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A Watershed Moment


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Fifteen years ago, on a Shabbos Mevorchim leading up to a new month, my husband was leading the davening. I heard him intone, “Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av will be on…” But it wasn’t the month of Av, as the upcoming month was Mar Cheshvan. An audible gasp swept through the shul, and he immediately corrected himself.

Everyone soon forgot the mistake and continued with the services. But I was shaking with fear. Was this just a mistake, or was Hashem warning us of a calamity ahead? Here’s some background:

Our first grandchild, a boy, had just been born in Yerushalayim. The phone rang as we were cleaning the kitchen. My husband was in the sukkah folding chairs and tables, and our two youngest children were helping him.

Our daughter had had an emergency C-section because the baby was in distress. He was born weighing only three and a half pounds. I didn’t realize then that he was considered small for his gestational age. That night he seemed to be doing well, and we were ecstatic.

I had planned to help my daughter in Israel. Since the baby arrived early, I figured that the Bris would not be on time, giving me a few weeks to get ready. But the next day my son-in-law called and asked me to come immediately. The baby had developed an infection, and they needed my support. Concerned, I made an immediate reservation.

The Shabbos before my trip, my husband made the mistake of calling out the month of Av instead of Cheshvan. My mind immediately flooded with thoughts of foreboding and mourning, as Av is the month of tragedies for the Jewish people. Would my family now be experiencing a personal Tisha B’Av? Suddenly the seriousness of the baby’s condition seemed ominous, and I flew to Israel that night with a sense of apprehension. I was like a racehorse with blinders, running a race against the odds. I kept hearing my husband’s slip of the tongue – “Menachem Av.”

Babies aren’t supposed to die – and especially not my grandson. But my terrifying thoughts gained momentum.

Arriving in Israel, I busied myself encouraging my daughter and giving her strength and hope. But I found it harder to muster up positive feelings within myself.

For 28 days, we were on a roller coaster. We were swept from euphoria when the baby was stable to the type of sinking feeling when a roller coaster plunges. Our personal Tisha B’Av finally came when my grandson passed away at the end of Cheshvan.

The thought that my husband’s slip of the tongue had been a sign of what was to come remained with me for several years. Even though we experienced the joys of new grandchildren, a bar mitzvah and weddings, I couldn’t shake that incident from my mind.

Then something happened, and the thinking pattern that had haunted me from that Shabbos long ago shifted. I experienced a watershed moment that brought me to a new level of clarity and faith.

One summer afternoon after my mother had passed away, I was feeling especially melancholy. As tears came to my eyes I decided to say Tehillim, both for my own comfort and as a merit for my mother’s soul. The words in Tehillim made me cry out to Hashem, and reminded me of other times when I had turned to prayer for strength. I thought of the loss of my grandson. I remembered all the Tehillim we had said. And then it hit me that my thought processes all these years had been off track.

Although that month of Cheshvan was mar (bitter) and we experienced mourning, I now saw that the message in my husband’s slip of the tongue years earlier had been one of nechamah (comfort). After all, he had announced the month of Menachem Av (the comforting month of Av). I was now able to see past the pain, to the promise of nechamah.

It is said that Hashem sends the refuah (healing) before the makah (illness). And indeed Hashem had sent a message of nechamah to help me through a difficult journey. If only I had understood this from the beginning.

We all go through hardships that test our faith. The real test of our emunah is to see the promise within the pain.

Do you have a story to tell of a “watershed moment” in your life? This would be a story of a life-changing event that gave clarity to a challenge in your life. I am collecting these stories for possible publication in a book. Please send your original stories to watershed.moments@hotmail.com.

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The highway was packed with bumper-to-bumper traffic, and there I sat with hands gripped tightly on the steering wheel, begging the cars to move. My heart swelled at the thought of seeing my son, who was just coming back from his year of learning in Eretz Yisrael. How I had missed him! Though I was used to him being away (if you can ever really get used to a child being away), a special space in my heart was empty – as I waited for him.

We live in a world that is often too cruel and unkind. Living in Israel for the last 30 years, I have attended too many funerals for those whose lives were taken through incomprehensible acts of terror. During the years of the second intifada there were many days that I found it impossible to continue teaching, as a student would burst into my classroom and announce that there had been another terrorist attack. How could I just go on with a regular lesson when lives were lost?

Once a week or so some of my friends and I get together for activities and a little socializing. Over time I have gone through some personal changes and growth, and I sometimes feel out of place with these girls, some of whom I have known for years. I experienced a real struggle during a recent get-together that will surely have a long-lasting impact on me.

The Schwartzes had three vehicles but only two drivers. At any given time the third vehicle, the 2005 red Ford van, could be seen on different driveways throughout the neighborhood – and sometimes even in Miami Beach and Hollywood, Florida. The Schwartzes kept a third vehicle, knowing that not everyone had a car.

In 2001, the year of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, my husband and I were both in mourning for close relatives. As a woman, I did not have the responsibility of attending a minyan to recite Kaddish. So I never realized how complicated it could get.

Note to readers: When I heard the words, “You give us seven minutes and we’ll give you the world” on the radio at 6:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning, July 13, I never thought that what I was about to hear would shake me to the core and change my world forever. I could not come to myself – and I’m sure most of klal Yisraelcouldn’t either. So I sat down and the following poem spilled forth. Because it is written in a simple style, simple enough for any child to understand, I hope it does not seem to trivialize what happened; it is just my humble reaction to an earth-shattering event.

My husband of 40 years is always ready to help people. He is also very kind to his family and is always eager to embark on a family outing. However, he has one stipulation. He would rather not drive long distances at night, as he has had challenging experiences driving in the dark in fog, rain and other inclement weather.

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