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When Real Life Intrudes On Baseball

Irwin Cohen

Irwin Cohen

Readers of my monthly Baseball Insider column may have noticed its absence last week (the column appears in the second issue of every month). The reason for that is I have something more serious and personal to share with you, something that didn’t seem appropriate for a baseball column.

Throughout our wedded years (over 43 and counting), my wife, Davida, frequently reminded me that I “don’t live in the real world.” Maybe so, as I worked in my home dugout, researching and writing while watching DVDs of those great old kosher television shows.

I also spent a lot of time in the toy department of life, working in and writing about baseball. I really had no complaints as I reached the seventh inning of my years. Hashem had sent me mostly fastballs down the middle. Oh, there were a few curves, such as hernia and cataract surgeries. But nothing that kept me on the disabled list for long.

I was a pretty happy camper, living in the greater Detroit Jewish community and having my daughter, son-in-law and seven grandchildren around the corner. But about 20 months ago we got a beanball aimed right at our heads. Our daughter, Mrs. Chana Goldfein (our only child), then 38, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Surgery and chemotherapy followed and things looked good, according to the medical team. Last November, however, the disease returned and spread to the brain. Luckily, a hospital close to our community is one of the best in the country in that field.

We were planning on spending our first winter in West Palm Beach’s Century Village and meeting other residents of the growing Orthodox enclave there but we postponed the trip. Then we received wonderful news: The treatment had been successful and Chani was given a clean bill of health.

We were elated and left for Florida in January. We quickly adjusted to the warm Florida weather and the even warmer people in Century Village and the adjoining Aitz Chaim shul. But a few weeks later we learned that Chani was back in the hospital.

Our daughter didn’t tell us; she wished to spare us the worry. We were alerted by others. Chani assured us they were just running tests and told us to stay in Florida. But a conversation with her doctor strongly hinted that we should return.

Back home we learned that the cancer had spread in the brain and to the liver and spine. It was hard to digest the reality of the situation and even harder to see our daughter in great pain.

The Detroit Orthodox community was already providing daily meals for the family and carpools to the yeshiva and Bais Yaakov for the grandchildren. Now it pitched in even more and women volunteered to stay in the hospital room all hours of the night (including Shabbos) so we could go home to sleep.

People offered words of encouragement, insisting that Hashem can perform miracles. Yes, we knew miracles happen. But it was clear to us that Hashem wanted our daughter and was speeding up the process.

I often had silent conversations with Hashem, “reminding” Him that my daughter was a righteous, humble, person with a beautiful smile. She was the mother of seven children, the youngest only three. I would tell Him that if He cured Chani, people would recognize it as a great miracle and it would be a major Kiddush Hashem.

Meanwhile, Chani underwent ten more brain area radiations. After it was determined that nothing more could be done for her, she spent the last three weeks of her life in a hospital bed in the family room of our home. The community arranged for two nurses to tend to her needs on a daily basis.

Eight hours after her passing, the funeral was held at the community-owned funeral home where she worked part time and where her husband, a rabbi, was also employed.

Shiva was a blur; a neighbor estimated that a thousand people came. That number seems high, but it was possible because my son-in-law, Rabbi Yisroel Goldfein, is well known locally and in Cleveland where he spent many years learning in Telshe Yeshiva. Leaders of the famed yeshiva and other rabbis and old friends from Cleveland made the three-hour drive. People also came from New York, Lakewood and Baltimore.

All of my grandchildren’s teachers and many of their classmates came, as did others from the community. My wife, who for decades taught fourth-grade boys in the English department of two of the local yeshivas, had many visitors. Add in the few that came because of me, and indeed it may have amounted to a thousand.

The house is quieter now, except for Shabbos when the Goldfeins eat here and the younger grandchildren sleep over. We’re adjusting to the new normal, realizing that when you get a beanball from above you have to get back into the batter’s box and go on with life.

Chani made us proud. She was an outstanding daughter, a brilliant student, a devoted wife and mother. It was hard to find a dry eye in the large audience at the funeral. Our friend and her boss, Rabbi Boruch Levin, executive director of the funeral home, spoke emotionally and well. Rabbi Dov Loketch, a longtime friend and neighbor and rabbi of the shul where I had served as president, also spoke. I thanked the community for its chesed and said we were comforted in knowing Chani has a very special place in a special place.

If you’re interested in seeing and hearing the 25-minute funeral, go to HebrewMemorial.org and search for Chana Goldfein.

About the Author: The author of 10 books, Irwin Cohen headed a national baseball publication for five years and interviewed the legendary Hank Greenberg. He went on to work for a major league team and became the first Orthodox Jew to earn a World Series ring. He can be reached in his Detroit area dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.


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