Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

20 Kislev 5762 - December 5, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family
Blind and Beautiful
by Rifca Goldberg

What's it like to be blind? Join Rifca as she makes Aviva's acquaintance.

Behind the Looking Glass...

Part I

I spoke to a blind person once before in my life. Friends of my parents came for dinner. Mrs. Pressman was slim and nervous. Mr. Pressman was well dressed and polite. His eyelids were closed over flat spaces. The truth is I'm not sure that I spoke to him, other, maybe, than a proper `Nice to meet you.' Mostly I watched, and listened, fascinated and frightened simultaneously. To this day, I still remember how neatly he ate his peas, not one dropping off his fork...

But now is different. Aviva Barsheshet sits across the table from me, her soft smile encouraging me to speak. She asks deep, caring questions about me, my family and my life. I stare at her since she can't see me. I wonder if it's rude, but I do it anyway. Her eyes are open: a beautiful shade of chestnut brown. They dart about. Later she tells me that she can't feel any movement at all in her eyes although plenty of people have mentioned the movement to her. Involuntary muscle spasms, she says. Her eyes are beautiful anyway. A reflection of her loving personality shining through those windows that never had the ability to see.

She was born without optic nerves. "Hypoplasia," the doctor announced, advising Aviva's mother to put her into an institution immediately, forget about her, and go on with life. "Children with hypoplasia are usually severely retarded," the doctor continued sternly. But Aviva's mother wouldn't do it. This was her firstborn, her only daughter. She would teach her, protect her, care for her. And she did. "My mother made me into who I am today," Aviva says often. Into the capable, responsible, hard-working woman that she is. The doctors were wrong. Aviva is living proof.

But now, as I sit across the table from Aviva for the first time, I don't know all this information. That comes with time spent together, long discussions on the phone, and opening up to each other.

The truth is, I felt insecure talking to her that first time. She had come to my friend Leah's house for the morning. I didn't even know. I just went over to Leah to borrow some milk. At the front door, Leah smiled broadly and said, "Come in! I have someone special here!" She waved me in where I then sat across from Aviva. Leah dashed off to pick her baby up from the child care center, so Aviva and I were left alone to talk.

I felt I couldn't put on an act like I normally do around new people. I was afraid she could `see right through it,' so to speak. Silly expressions or body language wouldn't distract her. She would hear the words and be able to probe deeper, to the real issues. I felt exposed! But throughout the conversation, where she did, indeed, periodically probe deeper, her kindness and empathy prompted me on and slowly I felt at ease.

A week later: I'm at Aviva's house. I'm surprised at what a regular place it is. I don't notice any differences at all until she points them out to me. A stationary bike rests in the corner of the living room -- her main source of daily exercise. On a shelf near the window, a philodendron thrives in a clay pot. Next to the shelf, on the wall, hangs a decorative hook rug with a variety of geometric shapes, each shape a different color. She made both the pot and the rug. She tells me that she's done macrame and weaving as well. Recently, she's begun to learn how to knit. "My main talent, though, is being a true friend, being here whenever someone needs me. A listening compassionate ear can accomplish miracles."

As I admire her craftsmanship, she's busily making almond tea, using a battery operated water tester which hooks over the rim of the mug. She pours the boiling water in. Suddenly, a loud alarm goes off. I jump; she laughs. As she sets the tea-filled mug on the table, she says, "I can't touch the boiling water with my finger, obviously. The tester lets me know when the cup is full. No spills, no messes. It's wonderful! Plus -- the noise sure makes people jump!"

We both chuckle as we sit down to drink tea and eat crackers. The almond aroma of the tea mixes with the smell of fuchsia roses swirling in through her open kitchen window with the cool breeze. The tape recorder hums soft background music as we begin to talk. We talk about growing up, siblings, school, and books we have both read. She belongs to the U.S. Braille Library and even here in Israel, she gets a monthly brochure, in Braille, of course, with notification of new books available. She chooses, they send to her, she reads the books and sends them back. A Braille magazine lays open on the table. Very large white sheets of thick paper reamed together. Small bumps gracing the pages. No pictures. No written letters. Nothing to `see,' yet she reads those bumps with ease.

She shows me her Braille labeler. "I use it to label compact disks and canned food, as well as my skirts and blouses so that my outfits always match."

I stand on her talking scale. She's now one of the very few people who know how much I weigh since her scale announced it loud and clear!

Later, at home, I wash the dishes with my eyes closed. I know it's not even remotely similar but still, without all the visual distractions, I `see' things differently... actually feel things differently. The warm sudsy water on my hands feels so nice. How often do I pay attention? I keep my eyes closed and try to appreciate what I have a little more intensely.

With my eyes still closed, I hear the pitter-patter of little feet come in and open the fridge door. Then the high pitched voice of my five-year-old daughter says the brocha "Borei pri ha'adama." Next comes the chomping and crunching of her eating a raw carrot. It's incredibly loud! How strange that I never noticed before...

On Tuesday, a month later, Aviva calls me. Since I met her, I've been pestering her to come for a Shabbos. Aviva's husband is going to some relatives for Shabbos and Aviva decides that she doesn't want to travel. She wants to stay -- with me! I cook with extra zeal for our upcoming guest. The children can't wait to meet her. She arrives two hours before candle lighting while they're out at the playground. She sits on the couch while I go into the kitchen to bring her a glass of cold juice. I hear the front door open loudly, then five children romp in, yelling, laughing, singing.

Suddenly, there's icy silence. I come into the living room and hand Aviva a drink. "Well," I say to her, attempting to hide the nervousness in my voice, "You have five sets of eyes all staring at you!" She turns her head towards each silent child as I make the introductions. She smiles with ease and acceptance, then pulls out her talking thermometer to show them, then the talking dictionary. They're fascinated! The ice has been broken and now the more outspoken children ask questions which she readily answers.

"How do you use this cane?" Eli, my seven-year-old asks.

"Let me show you." Aviva stands up and walks around the room quickly and easily, explaining how to hold and manuever the cane. "You try it now." She hands Eli the cane, helping him to position it properly. He closes his eyes and walks, stumbling over the nearest chair...

[Final part, Shabbos with Aviva, next week]


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