sure that we were well supplied with deliciously cooked Yom Tov foods so my mother could rest up and just take care of the new baby.

As the months went by, as all babies, Chana Bracha began to grow and become more mature. We would rush home from school to see out little sister at the end of the day, and looked forward to seeing the radiance of her lovely smile and the sparkle of her deep blue eyes. It was a very happy time and I can look back at those moments with fond memories.

I had an emergency appendectomy on the last day of Pesach and due to some complications needed to remain in the hospital for an entire week. When I returned, I noticed a slight change in Chana Bracha – she smiled but there was something (I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time) missing. While she would always giggle when I came to pick her up, there seemed to be a distance in her eyes. Of course, my parents told me that babies have a hard time recognizing someone after being away for a few days let along an entire week, but I felt a cold wind enter my heart .

Shortly after my appendectomy, I mentioned to my parents that I thought Chana should be sitting up or at least trying to get into a sitting position. Again, my parents thought that I was being much too rigid in my timetable and that she would, of course, soon be sitting and crawling. The regular pediatrician that had seen Chana Bracha from birth insisted that she was fine. A few more months went by and Chana would just barely smile at me when I entered the room. I would hold her tightly in my arms and rock her with a bottle, my heart still reeling with sadness and foreboding thoughts. I knew she was leaving us, but no one else understood.

My parents finally began taking her to doctor after doctor – throughout the New Jersey area. Numerous testing brought answers that she was just having slow motor issues and that she would eventually catch up. But Chana Bracha did not catch up. In fact, she started on a downhill slide. Finally, in November of 1964, about the time she was 14 months old, my parents who were desperate at this point were referred to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York. It only took 5 minutes for the specialists there to give my parents the diagnosis that would emotionally tear our family apart. The physicians told my parents that Chana Bracha had Tay-Sachs (effecting mostly Jewish families and a totally fatal genetic disease totally unheard of back in those days). Given the rate of her downward progression, the prediction was that she would maybe live a year.

I was waiting anxiously by the phone for the diagnosis, only to hear those dreaded words “fatal disease) coming from my father, who was so broken up with tears that it was almost impossible to understand clearly what he was saying. The doctors told him there was a ward in the hospital where other Tay-Sachs children were kept until their passing. They also told my parents that the ensuing months would be too difficult to watch and they should leave her in their care.

Immediately, I told my father that they must bring Chana Bracha home to her own family. It didn’t matter what the doctors said, I insisted. We can’t allow strangers to take care of her. We would stick together and see this through. My mother was like a ghost on her return. So tired, so pale and so distraught over my sister’s illness. We took turns feeding Chana Bracha, bathing her and keeping her room very, very meticulously spotless and quiet at all times - speaking only in whispers. Tay-Sachs is the complete deterioration of the nervous system and even the sound of a pin dropping on the floor could send her into convulsions. We lovingly took care of her, and I cried my own buckets of tears by myself in my room as she began slipping away – first her eyesight – she was in complete darkness, then her capacity to eat anything other than pureed baby food. As a family, we knew she was in Hashem’s Hands.

We lived on the Jersey seashore just one block from the Atlantic Ocean. There were man-made jetties that were out in the water to break the waves especially in the stormy weather. Even in the dead of winter, I would walk across the snow covered sand and walk out to the very end of the jetty. Here is where I would, at first, be angry with the Almighty, after all how could He be taking away my innocent baby sister. How was He allowing all of this pain to be in our family, and how would we ever come to learn to live happily again. I spent many hours over a period of time with the frigid waves of that majestic ocean slapping up against the rocks. After many months of my daily tirades out there on those rocks, I finally came to find an inner peace. I realized that it was indeed our family that had been chosen to care for this very special neshamale, who was on her mission for whatever time she was sent to us for. The anger dissipated and I davened over and over again for Chana Bracha to be at peace and not suffer.

The summer went by and Chana Bracha seemed to be on a plateau. However, as the month of Elul approached we noticed that there was a daily down-trend. Looking at a calendar and seeing that Rosh Hashana was almost upon us, my father sat us all down at the kitchen table and indicated that he felt our little sister was on her predestined schedule to leave us very soon. We stood together, although in deep pain, firmly understanding that her mission was almost complete.

And indeed, just a few days later on the first night of Rosh Hashana, Chana Bracha lost her ability to swallow. Now my mother gained all of her inner strength and rushed her to the hospital. Since it was Yom Tov, we didn’t hear a word. On the second day, I saw my mother walk in very quietly – she had walked a long way and just needed to sit down. What seemed like an eternity, but in reality was only a few short moments, my mother said in a whisper just a few words. Chana Bracha is no longer suffering. Her neshama has returned to Hashem.

It took a very long time, but our family did eventually heal from the pain of Chana Bracha’s loss. My brother and I grew to adulthood, and testing for Tay Sachs became available. Thank G-d we were both cleared through testing as not being carriers of the Tay-Sachs gene, and were able to find out bashertes, marry, and each have our own children.

I do think of her often through the year but especially, every Rosh Hashana. It is at this time I am so clearly reminded that Chana Bracha was sent on her mission to us for the reason that only Hashem knows, for two short years. She is forever locked in our hearts and will never be forgotten.

In memory of my little sister, Chana Bracha bas Shmaryahu Fishel, who was niftar on the second day of Rosh Hashana in 1965 just a few days after her second birthday.




והיה השם למלך על כל הארץ, ביום ההוא יהיה השם אחד - ושמו אחד ישתבח שמו לעד לנצח נצחים בכל העולמות Blessed is His name for eternity in all worlds אין עוד מלבדו