The baby girl lay quietly in the hospital crib as the newborns around her screamed. They would go home with their parents within a day or two, but she would not. She had been abandoned by her biological parents who did not want to raise a baby with Down syndrome.
When Dina Berlin was 50 years old and her internationally-known Klezmer musician husband Moussa (Moshe) was 57, she received a call which changed her life. “On the phone was a social worker from the Tel Aviv Municipality who asked me if we could foster a three-week-old baby with Down syndrome who had been abandoned at birth,” she tells the audience who had come to see the Berlin Family perform in their very emotional, entertaining and inspiring show entitled Emunah, Omanah And Omanut.
“I told her, ‘I’m sorry, madam, I think that you have called the wrong party. My husband and I are already grandparents. Our youngest daughter is already fifteen.’ I heard the social worker sigh in disappointment. I promised her that I would help her find a foster family for the newborn. When I tried to convince neighbors and acquaintances to take the three-week-old baby girl with Down syndrome, suddenly I understood that instead of convincing them I was convincing myself. A week later when the social worker called back I told her, ‘We found a family – us.’”
A few more weeks went by until the authorities came to check out the Berlin family to see if they were suitable for the baby. When the baby was almost three months old, Moussa and Dina traveled to meet her. She looked extremely neglected and, for a minute, Dina almost regretted the decision to take the baby home. On top of this, the nurse told them that the baby was deaf and mute.
When the Berlins took baby Noga to the Child Development Center the doctor told them, “Down syndrome is the least of her problems. I am more concerned about the trauma of abandonment.” The Berlins took care of the baby day and night. After two days, when Dina turned off the light in Noga’s room, she cried. They were thrilled to discover that Noga was neither deaf nor mute. Dina explained, “Noga hadn’t made noises in the hospital because she had understood that crying wouldn’t bring anyone to her crib.”
“When my parents told me that they’re bringing home a baby girl, it seemed really cool. I had no idea what Down syndrome is and I was happy that I’d have a little sister,” admits Odelia, the youngest biological Berlin child. “But one day I found my parents crawling on the rug with Noga in order to teach her how to crawl, and I was worried about my parents. How would they manage with the burden?”
“It’s true that I wasn’t young, but my daughters were at an age that they could help and we turned into a team,” Dina explains. They received a lot of backing from Summit Institute. “Even though I went on a new path that was not easy, angels came from all directions to help me,” Dina continues.
When the Berlins returned to the Child Development Center with Noga when she was one year old, the doctor couldn’t believe his eyes. He told them, “There is only one thing that you won’t be able to give her – someone to play with her.” The Berlins told the doctor that they had requested to foster another girl with Down syndrome, but the social worker had turned them down saying that one child with Down syndrome was a lot of work.
One day a man, who worked as a mohel, came to their home and brought a music disc with songs he wanted Moussa to play on his clarinet at an event. When he saw Noga, he immediately asked Moussa from which hospital they had taken her. Moussa relates, “I was astonished. Why does he think that we took her? Maybe she’s our granddaughter? When we told him the name of the hospital, the mohel told us that there is an abandoned baby boy there. I told him that I knew and that the baby was a girl. The mohel was steadfast and said, ‘It’s a baby boy. I did his bris, and no one even stood near his crib when I did the bris.’ The nurses at the hospital couldn’t believe it when we came to take the baby.”
“I thought that this was really too much,” Odelia confesses. “One baby, okay, my parents want to be tzaddikim, but two? Won’t this come at my expense? How I praise HaKadosh Boruch Hu that my parents didn’t get upset from my protest. Elchanan is my best friend. During Shabbat meals Noga and Elchanan are the first to get up and dance around the table.”
Dina had wanted to officially adopt the two children, but in the end realized that Moussa was right when he said they should just foster them. In Israel, when one fosters a child, one receives services of a psychologist and an occupational therapist, as well as hydrotherapy sessions, extra-curricular activities and reimbursement of expenses and transportation to and from work.
The Berlin Family unfolds their unique story in a very moving way. Moussa plays the clarinet, Odelia plays the keyboard (and sings when it is an all-female audience), their son Elyashiv plays the drums and Noga’s stage appearance is followed by her brother Elchanan’s appearance. Dina is the last one to come out, and she comes to the stage a bit reticently. The proceeds of the performance I attended went to a local Gush Etzion tzeddaka.
The show is not contrived. “I don’t know what Noga will say,” warns her father Moussa. Elchanan’s language is not as clear as Noga’s, but his joy of life radiates to the audience and makes up for the lack in language skills. When Moussa plays a happy song Elchanan puts out his hand to Noga and they start to dance.
Dina, who is a very modest and quiet woman, does not like publicity, but she wants to encourage others to foster abandoned babies, and thus agreed to take to the stage.
In the show Noga says, “In the morning when I pray I say the bracha of she’asani kirtzono. I used to wonder why He made me with Down syndrome. Then I realized that Hashem created me exactly how He wanted me to be. So I am happy that I am me because Hashem made me with Down syndrome and it’s fun.”
During the performance Dina says, “Do you know a lot of regular children who declare that they are happy? These children, who were abandoned, are the happiest children in the world.”
“When someone suggests a shidduch for me,” lovely, self-assured, sweet and talented Odelia recounts with a smile, “they ask me if there are genetic problems in the family. I answer, ‘We raise children with Down syndrome as a foster family – and this is genetic.’”
“I won’t say that it is easy,” says Dina. “Raising children with Down syndrome presents you with a new daily challenge, but when people ask to hear about the chesed we did, I am surprised. We did chesed? The Creator of the World did chesed with us when he made it possible for us to know these wonderful children.”
Note: The author thanks Smadar Shir for information she provided.