Witnessing the Power of Chesed

One early morning in December 2021, my world turned upside down. My oldest daughter, who was spending the year in seminary in Israel, was found unconscious in her room. She was rushed for a CT scan, and suddenly I was dealing with the worst nightmare a mother could face.

A few months earlier, we had moved from New York to Florida. It was 5 am when I received the life-changing call from the dorm mother. My husband was in New York working, as he had not yet transitioned to his job in Florida.

I called my parents in Brooklyn to relay the terrifying news, but I needed someone at my side because I had no idea what the next phone call would bring. In desperation, I called a neighbor whom I had recently met. She arrived at my door within minutes and held my hand through it all, staying with me for the next critical twenty-four hours. Such extraordinary acts of kindness followed us throughout this journey.  

Soon, my father, a physician, was on the phone conferencing with me, the seminary dean and the neurosurgeon. It was then that we learned the diagnosis: my daughter had a brain tumor. She would need a seven-hour surgery. She was intubated and unconscious. It felt like the earth was crumbling beneath me.  

By this time, my younger children were awake. My neighbor anchored me while arranging rides for them to school and helping them get ready. She also posted for communities around the world to say Tehillim.

In the meantime, my husband, still in New York, was scrambling to figure out how to get to Israel despite the closed borders due to Covid. Another neighbor connected us to someone at the Israeli embassy, who expertly arranged emergency clearance. A flight was arranged for that evening. My husband suddenly realized, though, that his passport was in Florida. This was about 4 pm, and his flight to Israel was at 11 pm. My neighbor, still at my side, called her son. He picked up the passport and headed straight to Fort Lauderdale International Airport. Checking the departing flights to New York, he arrived at the terminal and approached the first frum-looking couple he saw. He confirmed that they were flying to New York and explained the situation; the couple agreed to take the passport. They arrived at JFK Airport around 9 pm and called my husband just as he arrived there for his flight.  

The chesed continued non-stop. Strangers came in and out of my home all day to help. Every night for the next month we received delicious home-cooked meals from concerned neighbors, some of whom I didn’t know.  

One neighbor whose kids went to the same school as mine texted me, “I’ll be taking your daughter to and from school every day.” Despite having a houseful of her own young children, she continued to drive my daughter every day until the end of the school year.  

With all the turmoil, it was weeks later when I realized that we had been paying daily parking fees for my husband’s car, which was still parked at the airport in Florida (awaiting his weekly return from New York) for the entire time he was in Israel at our daughter’s side. My husband had the only set of keys. A neighbor contacted a friend in Haifa near Rambam Hospital who was flying to Florida; the woman picked up the car keys from my husband and brought them to the States. Then, one night, another neighbor took a cab to the airport to retrieve the car.  

If only I could have kept track of the kindness we experienced every hour of every day.  

A few mothers with daughters in the same seminary showed up one evening to provide support. Noting my utter exhaustion, they watched my children as I rested for the first time in days. Over the next few weeks, we continually received packages of toys, games and art supplies, as well as flowers, chocolates and cards from the “seminary moms.”  

A month later, when my daughter was given clearance to fly home, a Jewish organization that finds volunteer EMTs to accompany patients arranged to have an EMT fly especially to Israel to assist my husband on the flight home with our daughter. 

An infinite light of unconditional love, concern and generosity from community members has embraced our family for the past year and a half, which is certainly bringing much-needed healing to our world.  

People from around the globe donated generously to a fundraiser launched by my daughter’s seminary friends to help us cover her staggering medical expenses. This past Rosh Hashanah, we needed to stay in a chesed apartment near the hospital as my daughter continued her treatments; once again, my community arranged yom tov for us. All day long the bell rang with people delivering fish, soup, challah, chicken, roasts, kugels, grilled vegetables and cakes.

Baruch Hashem, my daughter is on the road to recovery. With time she will, G-d willing, be back to her former wonderful self. But my family will never be the same. We have seen firsthand the power of chesed. It’s not easy to be on the receiving end, I often think, but then I remind myself that kindness brings redemption and that there needs to be a vessel for it. Why G-d chose my family to be that vessel is a question I grapple with, but in my heart I know that we are all here for a mission and we all play a part in bringing positive change to this world. My role right now is to accept the chesed, and yet I pray for the day when I can be on the giving end, helping to transform our world, one good deed at a time.

Sara Spielman is a freelance writer living in Florida.

This article was featured in the Fall 2023 issue of Jewish Action.
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