What's it like to be blind? Join Rifca as she makes Aviva's
Behind the Looking Glass...
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
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
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
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
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]