Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

6 Teves 5763 - December 11, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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











Home and Family

a story by A. Bat-Melech

Synopsis: Yeshivas Avnei Chochma is in dire financial straits. R' Menachem, the yeshiva director, gets word that the English millionaire, Mr. Clyde, will be paying a visit to the yeshiva. He considers sending the disabled bochur, Refoel Chaim, somewhere out of sight until Mr. Clyde has left, but thinks better of it.

In the warm atmosphere that pervaded the room, and opposite the pure, radiant face of the Rosh Yeshiva, the dam of stolid reserve broke and a flood of tears suffused the lined face of Mr. Clyde. And this is what he said:

"About forty years ago, my wife gave birth to twins. We had waited two decades for these children, years filled with longing, hope and anticipation. Hope that would banish the horrible memories both my wife and I nursed from our devastating childhood years of the Holocaust.

"Not everything went smoothly. Unexpected complications set in, and after a long week in which we fluctuated from despair to hope and back again, the head of the pediatric department called us to his office for a meeting.

"`Look here, Mr. and Mrs. Clyde, your baby girl is going to make it. She will continue to develop into a fine, healthy child and bring you much joy, please G- d.'

"`And what about the boy?' I asked, afraid to hear his verdict.

"`I am very sorry to say, but his days are numbered. His brain was damaged during birth due to lack of an oxygen supply because of a weak heart. He is in very poor condition and it doesn't look like he'll survive very long.'

"`Are you sure, Doctor?' my wife asked tearfully, daring to doubt his prognosis.'

"The arrogant man did not even deign to favor her with a direct look. He was certain that the child had no chance of survival, and to presume to question him was more than he could take. But I refused to accept his word as final. I called in the biggest specialists, who corroborated his diagnosis that the child's heart was weak beyond repair. Another cardiologist also gave him a month at best. Even surgery would not help.

"Pediatric cardiology was not as developed then as it is now and so we had to rely on this diagnosis, which was like an extended death sentence. When the time came for our daughter to be released from the hospital, the head nurse suggested that we leave the boy there -- and simply forget about him. `Don't even bother to call up. Why rouse the heartache afresh each time? Enjoy your healthy daughter and leave the other one to his sad fate.' This was the final verdict, the death sentence.

"We left the hospital bearing a soft pink bundle of joy, and left behind us her twin brother, brain- damaged, with a fatal heart defect, doomed to an imminent death.

"The years passed in a whirl of business activity that sucked me into its maelstrom, not leaving me a moment's breathing space -- in which to think about the painful past. Old age finally crept up on me and my body began to rebel against my driving energy but dwindling physical resources, and I weakened.

"`You've got to slow down your pace, change your lifestyle completely,' warned my doctor. `Just look at the cholesterol level of your blood! It's climbing to very dangerous heights! You are a very likely candidate for a heart attack!'

"I heard him, but as soon as I left his plush office, I was already deeply engrossed again in my financial affairs, forgetting his dire warning and the pain that had brought me to him in the first place.

"That night found me writhing with excruciating and very frightening chest pains. I was taken by ambulance straight to the operating room, from which I emerged a different person. I had to relinquish my position in the firm in favor of my son-in-law. I was still the figurehead, but with no active power and nothing to keep me occupied.

"`Now, finally, you'll be able to relax,' my wife encouraged me. But we both knew that I would not be able to rest; my memories would not allow it.

"Thus it was that one cold and misty morning, I entered my limousine and was driven to the very hospital I had left forty years earlier with one precious bundle. The secretary in the office referred me to the elderly head nurse who was still on the premises after fifty years of loyal service.

"`Yes, I remember your baby. We called him Dick. In the beginning, he struggled valiantly for his life but they hardly gave him a chance of survival. He was still hanging in there for three weeks when a world-famous pediatric cardiological surgeon came to our hospital to perform a private operation. A few nurses begged him to operate on poor Dick. At first he refused to even attempt it, feeling that the baby was too fragile to withstand even the anesthesia. But in the end he agreed. The operation was far more successful than he had dreamed.'

"`He survived?' I asked, impulsively interrupting her, even though it was rude.

"`Yes, he lived, together with his cerebral palsy.'

"`But why didn't you tell us about the success of the operation?'

"`Tell you?' she repeated, shrugging her shoulders with typical English coldness. `Why should we have involved you in his future when you had abandoned him to his fate? There was nothing in the world that could be done to cure his cerebral palsy.' She paused, drawing upon her memories. `We had to transfer him to some institution that would care for brain- damaged children like him. And that's the story. I have no idea what became of him afterwards.'

"A short search among the hospital archives revealed that he had been placed in the Convent of St. Pius the Fourth Children's Home. There, in the shadow of the cross, he was cared for alongside other homeless, severely handicapped children.

"My driver did not know what possessed me to order him to drive in that heavy fog to some address outside of London. I insisted that I wanted to go immediately, and he set forth.

"The convent which housed this institution was a threatening- looking gray stone building erected on the slope of a green mountain. After a long exchange by the tall forbidding- looking iron gate, the guard finally agreed to admit us. I felt a terrifyingly choking sensation as I walked along the dingy corridor whose dim lights eerily illuminated numerous paintings on Christian themes and figurines squatting in inlaid niches.

"`What do you want here?' thundered the bass voice of the abbess when we entered her room, sparsely furnished if you discounted the many figures and crosses all around. I briefly explained that I wished to learn what had happened to a child placed in their cloister forty years before.

"`How am I supposed to know that?' she asked. `We don't keep too many records here. The children in our custody have been abandoned by the outside world. No one is interested in them; it makes no difference to anyone, so why bother?' she concluded dryly, rising from her wooden chair to usher us out, the sooner the better.

"`Please, Madam,' I said, forgetting how to address her properly, `we don't mean to cast any aspersions on how you manage this institution. All I want is information about one boy, my son. Please help me.'

"`You might ask Katherine,' her tone softened somewhat. `She's been here the longest.' Katherine was summoned to the room and said, after a moment's reflection, `Yes, I remember Dick, the cerebral palsy infant who came to us from a London hospital. He was a very intelligent child, compared to the other children here. I was even able to teach him to read,' she added proudly."

Mr. Clyde broke down in tears. "My son, that pure soul, abandoned by his natural parents, abided in the shadow of the cloister, under the sign of the cross, for his eight years of life, until he died of pneumonia." He wept bitter tears of remorse.

"I am not a religious person, Rabbi, but in my pain and guilt, I turned to my local rabbi for comfort and counsel. He advised me to consecrate a large bulk of my fortune to some religious institution, a yeshiva where Torah would be studied to save the soul of my son. If not in life, at least in his afterlife. And when I saw Refoel Chaim this morning I knew for sure that I had found the right place and that this would be the correct choice."


No, this story is not true, but it was written as the result of a long, hard struggle of the mother of a cerebral palsy victim (not the author), a child with normal intelligence whose pure soul yearned to study Torah like any other boy his age.

She tried one yeshiva after another, but they were all wary of accepting him. `What will people say? That we are an institution for the handicapped? What will potential donors think? That we are favoring one unfortunate child at the expense of all the others?'

And what do you think, dear readers?


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