We have intentionally changed some facts to protect the privacy of the people involved. If you guessed their identity, keep it to
I sat on the faded wooden bench in the park. It was Shabbos afternoon,
and this playground was filled with the happy sounds of children at
play. We were visiting my husband's elderly grandparents in Haifa,
and I had brought the children to the park to allow Bubby and Zeidy
a peaceful Shabbos nap. I waved to a grinning Moishy, and dutifully
watched as he slid headfirst down the weatherbeaten slide. The other
children were flying energetically on the huge black tires that served
as swings. I sighed heavily to myself. It had been a difficult Shabbos,
trying to harness the exuberant spirits of six lively children in
unfamiliar surroundings. Bubby and Zeidy had been so thrilled when
we finally agreed to come to them for a Shabbos but I hadn't realized
how frail they had become. They loved having the children over, but
I saw how much of a strain it was on them.
Absorbed in my thoughts, I barely noticed when a middle-aged woman
joined me on the bench. Alongside her was a young boy in a wheelchair.
"Good Shabbos," she greeted me with a pleasant smile. "Are
you visiting? I don't think I've seen you here before." Warmed
by her friendliness, I introduced myself. "Oh, yes. I know that
Kahns. They live on Rechov Regev, don't they? They're such a sweet
couple." I nodded, marveling at the closeness of this community.
"I'm Rina Levine. I come here almost every nice day. Refoel loves
to be out and see other children. This park is one of his favorite
spots." She stroked his thin hand as she spoke. We chatted casually
for several minutes, yet my glance kept straying to the delicate boy
in the wheelchair. Propped up securely in the chair, his bright brown
eyes darted eagerly, drinking in the cheerful romping of the children.
Just then, a young boy came up and asked if he could wheel Refoel
around. You could see the pleading and excitement in two sets of eyes
as they waited for the affirmative nod. It came and the two were off.
For a long moment, Rina gazed thoughtfully at me. "I see that
you're curious about Refoel. If you've got some time, I'll share his
story with you." I agreed, piqued by curiosity and compassion.
"I'll start from the very beginning, when I first met Refoel."
My eyes opened wide. "First met?" I repeated hesitantly. She
nodded briefly, then plunged into her tale. "For a number of years,
I was part of a Bikur Cholim organization. Every week I would
visit patients in a local hosptial. One day I received an urgent phone
call. There was a nurses' strike on, and extra volunteers were needed
desperately in the Children's Ward.
"`The nurses go off duty at 12 o'clock. Please be there on time
to care for the children,' a crisp voice informed me. I could almost
hear the scratch of a pen as she marked off names on her list.
"I arrived several minutes early that day. To my surprise, I discovered
that the nurses only went off duty at 4:00. Only afterwards would
I realize that this was yet another example of Yad Hashem which
I would encounter throughout my relationship with Refoel. A harried
nurse requested that I hold a baby who was screaming piteously in
the next room. `He's got cerebral palsy and he's blind,' I was told
matter-of-factly. `He's been abandoned by his natural parents.' I
rocked the little boy gently in my arms, crooning softly to settle
him. Feeling how damp his diaper was, I proceeded to change him. If
I had arrived after four O'clock, when the nurses had left for the
day, he would most certainly have been freshly changed. And I would
never have discovered that this tiny Jewish boy had not yet had a
"Shocked and upset, I paced the halls, clutching the infant securely
in my arms. His big brown eyes followed the lights in the corridor,
pausing with grave interest to peer at the pictures in their heavy
gilt frames. I stopped in front of a large painting. The baby seemed
captivated by the swirls of color, for he gurgled delightedly.
" `This baby can't be blind,' I decided. I pounced on the head
nurse to share my discovery but she was distracted. `Maybe he can
see shapes,' she reluctantly conceded, `but he's got so many other
problems, it hardly makes much difference.' I bristled angrily at
the way this child was being treated. `He needs love -- a mother's
love.' I was furious at his mother for simply abandoning him. It wasn't
his fault that he had been born with such severe medical problems.
"I went home that night, determination and despair churning inside
me. I would make sure that the four-month-old infant would have a
proper bris. Yet where could I find a home for him?
"I found myself becoming obsessed with this baby. Often, after
arriving home from visiting him, I would call the Children's Ward
to check on his condition. Was he covered properly? Might he be uncomfortable
and fretting? I couldn't keep him out of my mind. I spent hours on
the telephone trying to find a home for him. He couldn't stay at the
hospital indefinitely and the nurses had mentioned a possibility of
his being sent soon to an institution, perhaps a Christian one.
"One night, after another fruitless round of phone calls, an incredible
thought struck me. Why not keep the baby myself? We would be the
perfect family for him! Trembling with emotion, I shared my idea
with my husband, who approved wholeheartedly. The following day, I
gathered my children around the dining room table and held a family
conference about the fate of the infant. My oldest was 17 at the time,
the youngest 3. All eight children were perched on our worn chairs,
eager to offer an opinion. My husband described the boy's severe limitations
and the difficulties involved in caring for such a child. To my great
pride and relief, the children all agreed that we should take him.
"`We'll help you take care of him, Ima,' six-year-old Bluma offered.
`Hurray!' we're getting a new baby!' whooped the twins. Tears coursing
down my cheeks, I felt a heavy rock lift from my heart. I knew that
we could make a difference to this helpless little boy.
"A fervent blessing from our rov still ringing in our ears, my
husband and I traced our steps to the hospital to claim the baby.
While my husband filled out reams of paper and stacks of forms, I
paced the halls nervously. After visits to the social worker, doctors,
and the head nurse from Pediatrics, the baby was finally released
into our custody. His natural parents had refused to sign the necessary
papers, so we were only his guardians, not adoptive parents."
Rina looked at me, having paused in her reminiscenses. "That was
the easy part," she said, a faint smile playing on her lips. "Once
we brought him home, the hard part began." I hung avidly on her
words, amazed at this courageous woman and her incredible narrative
of mesiras nefesh.
"Six weeks after my seeing the baby for the first time, we took
him home with us. When he was almost six months, he had a bris
mila. We named him Refoel Chaim. The whole neighborhood rejoiced
with us. My friends were extremely supportive. Some thought I was
crazy, but they still buoyed up my spirits when I struggled. Refoel
was miserable when we first brought him home. He cried for hours non-stop.
He was very spastic and certainly in some pain. He wasn't on any medication
at that time. Frantic from worry and sheer exhaustion, I would gladly
have handed him over to his mother if she had knocked on my door then.
Boruch Hashem we survived that ordeal. Refoel is ten years
old now and a happy child." Rina glanced fondly at the youngster
who was still being wheeled around the playground, now by a girl,
blonde braids swinging impishly. She was chattering rapidly to him,
sharing her secrets. The two giggled companionaly, secure in their
world. Refoel looked at his `mother' to see if she was appreciating
how happy he was. As their glances locked, his eyes sparkled. A wide
grin revealed his love for this special woman.
"The kids adore him," Rina commented, her face glowing. She
leaned forward and our heads almost touched. "Do you know what
my 12-year-old son said yesterday? Someone asked him if he was jealous
of all the attention Refoel gets in our home. His answer was simple.
`What would we have done without Refoel?'"
Rina relaxed; a dreamy look crept into her eyes. "He's a special
neshoma. He listens to our davening so carefully. He
loves when my husband or one of the boys learn aloud at home. He seems
to follow each word they say."
She paused. "He's made each of us a better person. My daughter's
teacher called me last week. She sees how Michali is always the first
to help children who are left out or defend those teased by the rest
of the class. Refoel has given us so much."
Rina noticed my admiring look and added hastily, "Please don't
get the wrong impression. Some people think I'm such a tzaddekes
because I'm taking care of a handicapped child. It's not like that
at all. We consider Refoel our son, even if we haven't been able to
adopt him formally. And for a son, no effort or trouble is too much."
I sat silently on the bench, mulling over Rina's last comment. Some
child wheeled Refoel back, his cheeks ruddy, his eyes bright. Rina
rose and gripped the handles of his wheelchair. "Good Shabbos.
It was nice meeting you. Think about all the women you know. I'm sure
many of them do acts of chessed that few people are aware of.
It's just that in my situation, it's more apparent." She smiled
wryly and walked away. In a short while, I was surrounded by a circle
of happy faces. "Ima, this is such a fun park. Can we come back
again?" Still bemused by my encounter with Rina, I nodded distractedly.
"Who were those people, Ima? Do you know them?" Rachel curiously
eyed the retreating form of a woman, navigating a wheelchair in front
"That's a special lady, with a special son," I answered quietly,
Refoel's story still echoing softly in my ears.