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Despair vs Hope

On Tuesday evening a terrible tragedy occurred on the Virgin Islands. The Federman’s have been serving the Jewish community in St. Thomas and founded Chabad of the Virgin Islands 17 years ago. Their 4-month-old daughter, Shternie, was retrieved, lifeless, from the water near the Oasis Cove Marina. The circumstances are still unclear but both parents jumped into the water to save their baby, and the mother, Henya had to be pulled out, herself unconscious, and resuscitated. She is currently on life support, fighting for her life. The Federmans are parents to 13 children.

Hearing the news, I felt a pit in my stomach and profound sadness. As is usual in such circumstances, many online groups were set up and aimed at spiritually helping this mother fight for her life. Some of the groups are for reciting Tehillim-Psalms, others for adding in mitzvahs.

As I say the words of Tehillim and pray for Henya while I'm going about my day, there are two sides of me working simultaneously to be heard. One of them is the cynic. Why the Tehillim and the mitzvahs? Contributing financially to the current expenses makes sense, but do you really think that your prayers will make a difference? That anything that you or anyone else does will change the outcome to this situation? Why did this situation happen in the first place? How could it be that a family who has devoted the past 17 years to serving the Jewish community St Thomas, a woman who mothered 13 children, a woman who made an island so far from her family and friends her home, a woman who dipped in the ocean and brought countless women to the ocean for mikvah is in this situation? That the ocean has killed her baby and now threatens the life that she's hanging on to is absurdly cruel and impossible. For the cynic, despair is the logical reaction.

On the other side there is faith, trust and stubborn hope. It's a plea "G-d please help Henya pull through. Don't compound this tragedy, don't leave 12 children without a mother, a husband without his wife and a community without their Rebbetzin. Please listen to all the prayers and see all the Mitzvahs being done throughout the world in the merit of her recovery.

But the cynic is lurking nearby and has more to say. It has seen and witnessed the same scenario; the pleas and prayers for someone in a dire situation and the times when that person has not pulled through. The stories of families who have suffered devastating losses like Rabbi Shusterman who just published this book "Why God why?". A man who lost his wife when she was 40 and raised 11 children on his own. All the other stories of loss leaving families grieving and heartbroken.

As the cynic's voice gets louder, I'm reminded of a similar time back in April, of praying and hoping for the recovery of another woman. This time it was closer to home. Goldie Grossbaum, the Chabad Rebbetzin in Folsom, California almost died right after the birth of her 10th child. In those days when she hovered between life and death thousands of people were praying for her recovery. It was a harrowing time until she came back from the brink of death.

Goldie shared her story with us upon her recovery. After regaining consciousness she had been able to speak but she did not know who or where she was, why she was in the hospital. She did not recognize her husband or remember that she had had a baby. The doctors did not know if she ever would. During this time she was asked many questions to try and understand what she was aware and conscious of. This was retold to her later since she did not have any memories of that time. She answered many of the questions with verses from Psalms. While many of the songs are familiar to anyone who prays regularly or has grown up saying or singing them, the verses that she was giving as her answers were from Psalms that are not very well known. They were random with no connection to anything or anyone. She felt that the prayers that were being recited on her behalf all throughout the world were carrying her through and that's why it is what exited her lips in response to the questions her nurses and doctors were asking her. When I heard her retell this story I had chills and the cynic in me was quiet for once, defeated with this living proof of the power of prayer and spiritual warfare.

I want to end off by inviting you to take part in this effort and look forward to sharing good news about Henya G-d willing soon.

Shabbat Shalom,


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