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Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Editor’s note: The following has been adapted from a speech Bin Goldman gave at his son Shimon’s seudat hoda’ah (meal of thanksgiving), last week.

During the last days of his terminal cancer, Rav Aaron Kotler’s wife tried to comfort him, saying “Es vet zein gut—it’s going to turn out good.” He immediately replied “Es iz shoin gut—It already is good.” “Vos iz darf zein, un vus darf zein iz gut—Whatever is, is what must be, and what must be is good.” Life is hard. We go through things that are painful and scary, things that make us doubt ourselves and things that just seem unfair. It’s so tempting in those situations to look away—to deny my pain and fear, or to get stuck focusing on what should have been. But if instead I look right at it—I accept my situation; I don’t like this, but this is what is, this is vos iz—then I can actually look through it and see that Hashem is the one Who is sending it to me. Once I can see that, everything changes. I still don’t understand why this has to happen—what’s good about the challenge itself—but I can see the good that comes with it.

First of all, I know that Hashem knows me and loves me more than anyone and that nothing will happen to me if it’s not exactly what is right for me. So if He is making every little part of this happen, I know Hashem has my back, and even though it’s hard, He’s going to be here to hold my hand and get me through it. Then, when I trust Hashem enough to let go of just focusing on the hardship, I can look around and see how much good might have come from the situation. These can be hard things to realize all by yourself, especially if you’re dealing with a very difficult challenge. But don’t worry, Hashem is there to help you with that, too. In my family, we call it winks. If you look carefully, peek behind the curtain, you can usually find Hashem winking at you from backstage, saying, “Don’t worry so much, it’s only Me!”

When Shimon went into the hospital, we knew how serious his condition was, and we were scared. But from the very beginning God’s winks were everywhere. Every step along the way we could see clearly how many things were aligned just so, obviously set up by the One Above before any of this happened so that when it did things would go as smoothly as they could. Everywhere we looked there He was, and that changed everything. It sounds strange to say, but the whole experience became uplifting. We spent two or three months holding hands with God. And I’ve never felt closer to Him in my life. Let me tell you some of the story and you’ll understand what I mean.

It’s April 9, the last period of the day at YBH (Yeshivas Beis Hillel, in Passaic). The nurse calls Penina, very concerned. Shimon is lying on her floor screaming that he has the worst headache of his life. Penina rushes to pick Shimon up. She drives him to urgent care and then calls Hatzolah. When they come Penina asks them, “You’re taking him to Hackensack, right?” And they say, “You don’t have an extra second right now. We’re taking him to St. Joseph’s.” Penina and I knew nothing about St. Joseph’s, except that it was in Paterson. But when she got there she started realizing maybe this isn’t so bad. The ER waiting room was completely empty. Shimon went straight into a CT scan and within minutes they were prepping the operating room, which happened to be available, for the on-call pediatric neurosurgeon who happened to have just finished another surgery and was ready and waiting.

Those are winks. That’s Hashem saying to us, I know you’re scared. But when every second counts, when every minute is the difference between Shimon being able to walk again, or speak again—or not—I’ve got it all planned out. I’ll have him saved in no time.

We didn’t realize at the time how incredibly fast this was all moving. For us, time seemed to stand still. But when we took Shimon back to the same ER a couple of months later, the nurses who were on when Shimon came in the first time came over and told us that in all of their years seeing kids come in with similar brain injuries, they had never seen anyone recover as completely as Shimon did, and they had never seen anyone make it to the operating table so soon after the event. Every one of them called it a miracle.

Winks.

When Shimon was intubated and getting prepped for surgery, I started putting the word out for people to daven. And the messages started almost instantly. Doctor friends and acquaintances wanted to know which hospital we were in, and hearing it was St. Joe’s, they offered to have Shimon transferred to Columbia, or to other top hospitals. We knew we didn’t have time to go anywhere. We researched the neurosurgeon anyway. My father-in-law says, I know whom to call. Around 50 years ago when he and my mother-in-law first came to Fair Lawn, they were having trouble getting a minyan for Shacharis during the week. He was teaching at MTA at the time and there were a few boys there from Fair Lawn. So he told the boys, I’ll make you a deal: daven here and I’ll drive you to school, and my wife will make you a hot breakfast. One of those boys, Henry Brem, went on to become the head of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University.

When he gets off the phone, my father-in-law says, “You’re not gonna believe this: Dr. Brem had dinner with this Dr. Anderson two nights ago. He trained him. He told us if you hadn’t ended up with Dr. Anderson I literally would have told you that as soon as Shimon was stable you need to take him out of wherever he is and get him to Dr. Anderson. If it were my child’s brain that was being operated on, the only person I would trust is him. He mainly operates in Columbia; you’re lucky you got him there. I’ll give him a call before he starts the surgery so he knows he’s operating on one of my people.”

Wink. You guys are only scared because you weren’t expecting this. But I was. I started putting the pieces in place for Shimon’s ישועה half a century ago!

It turned out, though, that Dr. Anderson was not the only reason that it was so good that Hashem brought us to St. Joseph’s. A couple of minutes later I got a text message from someone I had gone to camp with for many years, but hadn’t been in contact with since: “Hi, it’s Rivka Stein. I’m the chief of neurology at St. Joe’s. Call me or text me anytime if I can help u in any way.” Actually, she was always there before we called. She let all the doctors know this was an important case to her. She checked Shimon’s file every day and explained everything to us. She visited and texted every day. She was, quite literally, a God-send.

Wink.

At St. Joe’s we were big fish in a little pond. The very first day after we came in, the CEO of the hospital came to visit us. He told us he’s never gotten so many calls about a patient, and that to anyone who asks, yes he does know that Shimon is Rabbi Yudin’s grandson. He handed us his card and said, “Anything you need, I’m here for you.”

Wink. It’s still just me.

And every frum doctor in the hospital knew we were there. They came on their breaks to be mevaker choleh. The three frum anesthesiologists made sure to get on the schedule for every one of Shimon’s surgeries that they could. I don’t know how many times they got to hear Shimon blast “I Wanna be Sedated” outside the OR doors.

Wink.

And the PICU nurses. Over the weeks we really bonded with them and they took such good care of us. Getting us blankets, or the “good” chair, or a table for our Pesach Seder, or just sitting and chilling with their buddy Shimon. We became really close to them and Penina still stays in touch with some of the nurses today.

Everyone at St. Joe’s felt like they were our family. In fact, one of them was. It turns out Penina’s cousin, Tiki, is a resident there. We’d never met her before that, but we built a connection that will last for a long time,

Wink.

So many things about the hospital were just right, it was clear that it was part of His plan. The Shabbos Room maintained by the Bikur Cholim of Passaic was directly upstairs from the PICU. The proximity to Passaic: I could be home and back in 15 minutes. And it was easy for friends to come and visit or drop things off.

Another wink was the timing. Shimon went into the hospital right before Pesach and right after my in-laws’ dinner celebrating their 50 years as rabbi and rebbetzin, so Penina’s two brothers who live in Israel were in the U.S. Having all of our brothers and sisters there—those from Philadelphia and Long Island and from across the ocean—was such a support for us, especially during those first harrowing days. They, and of course our parents, were there for us constantly, to keep us company and be מחזק us or to relieve us, to have impromptu late-night kumzitzes, and to help us with our every need, from early in the morning to late at night. We are so incredibly blessed to have you in our lives.

Because of the timing, I had two weeks where I didn’t have to worry about missing work, and with the Bais Yaakov high schools just letting out, we never had to worry about available babysitters.

Wink. Wink.

It was as if Hashem was saying to us, “Don’t worry, I’ll send people to carry you through this whole thing. Your feet won’t ever touch the ground.” Which brings us to seeing the good that came out of our challenge. It’s hard to imagine how much chesed was inspired by Shimon by so many people.

First, our friends. We tend to think of our friends as people we just “happened” to cross paths with at different times in our lives. But we forget that our paths only crossed theirs because הקב“ה navigated us so as to grant us exactly the special people we needed in our lives. And boy, was He generous with whom he placed in ours. We had so many visitors to the hospital that by the second day, anytime someone frum walked into the lobby the guards would just point to the elevators and say, “Goldman, second floor.” The other nurses on the unit told Shimon’s nurse to ask us, sincerely, if Shimon was a celebrity. I said, “No, but his mother is.” One couple even made the walk from Clifton to Paterson on several Shabbos afternoons to keep us company. And all the carpools, and it goes on and on. Our friends delivered the most delicious meals prepared with such love and care, both to the hospital and to the kids at home. They brought us iced coffee in the morning and perpetual treats for the nurses.

And for Shabbos, whoever signed up cooked us feasts. And then everyone else who just wanted to make it special for us also sent a little something, until we had to load up a utility cart to transport every meal from the Shabbos room to the PICU. But the food didn’t go to waste (partly because we ate so much of it, and partly) because Hashem always sent us someone with whom we could share our riches and extend our friends’ זכות a little farther, like the boy from Lakewood who came into the PICU with his father right before Shabbos with nothing to eat. And if anyone knows Penina, you know how much joy it gave her to be able to share with them.

And it wasn’t just our close friends. Our entire community came together to support us in such an amazing way, as if they were, every one of them, our best friends and our Shimon was a member of their own family. When Shimon was home from inpatient rehab and we needed to continue his therapies, Dina Leiter said, “I’m not
gonna let you schlep all day to some outpatient facility. I have great therapists at Kid Klan who would be so happy to work with him.” And they were great, and they were happy to do it out of the goodness of their hearts, without taking a penny.

We are so proud and grateful to live in a community that is so steeped in Torah and chesed. And all around the world, too—the challah bakes, the school chesed projects, the amount of tzedakah that was raised. And the “special guests” who came to visit Shimon: Avraham Fried, Benny Friedman, busy performers who traveled from Brooklyn with their own musicians to sing and spend time with Shimon to bring a smile to his face, and all the others—Zusha, Berri Weber, Matt Dubb, Joey Newcomb, Amar’e Stoudemire—who sent videos with good wishes to lift his spirits.

Hatzolah of Passaic-Clifton. You all know who you are. You were the ones who rushed Shimon to the hospital so quickly. On Chol Hamoed Pesach—family day—you were so eager to be there to transport Shimon to rehab (the first time he went), you made us feel like it was us doing you a favor. Chai Lifeline. You cannot imagine how in tune they are to the needs of a parent with a sick child. We’re so glad that our caseworker, Yehoshua Brodsky, came up here from Lakewood. Yehoshua knows parents’ needs and is already there to meet them before the parents realize they have the need. And all the awesome Chai Lifeline volunteers who really became Shimon’s friends. And of course Camp Simcha—two weeks that turned Shimon’s whole life around.

Another model of chesed is the Highland Park-Edison community. Ask one of them about it and they’ll tell you they just happened to get lucky enough to have a hospital nearby. But the chesed and bikur cholim that goes on every single day in that community is unbelievable. Whatever you need: you want someone to come play guitar for your son on a Tuesday afternoon? I’ll have two guys come over. You look like you make challah. Here, I brought some dough for you to be mafrish. I’m just gonna run home and bake it and I’ll bring it right back for you fresh and hot. And the Chaim V’chesed House. It’s a beautiful house directly across the street from the Robert Wood Johnson and Children’s Specialized Hospital with private rooms for families of patients. It’s beautifully decorated, thoroughly stocked with all kinds of food and snacks for the week and for Shabbos. People come and go constantly. Any Jew who needs a place is welcome. And yet it really feels like a home. And they think of everything, from spare snoods to shayna coats, to fresh flowers and a water bottle next to the bed when you arrive. And every Motzei Shabbos volunteers from the community come to restock, take out the garbage, change the linens. Because that’s just what we do. After seeing that, Penina’s dream now is to open her own chaim v’chesed house. After spending time there I felt like I had to make a siyum on Maseches Gemilus Chasadim because I had learned so much about how to really do chesed right.

And Shimon’s friends, you guys were just amazing. Shimon was blessed, thank God, to be in a class with these really special boys. They are a close-knit group of boys who are real mentshen and wonderful friends. Shimon’s brain injury hit them hard. They rallied together, organizing Tehillim gatherings. When a mother in the class made up #Shimon’sArmy T-shirts, the whole class wore them proudly to school every Tuesday and Thursday. They sent Shimon notes and then FaceTimed him when he was up for it. A group of them came one Friday to the hospital with this year’s rebbe, Rabbi Schoenfeld, and a guitar, to bring Friday ruach to him. And they carpooled to New Brunswick when Shimon was in rehab. When Shimon finally came home, they came as a whole class day after day and just sat with Shimon on the front porch for hours, laughing, singing, throwing a ball around. It was beautiful to watch.

One of the most uplifting aspects of this whole situation was the way that it unified so many people to serve Hashem in support of Shimon. We know from the tefillos we just said on Rosh Hashanah, joining in the service of Hashem like this is the ultimate k’vod shamayim, the ultimate coronation of Hashem as King. וייעשו כולם אגודה אחת לעשות רצונך בלבב שלם. That זכות will stay with Shimon and with us long after the danger and the difficulty are behind us.

Without a doubt, one of the greatest forces behind Shimon’s miraculous recovery, and one of the greatest sources of support and inspiration, was the unbelievable amount of prayer that bombarded the heavens from every corner of the globe. Within minutes of our putting out the word that Shimon was in trouble, emails went out from the schools. Shimon’s classmates and their parents organized Tehillim gatherings that filled homes and shuls. Women immediately organized a Tehillim chat, and another one when that maxed out at 256 women. They used the division of the monthly Tehillim cycle, of a few chapters per day. Whenever someone wanted to daven for Shimon, they’d go on, see the last day that was said, then they’d say the next day’s chapters and post, for example, Day 10, and the next woman would do day 11. And all day long, and well into the night, it was constant: DING, day 30, finished Sefer Tehillim, DING: Day 1 again.

DING: Wink from shamayim, DING: someone cares about us, someone is giving their time, their prayers, their heart for Shimon and our family. And Penina likes her ringer LOUD, so these dings were arousing like a shofar blast. These groups changed people. When someone had a few minutes, instead of checking the sales or Instagram, they’d say Tehillim. Unbelievable.

And Shimon’s class. I already mentioned what an incredible group of boys they are. On their own, they decided sometime after Pesach that the class was going to finish all of Shisha Sidrei Mishna in Shimon’s merit. So over around six weeks, these seventh-grade boys, with the guidance of their rebbe, Rabbi Shlomo Abraham, got together a few nights a week and they pushed each other, and they worked hard, and they finished the whole thing right after Shavuos. And that energy hasn’t died down. This year again, even though, thank God, there’s no crisis to galvanize them, they’re still learning night seder three nights a week.

And of course, there’s Shimon who was both uplifted by this experience and uplifted everyone around him. When Shimon was first starting to be taken out of sedation, after about a week in a coma, he was very disoriented. His biggest fear was that he’d missed the Seder. When he finally was coherent enough to understand, we explained to him what he’d gone through. He was still feeling very agitated from the medication, and he remembered the terrible pain he’d been in. But when he thought about what we told him, the first thing he said was, “He saved me?! Now I know Hashem really loves me!” And every time someone would come in to visit, Shimon would try to be mechazek them: Don’t worry, Hashem is taking care of me this whole time! Never did he complain. Never did he feel sorry for himself or question why it happened. It certainly wasn’t easy, but he knew where it was coming from, and he went along with it as best he could, singing the song that got him through it—Joey Newcomb’s “Thank You, Hashem.”

Speaking of thank yous, I couldn’t end this speech without two important ones. First to our parents: our Imas and our Abba. When life required us to step up and be Supermom and Superdad, we needed our own Supermoms and Superdad to get us through. You were behind us every moment in every way, just like you’ve always been, and you got us all to where we are today. And, of course, to Penina. There is no way that Shimon would be where he is today without your incredible love and fierce dedication. You never left Shimon’s side. You operated a mobile command center to orchestrate Shimon’s care and an entire household, too. It’s been so wonderful to watch the deep bond that you and Shimon developed over these past months. I’m so grateful that we all are blessed to have you as our Mommy.

We say every day in ברוך גוזר ומקיים“:ברוך שאמר.” One way to understand that statement, though not the פשט, is “Hashem is the source of ברכה because He decrees, but he is also מקיים—he sustains us through that very decree so that we come out standing when it’s all over. And if you look hard enough, you’ll find that even in the hardest of circumstances, and the hardest גזירות, Hashem is right behind the curtain winking at you, showing you, “Hey, don’t worry, it’s only Me.”

The day that Shimon was struck, before he left for school, he sent me a dvar Torah about Pesach that he’d found especially meaningful by the late R’ Dovid Winiarz. It ends saying: “There are going to be times in our lives where our hopes will be shattered, and everything we’ve been banking on will suddenly be lost. At such moments, we can easily fall into despair and feel a sense of betrayal. But we must not give up. We should instead say, as his mother did, ‘Hashem, I don’t have to understand, but everything in my life is in Your hands. I will try my hardest to succeed in the difficult position You have put me in.’ If we can do that, then we have emunah, and we open the doors to salvation and blessings that would never have been available to us otherwise.”

Everyone here has been part of how Hashem was מקיים us through our גזירה. You have been a major part of the salvation and blessings that Hashem has brought us through this process. We are so grateful to all of you for giving your hearts and souls to Shimon and to us in all the many ways that you have over these months. So thank you to each of you, and thank You, Hashem.

By Bin Goldman, PsyD