Six months to a year after leaving Eastern State, and while in Delta, I received a phone call from a woman who said, “Do you remember me? I’m Gertrude Cohen.” My mom took the phone and said, “You were wonderful to Phyllis. Of course I remember you.”
Mrs. Cohen said, “I love Phyllis. I care about her and didn’t get to say goodbye.” Since she lived a few blocks from us, we arranged a visit – and I had a very good time. That led to a longstanding friendship.
On sick leave after getting hurt, Mrs. Cohen took me in for about a month when my mom got sick with lung cancer. My mom had wanted me to stay with an aunt and uncle in New York, but I didn’t want to leave Philadelphia. I didn’t want to be away from Mom. I had separation anxiety.
My psychologist agreed with me, saying it would be too stressful for me to be far from Mom.
So Mrs. Cohen said I could live with her and that she would drive me to Fox Chase Cancer Center to visit Mom. And she drove me there a lot.
I’m very grateful to Mrs. Cohen for her love and care.
Meeting all kinds of people:
Due to my situation, I’ve met all kinds of people outside my religion. I’ve learned that there are good and bad people in every group, that beauty is only skin deep, and that a person doesn’t decide what the color of his or her skin will be.
My mom used to say, “Prejudice is another way to be disabled.” It’s not a good thing, and if all you see is the color of someone’s skin, you’re disabled. The aides and other staff members at Ateret Avot, where I live, are my good friends, as are the yeshiva girls who come to visit. The owners of Ateret Avot, Mr. and Mrs. Scharf, have been very good to me, taking me in when I was in my early 40s, far below the average age there.
I’m very proud of being Jewish, and glad that the Jewish religious community finally accepts me.
On making so many good friends:
I’m thankful that Hashem has sent me all of these friends, permitting me to feel that I’m not alone in the world. When Mom died, I thought I was alone in the world – but He sent me so many friends.
My friends admire those with my kinds of challenges for their interest in Yiddishkeit and for their faith in it. They say, “We mutter a berachah. For our whole lives we’ve been saying it and we don’t even think about what we’re saying.” I want to say my berachos the right way. I want Hashem to be pleased with me.
I inspired a male worker at Ateret Avot to say berachos – and he no longer needs to read them from my paper. I’m proud of both of us – myself for inspiring him, and him for caring enough to learn the berachos.
Overall, increasing awareness of the struggles of being both Jewish and disabled means a lot to me.
Looking back I can see past the hard times, as the guiding hand of Hashem was there for me.